Featured Alums 2014
Akilah Browne, William Smith graduate class of 2011, majored in Media and Society and had a double minor in Public Policy and the Writing Colleague Program. While on campus Akilah was Co-President of Sankofa: BSU, President of HipNotiQ’s Step and Dance Team, William Smith Representative on the Commission on Inclusive Excellence, and Executive Board Member of the Social Justice Collective.
Currently Akilah serves as the Pro Bono Coordinator at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.
How did you get this current position?
In my last month of college before graduation, I had gotten into a few law schools, but decided that I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t have a focus of what I wanted to do with a law school education and I also didn’t get the amount of scholarship money that I wanted. So, I chose to work at a top law firm to gain more insight, re-take my LSATs for a higher score (to qualify for more scholarship money) and re-apply in two years. So, I accepted a job offer to work at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP as a corporate paralegal. In that position, I worked on as many pro bono matters (free legal services for people and organizations that can’t afford to hire an attorney) that I could handle along with my billable work. I coordinated the firm’s partnership with the Bronx Defenders in addressing NYC’s controversial stop and frisk policy and resulting low-level marijuana arrests. I also coordinated the firm’s externship partnership with Legal Outreach (a nonprofit legal-education based college bound program that provides underprivileged high school students with opportunities to succeed). So, even though I gained a lot of business experience working with paying clients in my corporate paralegal position, I stayed active within the pro bono practice simply due to passion. Consequently, when I had the chance to be promoted to work as the firm’s Pro Bono Coordinator, I accepted the position without hesitation.
What prepared you for your current position?
I never left college expecting to have a position like this and never even knew that it was attainable at a top tier firm like Cleary Gottlieb, but I truly believe that my passion, which was fed at HWS, brought me to and prepared me for this position. At HWS, I sat as the William Smith representative for the Commission on Inclusive Excellence and realized that finding ways to increase diversity and address the community’s needs as well as figuring out strategies to let stifled voices be heard are things that speak to my core. I learned that facilitating a more just society and helping those in need not only benefits the indigent but can also benefit those who are privileged as well. We’re not just doing “a service;” we all learn and we all grow when we address our community’s needs. I truly learned that at HWS and that informs my position as Pro Bono Coordinator.
What are your future plans career wise?
I still plan on going to law school, but now I know my focus. I plan on applying to Fordham’s public interest JD program – not for practicing purposes, but for advocacy purposes. I only hope to grow in my current position. Down the line, however, I have plans to start my own full-service housing nonprofit and eventually work as a professional lobbyist advocating on behalf of New York City housing policy.
Any advice for current HWS students?
The best advice that I could give to current HWS students is to not rush their college experiences. I get the ‘want to start your future as soon as possible’, but sometimes when you do that, you miss opportunities along the way and you have less memories to actually inform your future. Rather than seeing college as this necessary evil that needs to be over in 4 years, look at it as 8 very distinctive semesters – all chances to do something new, something different. A student may choose not to study abroad because the timing is not conducive to his/her plans to secure an internship that will then probably place him/her into the “ideal” entry level position straight out of college. However, studying abroad may present an ALTERNATIVE opportunity to secure a job overseas, and that opportunity would have been missed with such an unwavering long-term goal.
Long term goals mean nothing if they are not lined by short term goals. What I have learned is that I can truly maximize my life experiences when I have long terms projections coupled with short term goals and if an opportunity presents itself and it’s right for where I am currently in my life, then I take it. That can apply to college too. Take everything one step at a time and appreciate all the things that each new semester can bring.