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‘What It Means to Be a Citizen Lawyer’

August 04, 2023

Haofei Liu L'25
Haofei Liu L’25

Haofei Liu L’25 participated in a unique split-summer program focused on pro bono work in both law firm and nonprofit settings.

As a Pro Bono Scholar at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in New York City, I participated in a split summer program with five weeks dedicated to working at the law firm and another five weeks at Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), a public interest nonprofit legal organization. Akin’s Pro Bono Scholars program provided substantive pro bono opportunities in both law firm and nonprofit settings, as well as first-hand experience of how strong partnerships between nonprofits and firms can achieve greater impact.

Dedicated to Pro Bono

My pro bono work at Akin ranged from asylum cases to corporate governance matters for nonprofits. I especially appreciated being exposed to a wide range of practices and legal issues, such as immigration law, marriage law, and international law. Every day brought new challenges and learning experiences—from writing memos on intricate immigration law issues and investigating international legislation to helping clients draft nonprofit bylaws. I particularly enjoyed delving into topics that I’d previously never been exposed to, such as a statute pertaining to alien smuggling and New York’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law.

After completing my work at Akin, I joined the VOLS team working on the Microenterprise Project, which provides legal services to low-income small business owners. My work encompassed drafting settlement agreements, researching transactional legal issues, meeting with clients to help develop legal strategies, and conducting intake calls. The legal scenarios varied; my work involved mechanic’s liens, forged commercial leases, food vendor licensing, and many other legal concerns. I found it extraordinarily rewarding to interact with business owners, learn about their lives and businesses, and help them resolve unique legal challenges.

Leveraging the Penn Carey Law Experience

Penn Carey Law’s comprehensive 1L core curriculum equips students with foundational knowledge and teaches us how to “think like a lawyer” to solve complex legal problems. Even though I encountered some areas outside my academic exposure, the legal research and writing skills I developed during the Legal Practice Skills program were invaluable, and I frequently revisited notes from my 1L with Lisa M. Fairfax, Presidential Professor and Co-Director of the Institute for Law & Economics, during my work at VOLS.

Additionally, the Office of Career Strategy (OCS) provided essential guidance during the application phase, including assisting with refining my application materials and sharpening my interview skills.

Reflecting on my summer, I am deeply grateful for this incredible experience and how it widened my legal perspective. Moreover, the Pro Bono Scholar program has reinforced my commitment to pro bono work. As I prepare to return to Penn Carey Law, I carry with me new insights about what it means to be a citizen lawyer—knowledge that will shape the rest of my legal education and professional career.

Pathways to the Profession highlights Penn Carey Law students and post-graduate fellows as they launch impactful legal careers. From summer internships in the private sector to public interest post-graduate fellowships, these firsthand accounts of substantive legal work demonstrate the myriad opportunities available to Penn Carey Law students and graduates as they hone their skills and advance their career goals.

Haofei Liu L’25 is from Maryland and is pursuing a career in the private sector where she intends to maintain an active pro bono practice.

Discover more of our students’ Pathways to the Profession.