Monday, January 8, 2018


Jamil Jivani ’13

My name's Jamil Jivani. And I'm Yale Law School class of 2013. So coming into Yale as an international student made me very aware of a lot of the things about American history and law that I didn't know. And it put me in a position where I had to do a bit of extra work to catch up with some of my classmates.

But the positive side of that is that I also had a lot of background in history where I'm from in Canada that I could pull into the classroom. And I think that very early into my legal education, I learned how to do comparative analysis well and understand the nuances between different legal systems, and how one country's culture and history might shape how they respond to a problem versus another.

And I think that the flexibility of the legal education here, and its ability to allow students to self-initiate their research topics when they're writing papers, or be part of reading groups where they can read about-- in our case, it was Canadian constitutional law-- gave us a chance to educate ourselves on things that we were very interested in.

And so it made for a very rich experience overall because I felt like I was able to learn a lot of Canadian law that I might have learned if I stayed in Canada, but mix that with, obviously, an education in American law that was incredibly valuable. And at the end of the day, the ability to compare and contrast different legal systems is so critical to how lawyers work, I think, in the 21st century, that it made for an education that was very quickly helpful. And I've been able to apply it in virtually every step of my career ever since.

A lot of my work in the last few years has been focused on police-community relations. And what I've found is that, with these big institutions like a police department, you find lots of complex relationships with the people they serve. Very similar to Yale, actually, where you've got this big institution, and you've got, like, good intentions but often, like, not great execution in being able to engage with other people.

So with police, I felt like I had a bit more empathy for the struggle of well-intentioned police officers because I had seen so many good intentioned people at Yale trying to also engage a community and not always doing a great job of it. So it was a great lesson in terms of how do you engage people on the inside of a big institution, to where they don't feel attacked, where you're not telling them, you're not doing enough, you're doing the wrong thing, but you're saying, look, I understand this is difficult. Let's figure out a new way to solve a problem.

And so I wanted to see, in places where there are similar public safety challenges-- in the case of Europe this was following the Paris attacks, where the Islamic State had become very influential in certain pockets of Europe-- I wanted to see how similar or different those youth organizations struggle or succeed compared to what it's like in a North American city where young people are vulnerable to other negative influences.

And so I kind of carried that with me through Belgium, through France, through Egypt, and Kenya. It was a great learning opportunity. And my conclusions, kind of at the end, were that things are similar enough where I think there's a lot of opportunity to learn from each other.

And I think that the learning from each other is something that we are not doing nearly as much as we could. I think that what I learned in a place like Yale is that, the exchange of knowledge and experiences can be so valuable, especially when we're talking about how to solve complex problems.

I never learned how to be a lawyer or a law student without thinking about bigger questions. And even as I've left, that's been integral to everything I've done. And I think it's made me far more creative, and outside of the box, than I would have been otherwise.

And being a community organizer, those are very essential skills. Without the ability to think about how complex legal jargon, and what does that mean for people who aren't trained the way I am-- then you are far less useful, I think, to the people I think that probably motivate most of us to come to law school in the first place, which are people that we think we might be able to have a positive impact on.

Jamil Jivani discusses his experiences as an author and community organizer. Part of the Many Paths Initiative.