Written by Hawwi Edao
Hawwi Edao graduated from the University of Miami in May 2020 with a J.D., cum laude, and in 2017 with a B.S. in Public Health and a minor in Business Law and Health Sector Management & Policy. In college, she received a number of academic scholarships, was a member of the President’s List and the Dean’s List, and was named as a Civic Scholar through the Butler Center for Leadership & Service. She served as a Resident Assistant on campus, a Student Assistant with the Public Interest Resource Center at the School of Law, and a leader in Student Orientation and the College Council. During her time in law school, Hawwi was appointed as Class Governor by the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Student Division and was 1 of 4 first-year law students inducted into the Honor Society of Bar & Gavel. Hawwi also interned at a civil rights firm that primarily focuses on prisoners’ rights, and she served as a student attorney representing kids in the foster care and dependency system. Hawwi is an incoming associate at Foley & Lardner LLP, an international law firm.
My path to being a lawyer is a combination of serendipity and faith.
I would be lying if I said my childhood dream job was to be a lawyer, or that law school was the plan I set out when I completed high school. Instead, I went with the flow and learned to embrace the beauty of change on my path to law school.
I was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States at a very young age. I spent my childhood growing up in Portland, Oregon with my two brothers, but I also knew that I did not want to spend my life living in just one city. Instead, I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment, learn about different cultures, and travel.
I applied to colleges all over the United States.
When I was accepted to my alma mater, University of Miami, I never once considered visiting the very school (or even the city) where I would spend the next four years of my life before submitting my seat deposit. All I knew was that I felt called to be there and was prepared to experience something different. By the grace of God, I received a scholarship that made this opportunity possible. Looking back, moving to a city that I knew nothing about and did not know a single soul required a huge leap of faith. It challenged me to grow in ways I never expected, define my identity, and rely on God through times of uncertainty.
The further you get out of your comfort zone, the closer you get to your purpose.
Growth is hardly ever comfortable. Just like faith, growth requires us to jump without seeing exactly what lies below. In truth, it is in the midst of the unknown, in the unfamiliar environments, and through the mysterious encounters, that we find our true selves.
EXPERIENCE IN COLLEGE
I spent my early years in college as a Microbiology major and was on a medical school track for the first two and half years of college. It was not until my junior year that I decided to go to law school. This decision was largely influenced by my experience taking elective courses “just for fun” that explored business law, health policies, and the criminal justice system. Simultaneously, I realized that I was miserable in my science courses and needed to recalibrate the direction of my career.
I spoke with advisors, consulted family members, and prayed again and again for clarity. It all led me down one road – law school. Although I knew it was a risk switching my major during my junior year of college, and ambitious of me to believe that I could complete a different degree within two years while studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools, I did it anyways.
Career paths are not meant to be straightforward.
I knew if I wanted to be successful in the future, I had to make a change and have faith in the process. When I look back at how much uncertainty and fear of failure I felt during that particular season of my life, I can’t help but chuckle. God had greater plans for me than I could have imagined. In 2017, I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Public Health and minors in Business Law and Healthy Sector Policy. Around the same time, I received a full-tuition scholarship to law school that honestly changed my life.
LAW SCHOOL CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES
Oh boy, law school was quite the rollercoaster. Being one of a handful of black students in an academic setting was a feeling I’ve experienced my entire life, but professional school has a tendency of magnifying the “black sheep” feeling even more. Maybe it had to do with sitting in classrooms that discussed the glaring systemic injustices of the legal system, the lack of black professionals I would encounter at networking events, or perhaps the culmination of all my experiences.
I questioned how I would be successful in a field where black women make up less than 2% of lawyers.
It is no secret that the legal field poorly reflects society in terms of cultural representation. However, “why me” turned to “why not me” quickly.
I decided to go to law school because I wanted to have a seat at the table.
The occasional self-doubt did not entirely disappear, but I learned to be conscious of my fears so that I could proactively challenge them. I found opportunities to network with black attorneys in my community, join multicultural organizations at my law school, and seek out mentors that inspired and guided me through my law school experience.
I took this confidence into job interviews during the second year of law school. I received offers from multiple firms and eventually accepted a Summer Associate position at a V100 global law firm. For 10 weeks, I worked with exceptional lawyers across the country on international matters and built incredible relationships. This dream of an experience led to a job offer as a full-time attorney once I successfully complete the bar exam.
The best thing I did in law school for my personal growth was to travel as much as I could. During my last semester of law school, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, Spain. As excited as I was, part of me was afraid to move to another country that spoke a language I couldn’t speak (despite living in Miami for 6.5 years ha). I had never traveled alone internationally, so I knew this experience would force me to step out of my comfort zone once again.
I found me a cozy, little apartment just a 15 minute walk away from the law school I was attending.
Outside of class, I spent most of the week exploring the city, trying the local cuisine (paellas are God’s gift to earth), and brushing up on my elementary Spanish skills at the local bakeries. On the weekends, I would plan trips with my new Spanish friends around Europe. From Italy to Portugal, France to England, and all throughout Spain, I got to experience parts of the world I never would have imagined. By the end of the semester, I visited 9 countries! Although my trip was cut short due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, those three months of my life were unforgettable.
Life is truly what you make it.
I could have spent law school tucked away in my favorite corner cubicle at the library all three years, but I wanted to experience life beyond the four walls of my comfort zone. Spain was the perfect opportunity for me to do just that. Traveling is a life-changing experience; if you have the means and opportunity to explore another country, TAKE IT.
You never know what experiences are lying at the other end of the plane ride.
The next step for me is taking the Florida bar exam this summer and starting my career as a commercial litigator. I am excited to be a part of the 2% of Black women attorneys in America and even more thrilled to serve as a mentor for young women of color, like myself, as they navigate law school and beyond. Paying it forward is not only important, it is necessary.
Black women are capable, qualified, and powerful when we come together and lift each other up.
This journey has left me with many lessons. Below are my top 10 takeaways from my experiences.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Growth requires it.
- Seek out mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Be kind to yourself. Take a moment to breathe (it’s OKAY, I promise).
- Set plans, but realize that the true quality of a successful person is flexibility.
- Grow in your faith. God’s plans are greater than yours.
- Self-Affirmations will keep you going. Remind yourself that you are capable and qualified, always.
- Take a break when you need to. Self-care and mental health are a part of success.
- Be confident in yourself. You are made in the image of God.
- Travel! Travel! Travel! We are the sum of our experiences.
- Pay it forward!!!