Elizabeth Encinas ’15, a 2008 Columbia College graduate, came to the Law School with the idea of becoming a transactional attorney. She also wanted to engage in social justice work, and a semester in the Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Externship, representing children who crossed the border without adult supervision, made her public interest calling clear.
“I found the experience inspirational,” says Encinas, a Trinidad and Tobago native who immigrated with her family to the U.S. before earning her master’s degree in international relations at the University of the West Indies. “I was moved by the determination of these children who risked their lives for the chance at a new life in the United States. Their stories remind me to be grateful for the opportunities I have.”
Encinas plans to focus on both her passions when she starts her career at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in New York, which recently launched an immigration clinic.
A board member of the Law School’s Civil Rights Law Society and the Black Law Students Association, Encinas sought out opportunities to learn through experience. She enrolled in the Externship: United Nations and the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, and took the innovative Deals Workshop: The Art of the Deal and Transactional Legal Strategies, which allows students to explore the lawyer’s role in structuring, negotiating, and implementing business deals.
“Drafting contract language and addressing problems in deal structuring are indispensable skills that the simulations and assignments in this class helped me develop,” she says.
Encinas also remained involved in immigration law issues: A supervising attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit asked her to serve as a research assistant in the Law School’s Immigrant Defense Externship and the Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Externship.
Encinas came to the Law School thinking about the many ways the legal system can benefit people. Seeing attorneys do their best to make that happen every day in her externships gives her encouragement.
“Every voice matters,” she says. “Striving to have a seat at the table and then actively contributing makes all the difference. Find your voice and speak your truth—even if you have to whisper to yourself, ‘You can do this.’”