Profiles in Practice: Nyajuok Deng

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When asked for one piece of advice she would give to new lawyers, Nyajuok Deng said, “Stay focused on your ‘why’ – your reason for what you do, because that is how you maintain authenticity and keep being yourself while pursuing your career.”

Remembering where she came from and why she chose to practice law is incredibly important to Deng, not only to combat imposter syndrome like so many other folks in the field, but because one factor in Deng’s moving back to Minneapolis earlier this year was to be with and give back to her community. Deng and her family immigrated to the United States from South Sudan when she was two years old, originally settling in the Twin Cities area. Although they moved to San Diego, back to the Twin Cities, and then to Storm Lake Iowa where she graduated from high school. 

Deng ended up in Washington D.C. for law school, but she still considers the Twin CitiesNyajuok-2 “home” because it’s the first American home her family has lived in and because of the relationships she’s built with the South Sudanese community here. One of her favorite parts of being a lawyer is that she can be a bridge for her community, which makes the daily grind much more fulfilling.

Upon arriving at Iowa State University, Deng initially majored in journalism, as she had been very active with the school newspaper and yearbook in high school. But her avid involvement with the 2008 election piqued her interest enough to join the pre-law club and student government on campus, and she ultimately studied political science and criminal justice instead. During the 2012 election, Deng once again got involved with social justice movements, which helped solidify her decision to eventually attend law school.

After graduating early from Iowa State University, Deng spent a few years working and volunteering in Minneapolis­—first, as a college access coach with College Possible for AmeriCorps, and then assisting international students with J-1 visas at the University of Minnesota. Then, when Deng first applied to law schools, she scheduled a visit to Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C., and immediately fell in love with the area. As an advocate for social justice, moving to and experiencing D.C. was an absolute dream for Deng. She still remembers the moment she first stepped foot on the Howard campus and she knew she belonged there.

Deng spoke fondly of her time in law school, including an episode in which a surprise guest speaker was scheduled to present in one of her classes­—and suddenly Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor was there, actually teaching and even cold calling on students. For Deng, that was certainly one of the perks of being in D.C. for law school. Another was the unparalleled opportunities to engage in such a robust international atmosphere. At Howard University, law students are only allowed to participate in either a law review/journal or a moot court/mock trial, so Deng joined the Golar Teal Butcher International Moot Court Team.

Moot court is an experience Deng highly recommends because it really hones students writing and speaking skills, as well as offering the chance to meet new people and develop long-lasting friendships.

During her 3L year, Deng became president of the team and got to attend the annual competition in Nepal. Moot court is an experience Deng highly recommends because it really hones students writing and speaking skills, as well as offering the chance to meet new people and develop long-lasting friendships. After she graduated, Deng was able to pursue her interest in international law by first spending a year at the law firm Willkie Farr and Gallagher’s DC office and later as a law clerk at the Department of Justice in the civil litigation branch. In those roles she focused on global due diligence, compliance, enforcement, and investigations.

Nyajuok-1Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deng utilized her free time by reflecting on ventures throughout her career thus far and discovered that sometimes the answer to the question “Where do I go next?” can be found by going back to the beginning. During one summer in law school, Deng worked as a summer associate at Faegre Baker Daniels (now known as Faegre Drinker). She was able to gain knowledge in different practice areas by completing a rotation through some of the departments as well as a rotation through Cargill’s general counsel department a part of the Twin Cities Diversity in 1L Practice Clerkship Program. She stayed connected with folks she met there, some of whom helped Deng figure out her next move—returning to Minneapolis.

Currently, Deng works at Fredrikson & Byron as an associate attorney, specializing in technology, data and software matters, intellectual property and mergers & acquisitions. Deng noted that this position is very different from the fields of law she’s worked with in the past, but she celebrates the change and sees this opportunity as way to merge her personal interests (which include technology) with her career. She enjoys learning skills that she can also use in pro bono work, such as drafting contracts and policies for local organizations and start-ups in communities of color. Deng also hopes to work with organizations focused on education, especially ones geared towards giving back to underserved communities. 

By Lani Rodgers
Lani (Petrulo) Rodgers, J.D. graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, OR in 2018 and completed a LL.M. in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 2021. She currently works as a law clerk to the Honorable Colette Routel, Fourth District Court Judge in the Hennepin County Juvenile Court Division.
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