168th Commencement: Watch Live
Brenda Baddam '17 will be the first person to tell you that connections matter. After all, that's what helped her land an unbelievable opportunity to meet U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Baddam was among a select group of law students accepted to the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program — named for the Supreme Court justice and her mother — this past summer. You can draw a line from Baddam's on-campus participation to her internship: as president of the Latin American Law Students Association, Baddam was able to network with Betty Lugo '84, founding partner of Pacheco & Lugo PLLC in New York City and president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association. Lugo encouraged her to try for the internship and helped ensure her application would be seen.
The rest was up to Baddam.
"The process was intense," she said. "There were two rounds of panel interviews, each with one judge and the rest were clerks. They asked tough questions but we also had some great back-and-forth."
“Don't limit yourself. One of the things that the Sotomayor internship taught me is that you can do anything.”
Thankfully the suspense only lasted a few days. Baddam interviewed in downtown New York City on a Thursday. That Sunday night, back in Albany, she got the call.
"I cried a little bit," Baddam said. "I really look up to Justice Sotomayor. She's an amazing woman."
Baddam was placed with Hon. Ramon Reyes, a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of New York. She took part in weekly brown-bag lunches with members of the Eastern District, observed settlement conferences and arraignments, and completed writing assignments for the judge's civil and criminal cases. "Let me tell you, he was amazing," Baddam said of Judge Reyes. "The best part was being able to talk to him one-on-one. It was great because he was so open with his interns. He told you exactly what he needed, and gave us real feedback on our writing."
One of the biggest thrills was being able to introduce herself to Justice Sotomayor, who established the judicial internship program to empower students from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds. Like Justice Sotomayor, the first Supreme Court justice of Hispanic heritage, Baddam grew up in an inner-city environment.
A photo of the two together now hangs on the wall at Baddam's grandparents' house.
"You look up to this person and you think, 'How would I ever be able to meet her?' " said Baddam, whose grandfather left Cuba for the United States in 1959. "I'm from Miami. I was raised by my mother and grandparents. I don't come from a really good neighborhood. I don't have that kind of background. So to be able to say I met Justice Sotomayor, that was a huge thing for me."
Baddam recalled Justice Sotomayor as straightforward in her discussion with the interns, giving them advice on how to take advantage of mutually beneficial relationships, both long- and short-term.
"She was very open about everything," Baddam said. "Justice Sotomayor believes in bringing up people from our community, and she strongly believes in mentorship."
Now a 3L, Baddam said the experience helped her focus on her career path. She wants to help people from minority backgrounds and their communities — though perhaps not the way you would expect.
"When people think of public service, they usually think of defense and defendants, where you're helping one person," she said. "I want to work in prosecution, which can spark change on a larger scale. You get to not only help victims, but you get to help the way your city, or your town, looks at the law. For example, I'm really tough on domestic violence and human trafficking. Those are sore spots for me. The way that a prosecutor's office uses its discretion really shapes the way an area views and takes on those crimes. You're helping victims. It's personal to me. I want to help people who really, truly need help."
Baddam graduated from Florida International University with a bachelor's in Criminology. She currently is studying for the February bar exam as a Pro Bono Scholar, and is interning at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albany in a department that focuses on drug trafficking.
At Albany Law, Baddam still serves as president of the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA) and is editor-in-chief of the
Government Law Review. She has been encouraged by the increased interest in, and participation at, LALSA multicultural events across the entire student body, and the rapid growth of the
Government Law Review, which has been able to triple its membership and double its article output under her leadership.
"Albany has been good to me," said Baddam, who also works as a translator for the Immigration Law Clinic. "I've gotten opportunities that honestly I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. I've been able to use my Spanish-speaking skills in ways that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise."
"I am also grateful for the support I have received from my husband and my father in Venezuela," she added.
Her advice to law students: use connections wisely — and don't let fear stand in the way of seizing an opportunity.
"Don't limit yourself," she said. "One of the things that the Sotomayor internship taught me is that you can do anything. You can come from nothing and do anything you want."