Samiyyah Ali’s decision to earn her J.D. at Vanderbilt was confirmed during a sample class taught by Associate Dean Lisa Bressman at Admitted Students Day in spring 2013. “Dean Bressman taught a mock class about the rule of lenity in criminal law that was the best hour of my life,” she recalled. “It was so interesting and engaging. I thought, ‘I need to have this professor.’ I felt like I could be the best version of myself here, because I would be challenged.”
She also met her law school roommate, Juliesa Edwards ’16, at Admitted Students day, and their immediate bond helped cement her decision to attend Vanderbilt.
A native of Atlanta, Ali–who earned her undergraduate degree at Duke University as a Coca-Cola Scholar–enjoyed her master’s classes at Ohio State, but not the long winters. She chose to earn a master’s before entering law school to gain work experience and learn more about education policy. As an admitted student, Ali was so favorably impressed with the Obiter Dictum, a guide to life at Vanderbilt Law School and in Nashville updated each year by 1Ls for the next incoming class, that she served as editor-in-chief of the 2014 edition.
In addition to including basic study tips and practical advice on weathering the 1L year, the Obiter Dictum covers everything from apartment complexes to where to buy groceries to finding a good veterinarian to night life. “The admissions process is stressful, and you don’t really know what law school will be like, so it’s really important for schools to give you a good indicator of what life at the law school will be like,” Ali said. “I really liked the idea of using students to help future students—to prepare them and make them feel welcome. Working on the Obiter Dictum was a good way to give back.”
Ali is interested in a career in litigation. She is currently serving as a law clerk to Judge Amul Thapar of the Eastern District of Kentucky and will clerk for Judge Sri Srinivasan of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2017-18. “A number of people were invaluable during the clerkship application experience, including Professors (Michael) Bressman and (Tracey) George and Matt Downer (Class of 2014), who clerked for Judge Thapar,” she said. “The VLS community is strong and supportive, and everyone works hard to help students achieve their goals.”
As a 2L, Ali joined the staff of the Vanderbilt Law Review, and she was its executive editor in 2015-16. “That entails directing the Joint Journal Write-On Competition with the two other student-edited journals, as well as guiding other day-to-day tasks of the journal with the Editor-in-Chief,” she explained. She is also a member of the Vanderbilt Legal Academy Scholars Program, which exposes 2Ls and 3Ls to the academic side of the legal field. “It’s been great to observe faculty workshops and do research for professors,” she said.
Ali was a 1L representative to the Black Law School Association and served as the organization’s vice president as a 2L. One aspect of Vanderbilt that she particularly enjoys is the diversity of perspectives. “Everyone has a different story,” she said, “but even people I don’t agree with politically are very well spoken and committed to causes. Everyone’s trying to do their best, which pushes everyone up.”
She spent summer 2015 as an associate with Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., and summer 2014 with Alston & Bird in Atlanta. She credits her career counselor with helping her through the application process. “Career Services is really helpful,” she said. “They give you strategies and offer insights on the firm before you interview, and they are genuinely invested in helping you achieve your career goals.”
Ali was a law clerk to Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky during 2016-17. She is clerking for Judge Sri Srivnivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2017-18. She delivered a talk, “An Insider’s Guide to Judicial Clerkships,” at VLS on March 24, 2017.