Two recent Duke Law graduates will begin their careers with the federal government after navigating the highly competitive selection process for the Legal Honors Programs in two executive branch agencies. For each, gaining entrance to the highly selective program represents the culmination of years of deliberately focused study and skill-building in their respective fields of interest, as well as the support and mentorship of Duke Law career counselors and alumni. Ocoszio Jackson ’17 will enter the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Legal Honors Program, working out of the New Orleans’ field office. Jasmin Lott ’17 was selected for the program in the Department of Justice. Both students credit their interests in public service and a desire to uplift people in need as motivation for pursuing these positions.
“The agencies look for candidates with strong legal skills and good judgment, who can add value immediately,” said Assistant Dean Stella Boswell, who directs the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono and advises government and public interest students and alumni through the Career Center. “They also look for students and graduates with a passion for public service and a commitment to the mission of the agency. “These students worked exceptionally hard to qualify for these positions and make it through the many steps of the application process.”
Jackson said he learned of the importance of stable housing early on while living with his grandmother. He recalled there was a home across the street, which he later found out was a government subsidized home. “There were families that were constantly in and out of that home. I always wondered ‘Why do we always have new neighbors? Why do they have to leave?’” he said. “By contrast, we had a place we knew was ours, that we always went to, where we were able to take care of ourselves, were able to have a good night’s sleep — where we felt safe.”
Jackson, who majored in political science at Morehouse College, said he became interested in housing finance during the market crash. HUD came onto his radar during his second year at Duke Law when the community surrounding his alma mater — the West End of Atlanta — received a $30 million redevelopment grant. His interest in working for the office only grew after attending one of HUD’s on-campus informational sessions.
After working for GSK in Durham and the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington, D.C. during his 1L summer, Jackson spent the following summer at K&L Gates in Washington. “I had a wonderful experience there learning how a large, international law firm works,” he said, adding that it helped him to refocus his career goals. “I’m excited about starting my career doing government work and the day-to-day impact it will have.”
Lott, who has a strong interest in civil rights, looks forward to returning to the Department of Justice where she held a Duke in D.C. externship last fall. She said recent conflicts between police and communities of color influenced her interest in pursuing a career in criminal justice. “It’s become an even more important issue to me personally because I’ve seen the unraveling of Ferguson,” she said. “Once I got here, I saw where the need was.”
She credits the experience gained from working in the Civil Justice and Children’s Law Clinics for helping her get practice-ready and learn how to phrase questions and dig for answers. “I’ve gotten a lot of concrete skills by actually working on cases, and frankly being able to talk about actual substantive legal work that I’ve done in interviews helped me,” she said. Lott spent her 2L summer working for both the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, where she assisted with civil rights litigation, and Neufeld Scheck & Brustin working on discovery review in civil litigation related to wrongful convictions and police misconduct.
“Just seeing how egregious some of the civil rights violations were and getting the sense that these officers felt like they were above the law was very infuriating for me, but it was powerful to feel like I was in the position to do something about it,” she said.