A Journey of a Thousand Miles
Written by Mpho G. Bratton (LL.M. ’17)
They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. In my case, that single step was a 16-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The journey from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Atlanta transcended beyond a mere physical shift in global positioning, but rather to an emotional and mental leap into an uncertain, yet promising future.
Here I was in a foreign country, newly married to an American and now I was about to embark on a professional roller coaster ride. I had to decide how to navigate not only my new environment, but my place within it. It was then that I decided that I wanted to continue with my legal career, in America. The next step was to figure out the means, so I researched extensively and discovered that Georgia State Law had introduced a program for foreign-trained lawyers. I collated all the requisite documentation and applied for the school’s LL.M. program.
So why select Georgia State Law as the vessel through which I would navigate this professional adventure? That was one of the easier decisions along the path. Georgia State Law offered what most schools did not, a program specifically tailored for foreign-trained lawyers who want to be eligible to sit for the bar for admission into the legal profession here in the United States. The program is two semesters in duration, beginning in the fall, and is designed to introduce foreign-trained lawyers to the U.S. legal system and equip them with the necessary tools to be able to graduate from an ABA-approved law school.
Further, Georgia State Law, unlike its contemporaries that offer similar programs, is competitive when it comes to cost. It also offers some of the greatest legal and academic minds within the profession to teach the curriculum.
The LL.M. class itself is composed of lawyers from different countries and cultures all over the globe, who have a desire to make an indelible mark upon their country of residence or origin and society at large through the practice of law. It is a close-knit community of international students who bring with them a different perspective on the challenges faced by our society and who hope to improve the legal community. This is where the borders and divisions between cultures and countries, that have so often separated us, come together in search of a common denominator.
My identity as an African, not just as a South African, has always shaped my views of the world and informed my choices on how I intend to mark my role within it. This, I intend to achieve through my gift and passion of practicing law.
I am a third-generation lawyer. Law is a gift that was passed by my grandfather to my father, who in turn passed it down to me. Being exposed to the law through my paternal lineage so early in life cemented my desire to study the law. My father is an advocate, who has spent most of his life practicing law and fighting injustice in all its guises. Our family dinner table was a platform for my siblings and I to discuss and debate politics, law and economics. This is where my love for the law took root.
I studied my law degree against a backdrop of a country undergoing political transition, charged with racial tension born from fear and uncertainty, where laws that once oppressed were changing to ones that liberated — a young democracy founded in 1994. South Africa had just stepped out of a trying period of apartheid and was about to enter an era of constitutional democracy. It was an exciting time in the early 2000s, a time when anything could happen. New laws were enacted that changed the trajectory of many within its ambit, my own being one of them. I could now enter through doors that had recently been closed to those that stood before me.
Being a lawyer in South Africa is a source of great pride — pride that comes from a deep understanding of the complex nature of the country’s historical and political context and an astute appreciation for its struggle and triumph over adversity.
The transition from being a practicing attorney in one of the most dynamic and progressive cities in Africa, to becoming an LL.M. student in pursuit of being able to practice in one of the most dynamic and progressive cities in America was challenging, to say the least. However, it remains a testament to the fact that life is an evolving process of learning and growth.
So, where then does the path ultimately lead? To my purpose, I believe. America affords one the platform to be able to reach the rest of the world through its overarching influence, in a way that many other countries cannot.
In South Africa, I had the privilege of working with at-risk teenagers and members of disadvantaged communities. This experience gave me the opportunity to pierce through the veil of privilege and gain a different perspective of the law, to see how the most vulnerable people in our communities are affected by legislation, socioeconomic conditions and political policies. This is where my passion lies, and hopefully where my purpose will reveal itself.
Every journey has its ultimate destination, and it is my belief that at the end of one’s life, they should be able to take a reflective step back and hopefully be able to find themselves where they commenced their journey, but having changed the world for the better.