Seventeen University of Richmond Scool of Law students and alumni have attained prestigious judicial clerkships for the 2011–2012 term. One student, Providence Okoye, L'11 has secured two federal clerkships. Okoye will clerk for Chief Judge James R. Spencer of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia 2011–2012, and for Judge Roger L. Gregory of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 2012–2013.

A native of Nigeria, Okoye is grateful for the many opportunities the School of Law has priovided her. Okoye is actively involved with the University of Richmond Law Review, Black Law Students Association, Helping Hands, is a volunteer teacher with the Street Law Program, and was a 2010 regional finalist in the  Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition.

Here, she talks about her experiences at the University of Richmond School of Law:

What is your background and where did you grow up?

I grew up in Nigeria and went to boarding school as a child. I came to the U.S. when I was 16. I’m the second oldest of five children. My father still resides in Nigeria. The name Providence means “God is in control” and I have pretty much let the meaning of my name chart my course through life.

How did you decide which undergraduate degree to pursue?

My undergraduate degree at Florida International University was really a path to law school, so I chose majors that encapsulated my interests at the time. I love that the world is a global village. I was interested in economic development and how the dynamics of one country affects another. I was also interested in politics and what’s behind economic development such as money, wealth, and natural resources. I have seen on a personal level the impact of economic development or the lack thereof. In Nigeria, oil resources are perceived as exploited and are sometimes unjustly taken away. I believe that education and relationship building between oil corporations and individuals can facilitate a favorable environment that would lead to economic development. That is why I chose to do my honors thesis on The Curse of Oil in Nigeria:  Why did Nigeria Fail to Capitalize on Its Oil Wealth. 

What is your motivation for choosing law as a career?

I believe the pursuit of law is a higher calling. Law is one area that captures a lot of my interests, and innate abilities. I love reading, writing, and speaking and I’ve always wanted to be able to seek justice and have a voice. 

How did you choose Richmond and has it been a good choice for you?

I knew that the state of Virginia was a very historic state and I realized the importance of settling in the capital of a state since it is the “seat of power.” There is also a very sophisticated legal market in the Richmond area. It is a great place to practice law and raise a family. I loved that the University of Richmond is competitive, yet nurturing.  Everyone here wants to invest in your future. I didn’t choose Richmond, Richmond chose me! From Admissions to the classroom, they encourage you to excel. A lot of great things can happen here.

How have you benefited from participating in Moot Court and mock trial competitions?

Competitions make the classroom learning experience come alive. They have added to my practical skills knowledge base and have also helped me to see if I was competent in certain areas. I know now I definitely want to be a litigator.

What work are you doing with the Street Law Program?            

It’s a program that teaches middle and high school students what the law is and how it applies to them. It focuses on things that they can relate to and it’s a way of taking the law into the community. It’s a student-led volunteer program that teaches students about law, democracy and human rights.

You received the NAACP Defense Fund Scholarship to the Civil Rights Institute.  How did that come about?

I became involved with archiving the memorabilia of the revered civil rights attorney, Oliver W. Hill. Because of my work with the Oliver Hill Foundation and Professor Jonathan Stubbs, I received a scholarship to the Civil Rights Institute which is a week-long training program for up-and-coming civil rights attorneys and African-American law students. It’s a great opportunity to network with attorneys and judges and learn about the state of the law involving civil rights. 

How do you balance your academics with other activities in the law school – what keeps you motivated?

I honestly believe that there is absolutely nothing that is impossible. My belief in God has taught me that. I stay focused on school and work separately. When I set a goal, I do whatever I have to do to achieve it.

What advice do you have for prospective law students?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Students who take the time to do so are the ones who distinguish themselves. The first year is the most important part of your investment – don’t waste that year. Know why you are here – it’s an investment that will pay off for the rest of your life. As students, we have all the same resources – it all comes down to how much time you are willing to put into it. I’ve seen failure, but I know that it is only a stepping-stone to greater things. It’s important to learn from your mistakes and move on.  The question that I ask myself is how can I learn from a challenging situation and turn it into something good.

What do you plan to do with your law degree?

I have a passion for the law – I am interested in what is fair, right, just, and equitable - it doesn’t really matter what I’m specifically doing as long as I am able to do that.  ... I am so excited about the innumerable opportunities that now lie ahead.