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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Law Students and Faculty Take Justice and Service Abroad

Pepperdine University's School of Law offers not only a top notch legal education, but also the opportunity to help others through a dedication to service. The Pepperdine University mission, to strengthen lives for purpose, service and leadership, is exemplified by both the faculty and students of the law school, who serve in our community and abroad, educating, advocating and changing lives.

Mary, a second year law student from Ohio, visited Kenya with the International Justice Mission (IJM) and Pepperdine Law professor Naomi Goodno the summer of 2006. Mary and Professor Goodno, an experienced trial attorney and a Trial Advocacy coach at Pepperdine, worked together to create, support and conduct training in trial practice for attorneys from Kenya, Uganda and Zambia who work in African communities, and address issues such as property rights and child rape.

Mary not only taught a Legal Research and Writing class, she wrote the "final exam"! After thorough research of Kenyan law and culture, Mary developed a mock trial case profile and story. At the conclusion of the seminar, the IJM attorneys put their new found skills to the test -- with Mary as judge.

This is a role she was well prepared to fill. No stranger to academic success, Mary is a member of law review and Moot Court, as well as a research assistant to Dean Starr. In addition, Mary, a Mennonite, has long been encouraged by her faith to take action to address injustice. Prior to law school, she participated in renovating an old school into an after school center in a poor, rural area in the Bahamas. That transformed building made an impact both on the community and on Mary. She came to Pepperdine ready to take a more academic approach to mission work.

IJM gave her that opportunity. "The workshop participants amazed me with their passion and commitment to fighting the good fight," says Mary, "These experienced, intelligent attorneys sat at the edge of their seats, eager to learn and apply any knowledge we offered to improve the lives of kids in need. They infused me with gratitude for the education I'm receiving and the resources available to me. I know I can draw on the memory of their enthusiasm to keep me going when class -- and life -- gets rough."

Professor Goodno was similarly affected by her time in Africa. She recalls that a goal of IJM is to "go out of business", that is, to get to a point where the judicial system works on its own to effectively handle problems as varied as child defilement and police misconduct. She says that while the system is different there -- for instance, the appellate judges are their own court reporters, creating their own official records of the proceedings -- zealous advocates can be found around the world, as the dedication and passion of the IJM attorneys clearly shows.

Another former student of Professor Goodno's, Matt Vandemyde, spent an exciting Spring semester in Honduras. There, he worked with community leaders and the Association for a More Just Society to study complications in property laws that enforce poverty while generating social strife and violence. Matt's study found that a number of factors, including the taking of private land and government non compliance with and the politicization of property law, left Honduran families in financial turmoil and with a fear of violence. ASJ recently held a press conference in which it presented the results of Matt's extensive report to the Honduran government, the Property Institute (the government agency overseeing land reform), the media, and the public.

Matt's passion for changing lives through law is not purely academic. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Matt served a mission in Argentina as a college sophomore. There, he not only saw first hand how the law can affect the everyday lives of people, he also saw how he could make a difference. Inspired by an American attorney working to change unjust laws in Chile and Argentina, Matt committed himself to the law and to a life of helping others. He's now well on his way, having served as an editor of Law Review and having received an offer from the prestigious firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom where he will work upon graduation.

After their experiences abroad, both Mary and Matt returned to Malibu reinvigorated and committed to their studies. While both plan to work for large firms after their legal studies condlude, they share a commitment to serve the needs of others through their work. As Matt explains, "This profession provides the means and the know-how to provide greater benefit to others, and I understand that success comes with the responsibility to give back." With their faith and their dedication, both Matt and Mary are sure to have success wherever they are called to serve.