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Alumni Spotlight with Faisal Akhter

Nneka Nnaji

Alumni Spotlight with Faisal Akhter
Oleksandr Berezko / EyeEm

My name is Faisal Akhter. I am originally from Elizabeth, New Jersey. I spent most of my life there before I went to law school. I attended Emory Law School, in Atlanta, Georgia, and that was my first time being away from home. I was the first person in my family to attend law school, which is not surprising because my parents were immigrants. While in Georgia, I used that opportunity to travel around the country and experience new opportunities.

During my first summer in law school, I applied for the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) in a state-level court in Louisville, Illinois; and it was a terrific experience. The other half of the summer, I interned for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, at Fort Stewart, Georgia. During the summer of my second year, I interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco. In my third year of law school, I went back home to New York–New Jersey, took the bar, and left the country for Germany and Korea, and then returned to the country, in North Carolina. Currently, I am in Seattle, at Microsoft.

What made you attend law school?

I really liked reading, speaking, and writing—I think those are my strengths—and so I thought how can I leverage these skills in a very useful way? So I decided to attend law school. The interesting thing about law is that you can practice in different types of industries. Being someone who helps advance things, in various aspects, be it in the military, medical field, etc., your tool kit is the law. I also loved that the practice of law is very diverse and broad. There is a place for you everywhere, which is cool.

How did you hear about JIOP, and why did you decide to apply?

I can’t recall how I heard about JIOP, but I decided to apply because I get to work with the judiciary, and working with a judge is such a valuable experience. I didn’t have any lawyers in my background, and I thought the pinnacle of the law was the judge in a lot of ways because judges are expected to be the closest thing to the truth, and so having that opportunity to learn from someone with such experience and knowledge was not an opportunity I wanted to pass by. So that’s the big reason why I applied to JIOP. It was also a paid internship, which was a plus. I would have done it either way, but it was helpful having that income.

What was your experience with JIOP, and how did this experience open doors for you after completing your internship?

During my internship, I was paired with a judge in the courthouse, but other judges welcomed me and the other interns to sit in on whatever case they had going on. I assisted my judge in writing briefs on a variety of civil cases, such as insurance claims, etc. I attended a lot of court hearings, which were exciting to observe. I also witnessed a couple of attorneys practice pro hac vice, which was fascinating to me because I was unfamiliar with the concept.

Can you tell us about your most memorable experience while interning with JIOP?

JIOP was my first practical legal experience, so I have a terrific memory of it. The most impactful thing I realized is that judges do not know everything. That was great for me because they did not pretend they knew everything. Rather, they were, like, let’s do some research and figure it out. It was so empowering in a lot of ways because it showed me that you can be knowledgeable but not have an immediate answer to every question, and that’s OK, so long as we work to create a solution. I carried that demeanor and temperament with me every day.

How has JIOP shaped your professional career, especially in your current position?

With JIOP I learned a lot about confidence. Your confidence should not be placed in the knowledge you know, but rather the capability you have to solve problems. This is a valuable lesson because in our career we encounter problems that have not been solved, and often there might not even be a solution or a definitive answer. But with confidence, we get to create a definitive solution. This is something I have embraced and I think is a powerful mindset to have. I might not know everything, but I guarantee you I can learn it all.

My experience in JIOP tremendously helped me in my career in the military where I served as a JAG officer and a trial attorney. Having interned for a judge, I felt comfortable standing in front of a judge, giving opening and closing statements, and conducting voir dire. I was able to incorporate different trial skills I had observed in court and create my style. Now I work in the compliance and investigations section at Microsoft, and the experience I had in JIOP, such as learning how to formulate arguments while applying the law, has helped me in my position.

What would you say to a student who is undecided about applying with JIOP?

The three things I would say are, firstly, you get to work with a judge, particularly if it’s in the market you want to be in. Through this experience, you can network with other lawyers who appear before the judge. Secondly, you get to work in the chambers of the judge, understand how he or she thinks, etc. I think this is such a valuable opportunity because these judges have a great spectrum of experience in different aspects of law, so it gives you, the intern, a much broader perspective and a wider picture of the law. Lastly, you get to network with other JIOP alums all over the country. It’s a terrific way to reach out to other attorneys and build your network, so just apply.

What was a proud moment and/or accomplishment for you so far in your career?

When I was in the Army as a trial attorney and one of the leaders in my unit, we advocated for an integrated gender-equal combat team where women who wanted to serve on the combat units could do so. It came with a lot of scrutiny, especially since we were the first to initiate this. Nonetheless, it was great to be a part of a life-changing moment. The women I worked with were exceptional and phenomenal.

What advice would you give to a JIOP alum who is interested in pursuing a legal career in your field?

I would say leverage the JIOP alumni network. Reach out to others who currently work for Microsoft or similar companies so you can learn about the work we do.