Judge Susan Wigenton, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, brings together a Seton Hall Law student and a graduate. Together, they share a dedication to paying it forward. Pictured, from left: Chrishana M. White '13, Judge Wigenton and Eleonore Ofosu-Antwi '09.
When Chrishana White '13 grew up in Brooklyn it never surprised her to come home from school and find a new foster brother or sister greeting her in her living room. “I’m one of my mother’s three biological children, but over the past 24 years she has adopted four children and fostered about 100 others. She also works full time in the New York City Police Department.”
White’s mother instilled in her children a sense of selflessness – the importance of giving back. “Sharing was really important, especially for such a large family in a three-bedroom apartment! But just as important, my mother always stressed education above everything else.”
For White, that path of service and emphasis on education has led to a legal career. Through the Legal Outreach Program, an organization that exposes urban high school students to opportunities in the law, White interned with attorneys in some of New York City’s most prestigious firms and corporations. She realized that she could achieve career success through the practice of law and, like her mother and her mentors in the Legal Outreach Program, she could give the same dedication and support that she received, to those who follow her. A graduate of Boston College, White is the first in her family to attend college. She set an even higher standard when she applied to law school.
White chose Seton Hall Law for its welcoming atmosphere: “My encounters with everyone from Seton Hall Law made me feel at home and wanted – more so than any other law school I visited, and where I’d been accepted.” Since then, White has distinguished herself academically: she received the William E. Garland Memorial Scholarship; an award from the Association of Black Women Lawyers in New Jersey; the coveted Diversity Scholarship from the law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C.; and the Equal Access to Justice Scholarship from the National Association of Women Judges, presented at their national conference in October 2011.
Professor Christina Bennett '94 encouraged White to pursue an internship with a judge to gain hands-on experience and put her learning into action. White followed Bennett's advice and, in the fall semester of her second year, served as a summer intern to Judge Michael Shipp '94, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey.
White met Judge Wigenton when the judge was honored by Seton Hall Law student organizations at their annual Diversity Banquet, and again at the dinner at which White was honored at the Association of Black Women Lawyers. “Judge Wigenton and I were both in chapters of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in college so we had that in common right away. Whenever I saw her I’d say, ‘I want to intern with you!’ and one time I said it and she replied, ‘Then, what are you waiting for?’”
Judge Shipp provided an informal re-introduction at the courthouse, and after a formal interview process, White began her internship with Judge Wigenton in January 2012.
“Being a court intern involves writing memos, reviewing cases and making recommendations. It’s integral to the work of the court. Everything we write goes through a formal peer review process before we submit it to a clerk,” explains White. She knows that the research and writing skills she is gaining during her federal court internship will give her the grounding necessary for her summer position as an associate at Porzio, the firm that awarded her a scholarship in 2011. “I know I’m developing experience that I’ll need to work in a law office,” she says.
Eleonore Ofosu-Antwi '09 is one of the clerks supervising the work of White and the three other interns currently serving in Judge Wigenton's chambers. She agrees with White: "I rely on interns for editing and proofreading our opinions and our memos. I usually start them off with small tasks such as writing a facts section for an opinion or researching an issue that I'm working on to measure their capability. Then I read the record and make my edits so every piece of writing is a collaborative effort. As their skills develop, I can ask an intern to work on a memo, which we provide to the judge as a summary of the case, along with a recommendation about the opinion."
Ofosu-Antwi ’s own path to Judge Wigenton’s chambers included advisors and colleagues who took an interest in supporting her career success. In her second year, Professor Bennett urged her to attend the annual Judges’ Networking Reception hosted by the Seton Hall Law Office of Career Services, and introduced her to a Seton Hall Law graduate who was clerking for a federal judge. “When he told me about all the research and writing inherent in a clerkship, I thought, “That is exactly what I want to be doing.’”
Encouraged, she pursued an internship with a federal judge’s chambers and set her sights on a clerkship. “The next year at the annual Judges’ Networking Reception, Judge Wigenton attended. I went over to speak to her, and we just clicked. I knew that I had to find a way to become her clerk.’” That opportunity was a year in the making. After graduation, Ofosu-Antwi served as a clerk to Judge Edwin Stern, Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division, and applied to Judge Wigenton’s chambers for the following year and was accepted. “My favorite thing to do is discover an issue I’m completely unfamiliar with and then become an expert in it. That’s what my work affords me here.”
After working with Judge Wigenton for three months, the judge asked Ofosu-Antwi to stay another year. She will leave Judge Wigenton’s court in August 2012 to become an Associate at Connell, Foley LLP in their Roseland, New Jersey office. Thinking about her clerkship experience, she says, “I encourage every law student to consider a clerkship. The immersion, volume and variety of cases that I’ve had the opportunity to work on in both my Appellate Division and federal clerkships have prepared me to do anything in the legal profession.”
Before Ofosu-Antwi leaves Judge Wigenton’s chambers to immerse herself next in private practice, she will help train Judge Wigenton’s next clerk, classmate Keerthi Mundrati ’09. “Success in our profession takes hard work and some luck, but I think the most important thing is having someone who takes an interest in you, someone to guide you and direct you. I think of Professor Bennett as one of my career mentors. It’s that extra support that can make all the difference. That’s why I take an interest in Chrishana and other Seton Hall Law students. It’s a paying it forward kind of thing.”