Two students from Strathmore Law School in Nairobi, Kenya, gained new insight and valuable experience last month through internships with Notre Dame Law School’s Exoneration Justice Clinic.
Strathmore Law School students Irene Agingu and Esther Kangai spent the first two weeks of June as Exoneration Justice Clinic interns. They learned about the organizational structure of the clinic, the approach to selecting cases, and the process for investigating and litigating those cases to overturn wrongful convictions of innocent clients. They also accompanied the clinic’s staff to court and to prison for a client visit.
This was the first formal program between Notre Dame Law School and Strathmore Law School, which established an exchange partnership in 2022. Strathmore Law Dean Peter Kwenjera and Allan Mukuki, director of international partnerships, visited Notre Dame Law School and the Exoneration Justice Clinic last year.
“Having Irene and Esther visit the EJC provided the Notre Dame students an invaluable opportunity to learn about the legal education program and criminal justice system in Kenya, and share ideas and learn from one another. While living on separate continents, the Strathmore and Notre Dame students share a common commitment and passion for correcting the miscarriage of justice,” said Exoneration Justice Clinic Director Jimmy Gurulé. “I hope that we are able to host other Strathmore Law School students at the EJC next year.”
Due to the differences between the U.S. and Kenyan criminal justice systems, Agingu and Kangai had a lot to learn about American law in a short period of time.
“The first week was a bit challenging because we were getting acquainted with the legal system here in America, but we got the hang of it,” Kangai said. “The people from Notre Dame Law School and the Exoneration Justice Clinic were very kind to us and very generous.”
One major difference between the U.S. and Kenyan criminal justice systems is that Kenya’s system does not provide for a jury trial. Only a magistrate, judge of a high court, or panel of judges on the appeals court render decisions in criminal cases.
The path to becoming a lawyer is also different in Kenya, where law is an undergraduate degree. Agingu is on track to graduate with a bachelor of law degree in April 2024, while Kangai is scheduled to complete her legal studies in April 2025.
They both participate in the Strathmore Law Clinic’s Criminal Justice Unit, which works on remand cases for clients who have entered a plea but not yet been convicted. Through research and litigation, the Strathmore Law Clinic works to ensure that its clients receive justice.
“It was quite interesting to learn more about the U.S. criminal justice system — working on intake cases, visiting court, going to prison,” Agingu said. “We learned a lot. The internship gave us an opportunity to practice the lawyering skills that we’ve learned in class.”
Kangai said visiting the client in prison was eye opening.
“Now you meet the person you have been reading about, and you’re even more motivated to work on the case and get the person out of prison,” she said. “When you speak to them, you realize the impact a wrongful conviction has on the individual. It’s very sad to hear about their story. It also challenges you as a lawyer to be careful and really think about the decisions that you make — about the effects that those decisions can have on an individual, on their family, on their community.”
Of the prison visit, Agingu added, “It was emotional, seeing what the justice system letting someone down does to them and their family. It motivates you to keep pushing for these people and to be the voice for the voiceless, and work to prevent these wrongful convictions from happening.”
Agingu and Kangai expressed gratitude to Strathmore Law School’s faculty for making this opportunity possible. “We’re also grateful to Professor Jimmy Gurulé for accepting us as his interns and treating us the same as all the other interns,” Agingu said, “for believing that we were capable and up to the requirements of his interns.”
And they hope this is the first of many exchanges between Strathmore and Notre Dame.
“We had an amazing experience,” Kangai said. “I hope the partnership is going continue between the two law schools so other Strathmore students can come and have this experience that we’ve had, and I hope students from Notre Dame Law School can come to Kenya and have the Kenyan experience as well.”
Patrick Nzomo, faculty director of the Strathmore Law Clinic, said, “On behalf of the Strathmore Law Clinic and by extension the Strathmore Law School, I would like to appreciate the Notre Dame Exoneration Justice Clinic for providing this wonderful opportunity to our two students. I can only hope that the collaboration between the two clinics will continue in the years to come.”
Visit exoneration.nd.edu to learn more about Notre Dame Law School’s Exoneration Justice Clinic.
The Indiana Lawyer also reported on the Exoneration Justice Clinic’s group of summer interns.