By Kelly Panlaqui
Washington Council of Lawyers’ Annual Summer Forum began on June 8 with an engaging and eye-opening discussion by keynote speaker Kristen Clarke. Kristen Clarke is the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a lifelong civil rights lawyer and advocate in the public service. AAG Clarke was joined in conversation by Nicole Austin-Hillery, President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. and Washington Council of Lawyers Board Member. This first session touched on topics of opportunities such as the Attorney’s General Honors Program in the Justice Department, the ability civil rights lawyers have to tackle important issues, the duty to give back to the community, and promoting the importance of pro bono work.
Nicole asked a series of questions regarding Kristen Clarke’s journey, educational background, the spark to pursue public interest work, and her “Kristenisms”/ words of advice for new lawyers. Kristen Clarke grew up in Brooklyn, New York where her parents immigrated where she saw the struggles and inequalities minority communities have and are currently enduring. It is these experiences that she carried with her through her education and informed the work that she has pursued throughout her career. AAG Clarke built a career of service through her work with organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office where she advocated for voting and election rights, racial inequality, police reform, unjustified loss of life, LGBTQ+ rights, and hate crimes.
Overcoming challenges and having a strong support network, especially through mentor relationships are key factors in any legal career. Learning to be proactive in government and pursuing outreach to your community are ways to give back to the community. Although many topics were discussed, the key messages that AAG Clarke shared stemmed from her own experiences. Her key takeaways included always bringing your “A” game, being overprepared, holding onto the connections you make, trusting your instincts, and remembering to always be nice to people.
Kelly Panlaqui is the 2022 Summer Intern.