Profiles in resilience: Law students find their way

Africa Buggs: Wanting to help people

buggs picRising second-year student Africa A. Buggs remembers first wanting to become a lawyer after she met an attorney when she was young. That desire was perpetuated in her middle and high school years by watching law-related TV shows and further confirmed as a UGA undergraduate studying political science.

She said her decision to earn her law degree from the School of Law was simple. “UGA felt like home already, and I had my community here,” she said. “I really loved [the School of Public and International Affairs] and my professors. I also knew of the law school’s reputation, so it made it really easy to stay in Athens.”

Starting law school in a pandemic would not have been Buggs’ first choice, since she had never taken any online classes. She said the experience has “definitely been an adjustment” and has required her to lean heavily on her time management skills.

“I am a big fan of writing every single thing down,” she said. “I also keep a schedule for everything in law school. I write down that I am going to study for this many hours, and I take breaks between class work.”

Her biggest role models are the women in her family – especially her mother and her Aunt Gina. “They have always been right by my side, helping me,” she said. “Life has not always been easy, and they are really strong and resilient women. They are people who do not give up and they have taught me not to give up.”

Buggs, who is a Lanigan Leadership Annual Scholar, spent this past summer working for Morris, Manning & Martin. This coming year, she will have leadership roles with the Student Bar Association and the Business Law Society. She will also serve on the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law and participate in the Capital Assistance Project.

Although she is still contemplating her future career plans, she knows she wants to make an impact in her community. “I am not sure what that looks like yet, but my goal has always been to help people and being able to help my family.”

Buggs also has a strong desire to be a mentor for others. She wants those who are younger than her to know that a lot of things are possible. “Even if you do not think that they are and even if you have every obstacle in the world that is against, you should try anyway,” she said. “It is so important to try.”

Emina Sadic Herzberger: Learning from every experience

herzberger picWhile pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston, rising third-year student Emina Sadic Herzberger participated in a study abroad program in Geneva, where she was exposed to the United Nations, the European Union and other international institutions.

“That, coupled with my background, really got me interested in the law,” she said.

Originally from Bosnia, Herzberger spent three years living in a refugee camp in Germany before emigrating to the United States and settling in Texas. After graduating from college, she seized the opportunity to move to France, where she earned a master’s degree in human rights.

In the years that followed, Herzberger began seriously considering law school – including UGA.

“I was looking at schools and I was actually attracted to UGA for two reasons,” she said. “It’s close to Atlanta, which has a really good job market and it’s an international city. Also, Professor [Diane Marie] Amann and the Dean Rusk International Law Center really drew me in because I wanted to maintain an international focus in my career.”

She applied to the School of Law without ever setting foot on the UGA campus and, once in Athens, Herzberger was able to blend her love of international affairs with a burgeoning interest in the private sector, which she hopes she will be able to further explore after graduation.

“I would like to work at a bigger firm to get the expertise and network with people since I am pivoting more to the private sector,” she said. “I think for the next five years I would like to really put my head down and get some experience with sophisticated concepts while working with a firm that has an international presence.”

While at UGA, Herzberger has been active in several organizations, including the Georgia Law Review, moot court, the International Law Society and the Middle Eastern Law Students Association. She is also a Woodruff Scholar.

However, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in the summer of 2020, she found herself at home – which she, in some ways, relished because “I was able to maximize my time,” she said. During lockdown, Herzberger completed her Corporate Externship virtually with Orange/Atlas Services Belgium and helped co-author the Guide to Listing in Belgium, which is a book that focuses on specific issues and continuing obligations that a Belgian public company may encounter.

“I think coming from my background where my childhood was really difficult, I’m really flexible,” she said. “When you’re in a pretty bad situation, just make the best of it. You’ll learn something from it.”


Sarah A. Nelson: Looking out for others

nelson picFor 2021 graduate Sarah A. Nelson identifying her most memorable law school experience was easy. Last November, she argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of an Appellate Litigation Clinic client. With issues of asylum, “the stakes were high,” according to Nelson. “It was an immigration case where it really was life or death. … This is why you want to be a lawyer so you can help other people with problems,” she said. Nelson described it as “the ultimate advocacy moment,” and when she learned the clinic won its case she said it was “the icing on the cake.”

Her dream of becoming a lawyer took shape as a teenager in St. Simons, Georgia, where she frequently babysat for School of Law graduates – R. Stan and Crystal Chastain Baker. “Being in their home, I got to see that they worked really hard and were really smart, but they were also awesome people, parents and friends. … They were community minded and were instilling those values in their kids, and I thought I would really love to do that one day too.”

Another influence was 2003 alumna Hillary A. Stringfellow, who helped Nelson and her sister with some legal matters after her father died while she was an undergraduate at UGA. “She is another reason why I came to law school. I want to treat my clients the way she treated us.”

With plans to join King & Spalding after graduation for one year and then serve in a judicial clerkship with U.S. District Court Judge William M. “Billy” Ray II (J.D.’90) (who she worked for during her third-year Civil Externship), Nelson said she feels like “the world is her oyster” even though she had to complete law school during a pandemic.

She said the challenging period made her more self-disciplined. She also thinks it evened the playing field and provided the opportunity for “community building in a different way” as everyone was dealing with new circumstances.

Nelson said she has been impressed by the law school offering free counseling, asking students to reach out and sending messages saying students are not alone during stressful times. “It is important to be able to say ‘I feel stressed’ or ‘do you mind just listening or if I take a walk?’” she added. “My past has influenced how I want to look out for people in this profession and how I appreciate how the law school has done that too. That is the kind of impact I am looking to have [as a lawyer].”

While in law school, Nelson benefitted from Beerman, Sentell and Georgia Civil Justice Foundation Trial Advocacy scholarships.

Michael O’Brien: Making his mark through public service

obrien picAfter five years serving in the U.S. Army, 2021 graduate Michael O’Brien decided he wanted to continue helping others – but in a different way.

“I thought the legal field was the best way to continue doing public service for me,” he said, “and UGA was a great option. I applied all over the country, but my sister had gone here for undergrad and my dad worked [at the university] back in the ’80s. … It’s kind of always felt like coming home, back to Athens.”

As a military veteran, O’Brien received Butler Commitment scholarship funds to attend the School of Law and, in his three years as a student, he participated in clinical offerings and work that furthered his passion for a legal career. “I appreciate the puzzle that the law presents, especially with public interest,” he said.

O’Brien enrolled in the law school’s Veterans Legal Clinic and Criminal Defense Practicum, and had summer employment with New Hampshire Legal Assistance and a fall externship with the Federal Legal Defender in Atlanta.

These experiences led him to accept a post-graduation position in Boston with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, about which he expressed excitement.

“I really appreciate what the organization does,” O’Brien said. “I saw firsthand their effect on the community in New Hampshire – helping people get housing – and if I can make that a more efficient organization, that would be great.”

Like his fellow members of the Class of 2021, half of O’Brien’s law school career has taken place during the coronavirus pandemic – something he acknowledges was difficult, especially the shift to virtual learning.

“The school did the best that it could for the situation and you can’t really ask for more than that,” he said. “There was no plan for this.”

He also noted that he had been lucky to receive a job offer during these uncertain times, when many organizations – both private and public – have been unsure about their futures.

Despite the unexpected challenges, O’Brien said his law school experience has overall been a positive one.

“I’ve really appreciated the experience here at Georgia,” he said. “I was under the impression there was a culture of people undercutting each other in law schools. It sounds like maybe that happens in other law schools. I have experienced none of that. Everyone’s been so nice and so friendly – from the faculty to the students – everyone’s helpful and everyone has the same goal of ‘let’s do well, let’s succeed.’”