Two words capture second-year law student Ellen Wiah: motivated and adaptable. With a passion for the law and a determined spirit, Wiah is well on her way to making an impact on the legal profession.
Wiah was born in Liberia, West Africa and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when she was 13 years old. Coming to Iowa Law was her first move outside of Pennsylvania. She attended undergrad in Pennsylvania at Temple University where she double majored in international business and legal studies with a concentration in supply chain management.
“I've always wanted to be a lawyer. I was first inspired to go to law school when I learned about The Hague because there was a civil war in my country. The President got taken to The Hague, I learned about human rights law, and I was like, that's going to be me someday. I'm going to be out there prosecuting human rights violations, working at the Hague and with the UN.”
Wiah is no less motivated today to make a positive impact on the world. Although the type of law she wants to practice has changed, she is energized by taking on challenges head-first. “When people say I can't do something, I'm like, I'm just going to do it to prove you wrong.”
She put this mindset to work when she joined the military during her undergraduate education.
“I was in the Army National Guard for six years. I was a CBRN Specialist focusing on chemical biological, nuclear, radiological capabilities.” From training in the desert in the middle of the night to making lifelong friends with people from diverse backgrounds, Wiah credits much of her law school preparedness to her military experiences.
Areas that especially stick out are adaptability, working with people, and time management. “I think the military builds your character in a way that you wouldn't expect. I always knew I was very adaptable just because of how I grew up. You also learn leadership skills and how to adjust on the fly. You’re with people from different backgrounds and places all around the country.”
After she graduated from Temple, she had two years left on her military contract. Wiah decided to finish out the military and then go to law school.
With all Wiah’s family living on the East Coast, her law school search process began in that area. Eventually, she decided to branch out. After digging into some research, Iowa Law caught her eye.
“Iowa seemed like a really good school. I liked the metrics that it has, including the bar passage and job placement rates, as well as its writing program. Iowa was actually the first acceptance I got. Once I was accepted to Iowa, alumni and current students reached out to me to talk about the school, which was really great for me. So, I decided to see what the Midwest is all about.”
Since joining Iowa Law, Wiah has made her mark. She is involved in many extra-curricular activities, both academic and social. “There are lots of organizations that are super active at Iowa, and I think that's one of the great things about this school. Everyone can find their own community. You can find your own space of people, and everyone is genuinely nice.”
Wiah is a member of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and First-Generation Professionals. As Wiah has experienced, Iowa Law is a tight-knit community where deep and lasting friendships are born. “It was great for me to have a place where you can go and have a community of people that understands the same struggles that you have in law school.”
Iowa Law’s strong reputation for writing stems from the immense training and opportunities students receive all throughout their law school journey. For Wiah, that includes her positions as a research assistant (RA) and a member of the Journal of Corporation Law (JCL). As a research assistant for Professor Mihailis Diamantis, she spends time researching and writing about interesting corporate crime issues. A benefit to Iowa Law’s RA program is that out-of-state students can receive in-state tuition—in addition to learning from experts in their fields.
Wiah was a student writer for JCL this past year and will be the Senior Note & Comment Editor for the upcoming volume. Her student Note is titled Rebuilding the U.S. Middle-Class Through H.R. 842 (PROACT), and her favorite part of journal was interacting with peers and continually learning through Articles and the Bluebook.
She also participated in the Appellate Advocacy program, where students write appellate briefs and compete in oral arguments. “Law students should have the skills to be able to do both—write an academic legal paper objectively and write a persuasive brief, no matter what kind of law you practice.” Thankfully, Iowa Law provided Wiah with the opportunities to do just that.
During her 1L summer, she first interned with a federal Magistrate Judge, the Honorable David R. Strawbridge, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and then was a summer associate at Archer Law.
Knowing she wanted to end up back on the East Coast, Wiah targeted her 2L summer search and landed a position at Holland & Knight in Philadelphia with the hopes of focusing on litigation. Between her tenacious ambition and skills gained from Iowa Law, Wiah is excited and prepared to begin her career in Philly.