Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD: When Faith Turns Trial into Triumph

Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD and family visit with Dean Heather K. Gerken at Yale Law School
Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD, as well as some of his family and friends, visited with Dean Heather K. Gerken at Yale Law School in August.

From the time he was a young boy growing up in a remote village in Ghana, Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD had an inner desire to make a positive contribution in the world. Despite being faced with a mountain of challenges throughout his young life, he used his faith to fuel his ambition and eventually made his way to Yale Law School. Today, Frimpong is a distinguished legal scholar and advocate who has taught at the University of Botswana and the University of Ghana. He is also a qualified barrister in Ghana and the founding dean of two law schools, and has served as the Secretary General of the Southern African Universities Social Science Conference (SAUSSC) and the United Nations Legal Adviser to the Commission Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation under the United Nations Mission (UNOMSA) to South Africa.

Frimpong holds an immense amount of gratitude for the Law School and the way it changed his life for the better. The 50th anniversary of his enrollment was marked with the publication of his most recent book, Adanwomase to Yale Law School, 1973–2023: A 50-Year Journey Fulfilling Grandma’s Dream, as well as a visit with Dean Heather K. Gerken in August 2023 where he presented a kente cloth he made for the Law School. A complete memoir of his life is set to be published in December 2023 just before his 80th birthday. Below are some excerpts from an interview that was held during his visit to the Law School which have been edited from a longer conversation.

Why did you choose to devote your life to the study and practice of law?

When I got the admission to study law for the first time at the University of Ghana, I was a bit hesitant. I wasn’t sure if I was really prepared, especially when I spoke to my uncle and my father. My father would never have allowed me to study law because there’s a perception in Ghana that lawyers are dishonest. What helped me to become keenly interested in the law was the realization that I excelled in it and, more importantly, because of the realization that it is a tool that can be used for the advancement of societal interests. It is this ability to apply the law to address human needs that made me fall in love with the law, and it has stayed with me over the years.

How did Yale Law School shape your approach to teaching law?

When I arrived at Yale some 50 years ago, I was a shy boy. I did not know how to openly express myself in class because that was how we had been taught at the University of Ghana, where all the teaching was conducted through formal lectures. At Yale Law School, as I discovered, we used the Socratic method and so students and the professors were actively engaged in robust discussions. Over time, I learned to speak up in class and was able to participate meaningfully in class discussions. These days, I’m a very good public speaker who can inspire audiences. This skill I trace directly to my time at Yale. And in the classes that I later taught, I also passed on that valuable skill to my students, engaging with them in lively class discussions. The foundation for the manner in which I approach my scholarship and teaching was laid at Yale Law School. It has helped me to be an excellent law teacher.

Why was it important to you to mark this anniversary of attending Yale Law School?

I could never forget Yale because the Law School made such a significant contribution to my life and prepared me to become a global figure. When I landed in the U.S. for the first time 50 years ago, Yale embraced me, nurtured me, inspired me, and taught me. I have come back to thank Yale for enriching my life in that way.

Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD presents a kente cloth he made for Yale Law School to Dean Heather K. Gerken
Kwame Frimpong ’74 LLM, ’77 JSD presented a kente cloth he made for Yale Law School to Dean Heather K. Gerken during his visit in August.

What impact do you think Yale Law School has in the global legal community?

Yale Law School’s impact globally is immense and it is a feature that I hope it never loses. Aside from scholarship and the work of its alumni at senior levels of business and government around the world, Yale Law School has graduated many numbers of students, like me, who are from all over the globe. Yale Law School has trained lawyers from India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, to name a few. And whenever I am in public and speak about Yale, I am continuing to expand Yale’s influence around the globe. And this applies to any of Yale’s international alumni, as well, as there are millions of people doing this and continuing to multiply Yale’s impact around the world.

Religion seems to play a major role in your life. How do your religious beliefs influence your relationship with the law? 

I believe that there’s a big difference between being a “human being” and being merely a “person.” To be a human being, you must be able to feel for others and to know what is right. Merely saying that “I’m religious" or "I am a Muslim" or "I am a Christian" is meaningless if you are not able to empathize and feel the common humanity of your fellow human being and to know what is right and wrong. I believe that unfortunately a large section of the human population is moving away from their shared humanity without love for one another and operating just as physical people. For me, my religious faith and my desire to recognize our shared humanity has made a lot of difference in how I teach law. Any student sitting in front of me in my class could one day be someone who provides great help to society, and so I don’t see mere physical objects that are being taught. Rather, mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons — everyone. And it is seeing them in their fullness of their humanity and potential that you can fully engage those students in the challenging issues that the law is attempting to address.