Samson Lim’s glittering résumé seems to reflect a charmed life: Fulbright Scholar. California Law Review editor-in-chief. More than 30 local and national awards.
His personal reality, however, reveals a very different data set: Eleven surgeries. Six years in a wheelchair. Countless days of uncertainty.
When Lim was in third grade, a sprained ankle led to a diagnosis of dystonia — a rare neurological movement disorder caused by a genetic mutation and triggered by limb trauma. Over the next few years, Lim’s ability to walk, stand, or simply move became increasingly compromised.
“I needed crutches by fifth grade and a wheelchair by sixth,” he says. “My father emphasized incremental progress and urged me to make a goal to walk at my high school graduation without a wheelchair, cane, or crutches.”
That seemed implausible until Lim visited UCSF Medical Center after his junior year of high school. There, he underwent a nine-hour deep brain stimulation surgery, which places electrodes to ensure that proper movement-control signals transmit to muscles.
The results were life-changing. Lim needed intense physical therapy to relearn how to walk and still has a limp, but he made his father a prophet by walking across his high school graduation stage.
“Personally, that second chance has fueled much of my determination to lead a life serving others,” Lim explains. “Professionally, I think I’ve become a better coworker, manager, and leader because I’ve learned how to be more empathetic about others’ circumstances, more optimistic in the face of obstacles, and more patient when confronted with challenges.”
Last school year, Lim co-chaired Berkeley Law’s Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society (submitting public comments to federal agencies and advocating for student borrowers) and helped lead the Food Justice Project (providing direct services to students who were denied CalFresh benefits).
Before coming to law school, he was the national director of graduate and fellowship programs at a major foundation in New York City and the founding executive director of a Seattle-based nonprofit that connects scholarship candidates with mentors for application support.
Steering the California Law Review, Lim plans to bolster CLR Online so the journal can publish more timely responses to current affairs — such as COVID-19 and the growing racial justice movement — and create more outlets for scholars and practitioners to share their work.
“More than ever, I’m determined to help CLR live up to its legacy as a vehicle for reform,” he says.
Lim, who earned a master’s degree in education policy at Columbia, will return to New York City and work at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton after graduating. For now, he’s savoring his final year of law school.
“Being in a community where there’s a strong spirit of service is my favorite part of Berkeley Law,” Lim says. “That commitment is what drew me here in the first place.”