From the courtroom in Ghana to the classroom in NYC

Agnes Opoku-Barnieh has long wanted to help with the administration of justice in Ghana, and in the world.

So she decided to become a lawyer. And then she became a magistrate, whose duties range from deciding civil and criminal cases, presiding over juvenile court to being the marriage officer and coroner.

Today, while her family lives in Ghana, she’s pursuing an LL.M. in Transnational Legal Practice from St. John’s University School of Law in New York City. She hopes the degree will help her handle the complex legal issues that judges must confront. That’ll improve efficiency in the delivery of justice, she said.

Opoku-Barnieh studied philosophy and law in Ghana, and received a barrister-at-law certificate. She practiced at a law firm for three years, after a competitive selection process, was sworn in as a magistrate in January 2016.

And she’s not stopping there.

“My career goal is to become a distinguished Supreme Court Judge in Ghana,” she said. “I also hope to serve as a Judge at the International Court of Justice in the future. Globalization and the increasing interconnectedness of the world has changed the nature of legal studies and practice. It is good for a well-functioning Judiciary that Judges are abreast with changing developments in law and have a deep knowledge and appreciation of emerging trends in legal practice.” 

It was easy to choose her U.S. law school: St. John’s is a household name in the judiciary in Ghana, she said. The school has partnered with the judicial service for years.

Opoku-Barnieh was nominated by the country’s chief justice to pursue an LL.M. this year. She’ll complete the degree in June 2018. 

“I particularly like St. John’s because, apart from its emphasis on academic excellence, it imparts on each student values that will sustain legal practice, such as service to the society and pursuing justice through legal education,” she said. 

Plus, New York City feels like home away from home. First of all, it’s easy to find Ghanaian food.

And her class is diverse. That means she’s able to benefit from the many perspectives that international students bring to the classroom. 

“What has surprised me the most is how non-native English speakers are able to undertake advanced studies in Law,” she said. “It is always fascinating to observe how my classmates from Asia, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world where English is not the official language are able to make legal arguments during role plays and class discussions confidently. It reflects the support provided by St. John’s Law School to non-native English speakers to improve on their speaking and writing skills.”

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