Law/Government: Janette Ekanem ’09, M.P.A. ’10, Government and IR Major

Second-year student, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston

When Roderick Ireland, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, issues an opinion, he does so with the support of a staff that conducts deep research into the surrounding case law and helps the judge shape his final document.

Janette Ekanem is a valued member of Judge Ireland’s team. The second-year law student at Northeastern, who is working for Ireland as part of the school’s co-op program, is steeping herself in case law these days, researching and comparing the legal literature in different states and combing through decisions in lower courts to unearth cases that can be successfully appealed at the Supreme Court level.

Though still a student, Ekanem has been handed substantial responsibility, which she accepts with grace and equanimity (her first internship was with the civil division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston during the capture of renowned gangster Whitey Bulger, so she’s also used to distractions in the workplace). Her passion is civil rights law, particularly in the area of labor and employment, so she is eager to process the lessons learned in Ireland’s office and apply them in her legal career.

“One of the things that always stuck with me is that I have an eye for justice,” she says. “And I realize that small decisions can have very broad, significant impacts in the way they affect people with different racial, social and economic backgrounds.”

The Lexington, Mass., native served as the president of the Black Student Union at Clark and helped lead tutoring efforts for young students in the Main South neighborhood. At Northeastern, she is the director of academic affairs for the Black Law Student Association, matching first-year students with upper-level students for mentoring.

She looks forward to eventually landing with a firm that will give her plenty of general litigation experience before she moves into civil rights practice.

“One of the things I really like about civil rights law is the ability to advocate for someone whose voice has been silenced by systematic forms oppression,” she says. “I’d really like the chance to push the envelope.”