Funmi Ojetayo ’12 came to law school to satisfy a long-held dream to be an expert in international law and comparative constitutional law and to make connections back to the African continent. Fortunately, a chance encounter with a visiting South African scholar led to the opportunity of a lifetime.
In his second year of law school, Ojetayo served as a law clerk to the South Africa Law Reform Commission in Pretoria, researching U.S. sex worker law & policy and making policy recommendations on the South African Sexual Offences Act. While there, he had the opportunity to visit the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and a desire to clerk at the high court was sparked. When he returned to the Maryland, he was introduced to the Honorable Dikgang Moseneke, Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, who was serving as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at UM Carey Law. That meeting turned into a judicial clerkship in Justice Moseneke’s office.
"To be at the Court is to be at the center of some of the most controversial cases in the country, and to work with some of the greatest legal minds in the world” said Ojetayo in an email. “Working under the Deputy Chief Justice I learned the rigor, insight, and empathy needed to apply the values of the Constitution to the hardships of the real world.”
During his time at the Court, Ojetayo assisted the Deputy Chief Justice to moot key issues before oral arguments, as well as reviewing applications for appeals. He also had the opportunity to assist Justice Moseneke with his international human rights and committee work.
“The Court offered me an exciting opportunity to think critically about many of the rules and principals of law that I learned at UM Carey Law,” observed Ojetayo. “The most important thing I learned however, comes from a common refrain of the Deputy Chief Justice during our post-hearing debates. That is, ‘Law is the means. Justice is the end.’ That legal philosophy, although sometimes derided as impracticable given the narrow strictures of the law, is grounded in clear and compelling legal reasoning at the Court.”
With his current work in the Legal Unit of the Tompkins County Department of Social Services, Ojetayo is able to bring Justice Moseneke’s thoughtful approach to his daily practice. “Often as lawyers, we get caught up in the pedantry of the law, forgetting that it is merely a tool, a means to a greater end. The Deputy Chief Justice taught me to approach the law with that principle as guiding light, and after seeing it in practice at the Constitutional Court, I am inspired to think and apply the law in the same way. I will always be grateful for that, and I will aspire to apply these ideals in the rest of my legal career.”