Tareian King wants any future employer to know that she is a multifaceted thinker – and it’s unlikely she’ll encounter any doubts about that fact. King’s interest in the law and human rights dates to her childhood in New Orleans, where she saw many families – including her own – caught up in the criminal justice system. As an undergraduate student at Bard College, where she earned a B.A. in International Human Rights and Africana Studies, King interned at The Global Poverty Project in New York, the Human Rights Advocacy Center in Ghana and the Legal Resources Center in South Africa. In the year before enrolling at The Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, King launched Nolafrique, a platform that makes locally made products from rural West Africa available for purchase and delivery. King, a first-year student, is enrolled in a joint program in which she will also receive an LLM in International Business Law from Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris.
LD: Please describe where you grew up. What formative experiences were critical to the path your education took?
TK: I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Growing up in New Orleans means growing up in a community where you are molded to be selfless and to help people. New Orleans has a huge sense of community. It is really a part of the culture. For example, if you had just the amount of sugar you needed for a meal you were in the process of making, and your neighbor knocked on the door and asked to borrow sugar, you gave it to her and silently went to the store. If you had $15 to your name, but Ms. Byrd from down the street was taking donations for her son to get out of jail, those $15 became hers. If you cooked dinner, but someone was giving a supper – a fundraiser dinner – you bought a plate even if you had food at home, because there was an obligation to support people’s needs.
Being exposed to this as a child naturally instilled the desire to help people in me. My culture became my identity. My early education introduced careers based on how they helped people – a dentist helps people with their teeth; a teacher helps people learn; a lawyer helps people with their legal needs; an engineer helps the community by building things. This really shaped my thoughts on education.
In addition to growing up in a culture that is immersed in southern hospitality, I grew up with an incarcerated father. I became aware at an early age that a lot of the people who I was surrounded by had some experience with prison. I would say about 70% of my classmates in elementary school had incarcerated fathers. At the age of seven, I wanted to be a lawyer to help my classmates get their fathers out of jail – and mine, too. When I think of New Orleans two phrases pop to mind: southern hospitality and social justice. This experience was critical in exposing me to the power of the law at an early age.
LD: Can you talk more about what you expected to be doing with your career as an undergraduate?
TK: As an undergraduate student, I expected to be an international human rights attorney. I entered college interested in criminal justice because it was the social justice issue I was mainly exposed to coming from New Orleans. “Human Rights” was only added to my vocabulary once I entered college. I remember being in class and a light clicking on like, “Oh, they call the rights that I want to fight for human rights.” I later realized that mass incarceration was only one aspect that people of color experience and that human rights was an umbrella term; there were multiple issues I could focus on, such as health, education, economic rights etc. I wanted to fight for them all, and not only the criminal justice system. This is when I became internationally focused. In addition to learning about the array of different issues I could work on under human rights, I also expanded my knowledge on who I could help.
The great thing about being a student, whether in college or graduate school, is the access to funding for summer opportunities. With school grants, I have interned in South Africa twice, Ghana, France, and Uganda without having to spend a dollar. I encourage all students to take advantage of those opportunities. Once I became aware of my international interest, I applied for scholarships such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. I received the Gilman Scholarship, which paid for my semester abroad at the University of Cape Town. There is no doubt that my decision to take advantage of such funding and opportunities made my law school application unique.
LD: Did you go straight from college to law school? If not, what did you do in between and what role did those experiences play in pursuing a legal education?
TK: After graduating from college in 2016, I moved to Paris, France, for a year. Entering the workforce sounded great, but I felt as though I did not have the privilege to go straight into working. During my senior year, I was 100% committed to practicing international law. I had also became very interested in West Africa. This interest led me to add French classes to my undergraduate curriculum. If I committed to a job in the U.S. after graduation, when would I gain my French skills? I knew that once I entered law school my only priority and focus would be the law, and it would be hard to balance reaching fluency and my class load. Also by that point, I needed to be able to tell potential summer employers that I spoke French and not that I was working on it. I decided to work as an au pair in Paris. I was broke and it was the best opportunity for a broke new graduate who needed French skills. My au pair family paid for my flight to Paris, gave me a place to live, sent me to French school, paid for my monthly transportation, and gave me a 350-euro allowance in exchange to only speak in English to their kids, cook and pick the children up from school.
With the aspiration to be an international human rights attorney, I found French vital in all aspects and I took action on it. I only became interested in French to enhance my legal education and career. The law field is competitive, I think from the very beginning it helps if you keep that in mind and really focus on how to improve your assets and make yourself better than the next candidate. If a student’s GPA or graduate exam scores are low, I think this makes a huge difference. The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs that await every graduate student are not always so interesting, and a Bachelor’s degree often does not qualify you for interesting positions. To any student who is interested in law school, but is considering taking a gap year, I strongly advise to take advantage of opportunities that will make your application stand out. Law school admission offices read thousands of applications during admitting seasons that kind of all say the same thing, it is important to keep that in mind.
LD: Can you talk a little bit about Nolafrique? Why did you start this company and what do you hope its impact will be?
TK: “Law school is a long-term investment,” says every lawyer. This is a friendly way to say that you will be broke and unable to accomplish your dreams until a few years after you actually finish school. I personally was not willing to submit to that narrative. Traveling internationally within Africa showed me that as an American I could make a huge difference with very little money. I started Nolafrique because I realized that I did not need to wait on the government to make an impact in black communities. I thought about New Orleans and I thought about Africa. I wanted to specifically work with artisans in rural Africa who lacked access to markets and tourists. I wanted to give them a platform to make the income they deserve to make.
At the same time, I needed to motivate and inspire the youth of New Orleans to learn more about the connections between our own culture and West African culture. The youth take the culture for granted and see little value in it. I have always been of the belief that if African Americans had more information on who they were and where they came from they would see more value and worth of our race. In my mind, this could lead to a decrease in killings within the New Orleans community and higher self-esteem and better health choices. I wanted to create a platform to officially build a bridge between Africa and the diaspora, a platform that simultaneously allowed me to accomplish my two goals at once. Nolafrique is that platform. I source all of Nolafrique’s merchandise from rural communities in Africa. Eighty percent of the merchants that I work with are women in remote villages. I allow them to make anything they want, and I buy it a wholesale price. When someone purchases their items, I mail the purchase with an information card that provides information on the country that it came from, information on the culture and information on the artisan. I include information on the connection of that culture and New Orleans when applicable.
The community component of Nolafrique is that I fundraise a dollar from every purchase to a project in the country the merchandise is being sourced from. For Senegal, I am currently fundraising money to repair a school’s roof in Fatick so that they do not have to close when it rains.
LD: Why did you choose your law school over other options? What factors were critical in your decision-making?
TK: The Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University was initially not my first choice. I really wanted to go to Fordham but I was not accepted. There is a big chance that you may not get into your top choice, second choice, or third choice when applying to law school, but it is not the end of the world. It always works out in the end. I did not get accepted into my first choice but I am very happy at Pace, happier than what I would have ever imagined.
Pace had the perfect international program for me and it is really why I chose it. Pace’s joint degree program with Pantheon Sorbonne Law in Paris is the first reason why I decided to attend. The program gives me the opportunity to earn an American Juris Doctor and a French Master of Law in International Business Law in three years. I will spend two years studying in America and one full year in Paris.
This was perfect for me because it is not my long-term plan to practice law in America; I essentially want to start at a firm in Paris that is doing a lot of work in West Africa. I am interested in working at a firm that has projects dealing with Africa’s natural resources. I want to learn more about the legal corporate side to better understand how Africa’s wealth is exploited/exported and Pace is renowned for our environmental law program. Pace’s Human Rights in Action (HRIA) program, International Trade Externship program, and United Nations Environmental Diplomacy Practicum also played a role in me choosing Pace over other schools. In addition to having a solid International Law program, my financial aid package was mind-blowing. I am paying less than $20,000 out of pocket a year. Pace turned out to be the perfect place for me to focus on my human rights and environmental corporate interest. My interest in Africa’s environmental law did not exist when I applied to law school, it is something I only have found interesting recently. I think it is important to choose a law school that has a balance in its programs and be careful with schools that are dominated in one area of law. You really discover new interests in law school, so it is important to be at a school that gives you the resources to explore different programs and clinics.
LD: Is there a part of the application process that was the most difficult or most memorable? What advice would you give other people considering law school?
TK: Studying for the LSAT was horrible. It was difficult. I am not great at testing under time. It messed me up every time. I never was able to finish sections on the LSAT, which was the cause of my not-so-great score. I would advise other people to try to study a year before your planned test date so you are not stressed. Planning ahead and having more time to practice the LSAT makes a huge difference. If you are forced to study every day because of a time crunch it is a miserable feeling. I also recommend to start taking timed tests from the beginning. I took a course with Kaplan and Blue Print. I did great on my practice test because I never timed myself. I highly recommend to time yourself every time. Studying for the LSAT is not like riding a bike. If you start learning logic games, and stop practicing for a month, you will have to restart at zero. Practicing makes good habits and good timing; this is key to perfecting the LSAT.
LD: You’ve already touched on this, but can you explain in more detail what you plan on doing with your law degree, both short- and long-term?
TK: I think of my law career in different stages, in which I accomplish different things. In the first stage, I plan on working in France at an international corporate firm that works on project development, business and finance in Africa. It is not a good feeling to work on human rights in countries whose human rights issues are grounded in poverty but who also have high GDP rates. I want to spend a sufficient amount of years understanding Africa’s finances before moving back into explicitly human rights work. It would be great if I can inspire local corporate firms in Africa to not only profit from working with foreign investment companies, but also to remember Africa and their communities, to push outside corporations to give back to the communities the same way Nolafrique does. If the local law firms do not push and demand for it, who will?
In stage two, I want to work at an international human rights nonprofit in Senegal focusing on economic, social, and cultural human rights. I am highly fascinated by Senegal and it is a great hub for West Africa. Within stage two, I want to create an alliance of African and diaspora lawyers to focus on how we can best support each other and our communities. I also want to find more support for pro bono services in Louisiana.
LD: What has surprised you about law school so far?
TK: In college, you have midterms and paper assignments that allow you to check your understanding. In law school, mostly you only have finals. If you have read all of the required cases, you will understand the class lectures and discussions. You can spend months thinking you are doing what is required. But how do you know if you really understand? How do you practice or apply the laws you are pulling out of cases and statutes? Professors do not instruct you to practice, they instruct you to read. It is for you to realize that you have to find a way to practice applying the law. Law school supplements are books that are filled with questions for you to answer. You can write out your answers and check after to see if you were correct. The lack of instruction to use these supplements has been surprising me. It is important enough to be mentioned in orientation but no one ever tells you! They expect for you to know, even though you are a first semester law student. That was really surprising. Also, in college it was possible to get work done and have a lot of free time. With good time management in college, I had good grades and spent a lot of time doing things I loved. Law school is not the same, it is very demanding. You can have some free time but not nearly as much as was possible in college.
LD: Can you discuss any coursework or law clinic experiences that you have especially enjoyed or found particularly challenging?
TK: It is the collection of coursework that is particularly challenging. The material typically is not difficult. However, I find it challenging to read all of the required material, review the material, and then commit time to practice questions for each class on my schedule. There seems to never be enough time to stay on top of everything that is required from you as a law student. The key to doing well in law school is periodic review. It is important to review after every class. Nevertheless, you still have to read for your other classes and without practicing what you are learning about you would essentially not do so well. There has to be a balance between reading, reviewing, and practicing. This is difficult.
LD: What extracurricular activities at law school have been occupying your time?
TK: I have joined the International Law Society and the Black Law Students Association. Since I have yet to perfect a good study schedule, I participate when I can. I have been helping out with bake sales and attending events learning more about what is going on in the international world. I treat these extracurricular activities as study breaks. It is important to take a break and having a club to hang out with is nice, especially as a first-year law student.
LD: What jobs or internships have you done or do you plan to do during your education?
TK: I have interned at multiple human rights internships in Africa. As I mentioned before, in my undergraduate I spent my summers interning at human rights organizations in South Africa, Uganda, and Ghana. This summer is my first law school summer, and I will be interning at Geni and Kebe International Law firm in Dakar, Senegal. I am very excited about this opportunity because most corporate firms only accept second-year law students for summer internships. Geni and Kebe focuses on an array of legal fields, but I will be working with three departments: the litigation team that works on Africa’s energy, mining, oil, and gas in all of West Africa; the corporate governance and legal reform team; and the human rights team. Next summer, I plan on participating in Pace’s International Trade Externship, which gives me the opportunity to do an externship with a corporate firm in France.
LD: How do you unwind from the stresses of law school? Are there any tips about your campus, or its city or town, that you would share with new students?
TK: I have found a few stress relievers that work for me. I have incorporated the gym into my weekly schedule. Running really takes my mind off of school. I also change the surrounding that I am studying in. If I am reading, I am required to be in the library because I cannot focus with music and noise playing. However, for practicing and watching law tutorials and videos, I “cafe hop” – study at different cafes that I have never visited in different boroughs. I have even started to write about the different places to later post on my social media. It allows me to feel that I am there for something other than law school. I also treat myself to my favorite foods after stressful days. This mostly means going to southern and West African restaurants in Harlem to grab my faves such as fried catfish or attieke. Pace can feel really small and White Plains can feel foreign. I recommend checking out local eateries and tea shops for down time and studying. Hassings Tea in White Plains is a really great place to study. It is quiet and serves as a nice change of scenery.
LD: If a potential employer were reading this profile, what’s the one thing you would want that person or institution to know about you?
TK: I would want a potential employer to know that my greatest strength is my multifaceted thinking. I am able to critically analyze issues from different perspectives due to my international experience and cultural exposure. My experiences have taught me how to find solutions that can be beneficial to different groups of people who have different interests. I am the dedicated and overly determined law associate who will stay at the firm until morning just to research or create a project that will help the law firm grow. The world’s legal issues are complex and multifaceted, and so am I.
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