Sean M. Berens
Sean M. Berens ’13 is all about community. After earning the title of Columbia Law School Student Senate president this past year, Berens’ foremost goal was to bring together his fellow students.
“This is a community of really exceptional individuals,” he says. “I wanted to make sure people got to meet everyone. The best advice my predecessor ever gave me was this: If a future Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in a 3L class, and a future Eric Holder is in a 1L class, they need to meet.”
Berens’ organization of events as chair of the Law School’s social committee, his leadership on the Student Senate (which oversees funding for student groups and seeks to build links between faculty and students), and his participation in a wide-range of Law School activities (such as the Native American Law Students Association Moot Court and the Criminal Justice Action Network) helped promote a sense of community around campus. But Berens’ interest in uniting people reaches far beyond his ability to introduce future Supreme Court justices and attorneys general. The Arizona native is interested in land use and real estate law, and he is particularly focused on how community planning can improve the lives of those living in the same town or neighborhood.
“Land use can really affect how people interact,” he explains. “I’ve always been interested in community cohesion, and how you can remove barriers.”
Berens did not always know he wanted to be a lawyer, however. After studying religion at the University of Southern California, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and chose to serve as a legal assistant in the Metropolitan Public Defender’s Office in Portland, Ore. After experiencing firsthand how lawyers can make a difference in people’s lives, Berens decided he wanted to pursue a legal career. The Law School, he says, provided a practical entry point into making “community cohesion” part of his reality.
Now, looking toward graduation, Berens, who will address his classmates at the ceremony, is focused on transitioning from the community he has helped foster in Morningside Heights to another—in just a few months, he will be joining the midtown Manhattan office of Greenberg Traurig as a litigation associate. The firm, he says, maintains renowned real estate and land use sections, resulting in a perfect fit for someone looking to build an expertise in the overlap of law and community development.