Alexandra Sepolen JD ’21 received the ALI-CLE Scholarship and Leadership Award, presented to a student who exemplifies exceptional character, leadership, and professionalism. Read more about other Santa Clara Law 2021 award recipients.
What was your favorite class in law school and why?
My favorite courses at Santa Clara Law required students to meaningfully apply their substantive legal knowledge to projects to assist clients or develop solutions to problems. Two of my favorite classes were Professors Oberman and Bennett’s Health Law Seminar and the Entrepreneurs Law Clinic. Prior to law school, I worked as a healthcare researcher with an emphasis on user experience and interface testing of digital health technologies among underserved communities. Both courses complimented my prior public health training and interest in using technology to serve others.
With respect to the Health Law Seminar, our class was tasked with assisting the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley in researching and proposing solutions to a series of emergent social and legal challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. My team was tasked with examining racial disparities in civil commitments proceedings and incarceration rates in Santa Clara County among people living with mental illness. Not only was working on a collaborative team project with other students incredibly rewarding, but the level of mentorship and practice-ready advice we received from Professors Oberman and Bennet, along with other health law attorneys, was fantastic.
With respect to the Entrepreneurs Law Clinic, I deeply appreciated the guidance and mentorship I received from Professor Norris and the supervising attorneys in the clinic. In fact, I loved working in ELC so much that I stayed on as a student associate during both my 2L spring and 3L fall. My supervising attorney was Senior Clinical Fellow Mary Fuller, and she helped to facilitate opportunities to further explore my interests in intellectual property law. Working in ELC enabled me to discover my strong interest in trademark law, and we were also able to receive training related to trademark searches at the USPTO in downtown San Jose. Ultimately, ELC opened me up where I could use creativity and rigorous knowledge of the law to serve startups and help them navigate the USPTO registration process.
What most surprised you about law school?
Law school gave me the structure and freedom to stretch and grow intellectually and professionally in ways I did not expect. When I started in law school, I came as a public health professional who was interested in both public service and using technology for good. I thought that I would have to choose between public interest law and IP. I was happy to discover that I did not have to do that at all; rather, I was able to devise a course plan for myself that enabled me to explore an array of topics such as health law, advocacy, and IP in meaningful ways.
I also was surprised by the readiness of Santa Clara Law students to collaborate and work together! Many students including myself would hear stories about the level of competitiveness and secrecy surrounding students’ work in law school.
What about your law school experience are you the most grateful for?
I am incredibly grateful that I decided to participate in the school’s oral advocacy programs. Galloway, HMCI, and the Trial Team offered the most meaningful lessons and memories that I am taking away from Law School. Professors Duffy and Streseman were fantastic mentors and challenged me to develop my legal writing and oral advocacy skills. Trial Team coaches Tom Larkin and Ricky Ramirez also provided incredibly meaningful mentorship and guidance to me on both trial advocacy and finding joy in serving others. I also was incredibly fortunate to collaborate with my phenomenal classmates in these respective programs as partners, teammates, fellow board members, and friends. Having multiple forums to discuss contemporary legal issues in civil litigation, criminal law, and appellate practice together was incredible. Galloway, HMCI, and the Trial Team also taught me the importance and obligation that lawyers have to give back to the communities that uplifted my success through leadership, service, and mentorship. Continued investment in these programs also allowed me to become the first Black woman in the Law School’s known history to chair the Galloway Moot Court program, direct the Honors Moot Court Internal program, and serve as a captain on our school’s Trial Team. I am thrilled to see what the future holds for each of these programs and am happy that the programs provide opportunities for a wide range of diverse talent, voices, styles, and modes of argumentation for Santa Clara Law students to explore.
What would you say to someone considering coming to Santa Clara Law for law school?
Seek opportunities to explore practice areas and opportunities that you did not expect to! I absolutely enjoyed the coursework I completed in the IP Specialization of the High Tech Law Certificate and working at Curology. I also learned so many tangible skills doing work in other practice areas such as family law, criminal defense, personal injury law, and public interest law.
Also, if you are looking for mentorship, our alumni offer fantastic support. Some of the most meaningful jobs and lessons I learned in law school came from our alumni. Hana Hardy JD ’04 gave me exposure to local bar associations such as Queen’s Bench Bar Association and the Minority Bar Coalition, as well as Deborah Moss-West JD ’94 to the Santa Clara County Black Lawyers Association. During my 1L summer, I worked at the AIDS Legal Referral Panel with attorneys such as Allison Pruit JD ’96, who gave me opportunities to assist with client consultations. I was able to learn more about litigation and the court system by working as a judicial extern for the Honorable Lori E. Pegg JD ’86. I also worked for Steve Defilippis, and he gave me ample opportunities and exposure to motion practice and discovery. I also enjoy working for Bobby Khalajestani, BA ’05, JD ’15, as a law clerk, and he has been a fantastic mentor.
Lastly, Santa Clara Law offered wonderful opportunities to connect with faculty who were invested in my success and who mentored me. Professors Chien and Fuller gave me fantastic advice regarding my job search, networking, and merging my interests in technology and social justice. Professor Oberman helped me identify strategies to merge my prior public health background with my academic, co-curricular, and professional interests. Even my 1L professors, such as Professors Ridolfi, Joondeph, Yang, Macintosh, Armstrong, Verma and Malis, offered wonderful guidance and advice to help me navigate law school.
What are your career plans after graduation?
At this time, I am considering multiple post-bar employment offers related to litigation, IP, and commercial law. I intend to announce my final post-bar career plans later this year after taking the July 2021 California Bar Exam.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I also would like to thank the students and faculty who uplifted the Black Law Student Association during my time at the law school. Currently, only five percent of the legal profession is comprised of Black attorneys, while only two percent of attorneys in the United States are Black women. Aware of this trend, I wanted to attend a law school that offered resources and support to Black students. Receiving resources such as peer-to-peer mentorship, advice from attorneys and judges, professional development workshops, and academic support through the law school’s BLSA chapter was instrumental to my success in law school and readiness for the Bar exam and legal practice. BLSA members encouraged me to participate in oral advocacy programs, pursue job opportunities, and to remain steadfast in my focus on succeeding in law school. My membership in BLSA also gave me the opportunity to build meaningful friendships with other students while empowering me to be an effective leader and lawyer. BLSA also emphasized the importance of academic advancement and professional leadership, two fundamental values that guided my law school experience. BLSA, as well as the other affinity groups at the law school, truly provided a platform through which students of color can shine, build friendships, learn how to lead, inspire, and work towards being effective legal advocates. I felt incredibly blessed to have been part of such an impactful organization as a Santa Clara Law student.