Meet the Students Leading the MFIA Clinic This Year

As seen from the courtyard of Sterling Law Building, the main stairwell's exterior stone walls  exterior stone walls protrude from the brick façade

This year, the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) is enriched by the leadership of four student directors: Dorrin Akbari ’24, Liza Anderson ’24, Julia Peoples ’24 and Tim Tai ’24. The four bring a mix of backgrounds and motivations to the clinic.

After graduating from the University of Missouri, Tai worked as a photojournalist for several years, first at the Daily Tribune of Columbia, Missouri, and later at The Philadelphia Inquirer. When he decided to switch careers and go to law school, MFIA’s track record made Yale an obvious choice. 

Anderson also worked in the media before studying law. She served as the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, the Daily Texan and after graduating joined the editorials team at the Dallas Morning News. While working as a journalist, Anderson was frustrated by the lack of change she saw in her reporting. 

“You would notice that things were broken, and you’d write about them, and they would stay broken,” she said. 

Law seemed like a way to bring about concrete change on the issues she cared about.

Akbari, who has always wanted to be a lawyer, was initially drawn to the clinic because MFIA’s docket provides many opportunities for building experience in litigation. She stayed, she said, because she made friends with all her peers at the clinic.

Peoples joined the clinic inspired by a media law class she took at college. 

“I wanted to not only practice the things I had read about,” she said. “I also wanted to start to define what media law meant to me.” 

A collage of four headshot photos of individual students
MFIA Clinic Student Directors, clockwise from top left: Julia Peoples ’24, Tim Tai ’24, Liza Anderson ’24, and Dorrin Akbari ’24

With a caseload spread across media freedom, government accountability and the rights of journalists, MFIA has provided a variety of experiences to the students.

Many of the clinic’s cases address fundamental issues in society and politics. Peoples has spent a large part of her time at MFIA working on the clinic’s defamation suit against the website Gateway Pundit for spreading lies about election workers in Georgia.

“The case is not only extremely important for the clients, but also for our election system as a whole, which is the basis of our democracy,” Peoples said.
Anderson, meanwhile, has focused on the clinic’s DocProject, which provides services for independent documentary filmmakers. 

“I knew all along that as a lawyer I wanted to help people who are on the ground doing investigations,” she said. “Getting to work with filmmakers at the DocProject and figuring out how to get them the access they need has been incredibly gratifying.” 
Pay or Die, a film Anderson worked on, was released earlier this semester, bringing national attention to the insulin affordability crisis.

Tai has built familiarity with the entire lifecycle of a lawsuit, from the prelitigation research stage through district court proceedings to appeals. He had the opportunity to argue before the Fifth Circuit in the clinic’s challenge against a Texas law that limits the use of drones by journalists. He helped write a Supreme Court petition in litigation against the Department of Homeland Security seeking records cataloguing visitors to Donald Trump and high-level campaign officials during the campaign and transition periods. 

MFIA students often get the chance to take the lead on clinical cases. 

“There are so many avenues for ownership at the clinic,”  Akbari said, recalling an oral argument she made in front of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission in a case seeking records about custodial deaths from the state Department of Corrections. “We only had a week and a half to get ready and the MFIA team put in extra effort and time to prep me so I could have that opportunity. I think that experience exemplifies MFIA’s focus on training students.”

In addition to participating in the clinic’s legal work, the student directors also play a crucial leadership role. For example, they regularly check in with their fellow clinical students to learn about their experiences and seek their suggestions for improvements. “It's been really nice to see students get sufficiently invested in the clinic that they want to make it better,” Akbari said.

In turn, the four directors have a say in how the clinic is organized. 

“The clinical faculty have a lot of faith in us,” Anderson said. “They ask us for input on overarching questions about how the clinic ought to be managed.”

The four also take the lead in organizing events for the clinic. In October, they put together the clinic’s annual picnic in the courtyard of Baker Hall. In the spring, the student directors will organize MFIA’s annual FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Bootcamp, which aims to empower students, journalists, activists and members of the public to file open records requests.  

After they graduate, the student directors all have big plans.

Peoples will join the complex litigation department at Paul Hastings LLC, whose entertainment and media litigation practice she interned with during law school. 

Tai will follow in the footsteps of several MFIA students as the First Amendment fellow at The New York Times. 

Akbari looks forward to a job at Latham and Watkins LLP, followed by a clerkship in the Southern District of New York. 

After she publishes her first novel, Anderson, now armed with a robust training in media law, plans to return to journalism.

The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) is a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation and developing policy initiatives.