Akbar promoted to permanent faculty member
Growing up in an immigrant community, Professor Amna Akbar says she’s seen what it’s like when there are too few lawyers to represent those in need of legal services.
Inspired by the experience, she decided to pursue a career in law – to help ensure legal representation was afforded to everyone, including those who may otherwise not have access to it.
“I wanted to enter law as a profession because I grew up in a community where there were not a lot of lawyers, but a lot of legal needs that needed meeting. So it seemed important to me as part of an immigrant community, to get a law degree. To ensure lawyers were addressing the realities of marginalized communities, and that the law reflected those experiences,” Akbar explained.
While her initial drive was simply to help clients in need, the professor said she realized early in her career that she may be of most help in an environment where she could study the relationship between inequality and the law in order to help further the understanding of how that relationship can help, or hurt, certain sections of today’s society.
As part of that mission, Akbar will join the faculty at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law on a permanent basis this fall as an assistant professor of law.
“I’ve always been inclined toward thinking deeply, systematically, and structurally. In my academic work, I want to understand why the social realities before us exist as they do, and, in nitty gritty terms, what role law plays in creating the good and the bad, equality and inequality. In my clinical work, I try to think critically and constructively about the role lawyers can play to achieve more justice for those regularly excluded from the law’s protections,” she said. “I’m really excited about digging in deeper in Columbus and continuing to learn about what public interest work is already being done here and to think about what gaps there may be and what kind of community groups we can work with and support in order to help effectuate their visions.”
The professor brings with her to the post a wide-range of experience from clerking for a federal judge in New York City to working with immigrant women with Queens Legal Services as part of the Asian Battered Women’s Project.
And it was in that experience, she said, she was introduced to the concept of community lawyering — a method of practice in which lawyers design their practice around individual and community needs, as identified by individual and community-based clients. A concept she now incorporates into her work and teaching.
“I’m really excited to continue translating my past experience into academic interventions and to just have more time to focus on reading and writing and thinking in order to further develop my own analysis on the relationships between law and inequality, and also to think about how my work – both academically and as a lawyer – with my students can better the relationship between law and equality,” she said.
Clinically, Akbar also brings with her experience working with students on civil and human rights issues from her time spent with New York University’s Human Rights Clinic and the City University of New York’s CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility) project, a cross-clinical collaboration between the school’s Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic and the Defenders Clinic.
Akbar began teaching at Moritz as a visiting professor in 2012. Her current work at the university focuses largely on the realities of contemporary policing—combining, as it does, national security, criminal law, and immigration enforcement—how the criminal justice system impacts marginalized communities, and how that might undermine those communities’ abilities to participate in a democratic society. Her areas of expertise include civil litigation, criminal law, national security, and clinical education.
As a permanent faculty member, Akbar said she is looking forward to continuing to challenge her students to think about what their roles should be in the legal community after graduation, as well pushing her own realm of thought and research on the topics of criminal justice, inequality, and the law.
“I’m very student-centered. I want students to think hard and to work hard. To think hard about the role of law in society and what their role should be once they graduate. So whether they sign up for a clinic or a doctrinal course with me, those are the larger questions that will be in the room all the time. Those are the questions as a profession we really need to grapple with, especially now when there is a profound need for pro bono and low bono legal services,” she said.