Learning To Wield 'a Powerful Instrument'
Ajani Brown first became interested in the idea of pursuing law as a career in high school, when he volunteered at the Legal Aid Clinic of Northwest Texas. The would-be clients were grateful to him just for filling out preliminary forms to hand to an attorney.
"At that point I realized that law was a really powerful instrument that affected people's lives, and I really wanted to be a part of it," said Brown, who is from Dallas.
Now Brown is set to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law on May 21 and looking forward to starting his career in Houston, Texas, at the firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he hopes to work in commercial or appellate litigation.
"Being able to utilize the talents I've cultivated … and just being able to apply them to real-world issues — I think that's going to be the most exciting thing," he said.
Virginia initially wasn't at the top of his list. After graduating from Brown University with a political science degree, he thought he would go to law school in a big city. But then he visited.
"It felt more like home, and, I think, like a place I could study more than in a large urban area," he said. (More)
The smaller city didn't stop him from sampling what law school could offer. Brown, a Hardy Cross Dillard Scholar, became a member of the Black Law Students Association and the Virginia Tax Review, served as a Peer Advisor, and choreographed for and performed in the Libel Show, the school's musical comedy revue. On the town, he bonded with classmates at music concerts and other outings. He also found time to complete the 75-hour Pro Bono Challenge.
"I really enjoyed a lot of the people that I've met here. I was kind of concerned because I came straight through, and had a really solid body of friends, and I was on [the track team], so that unit was a very present force in my life every day," he said. "Here, I've found that I've liked a whole bunch of people, and I've made another unit of sorts."
In BLSA he served as a 1L representative, and participated in a service trip to Kampala, Uganda, to develop continuing legal education programs for attorneys there.
During his second year he become BLSA's firm relations chair, a position involving fundraising and hosting panels and receptions that connected students with firms. The role helped introduce him to the legal world and its terminology, he said.
"I didn't come from a family of lawyers, so I think it was a very good thing for me."
At the same time, he grew through his academic studies.
"There's no lack of great professors at UVA Law," he said. "They've opened my mind up to new ways of thinking. I thought I knew how to think, generally, but lo and behold, I've learned that there's still much more to learn."
He praised how helpful professors were outside of the classroom too.
"After my first semester, I was kind of down because, of course, you've done so well your whole life and now you're not the straight-A student that you used to be."
But when he met with them, they were "adamant" about helping him improve.
"They just wanted to help me realize any goals that I had," he said.
Inside the classroom, Brown opened his mind to new ideas. He praised his civil procedure classes for helping him realize that procedure has substantive implications.
"When you say that there's a procedure in place, I can better think about how that procedure actually promulgates policy," he said. "I think that was a very great awakening in law school — that nothing is very neutral."
In the Appellate Litigation Clinic, he honed his writing skills as classmates shared and commented on each others' briefs. In March he argued a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
"It made law school more real," he said. "I had a client — I had a case I had to argue."
As Brown prepares to return to Houston, he reflected on how he's evolved since coming into law school. At the time, he thought he would go into policy work rather than a law firm.
"I didn't see myself going to a major law firm, but I also didn't know a lot about major law firms," he said. "And I had the opportunity to work at one my first summer. I realized this was a great opportunity — I really liked the work, I really liked the environment.
"I've just become much more self-aware," he added. "Just being able to be more critical of myself and the person I want to be and the things that I want to do in my life has become a real thing because I'm actually about to go into the real world."
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