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Sara Hayat, LLM ’18: “Michigan Law Enriched My Relationship with Law Forever”

By Jordan Poll
June 13, 2018

Sara Hayat, LLM ’18, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Her decision to practice law as a young girl living in Lahore, Pakistan, led her to travel to the United Kingdom to earn her first LLM degree at age 21. When she returned to Pakistan, Hayat struck out on her own and worked at law firms before deciding to pursue her interest in antitrust law, an area of law still in its infancy in Pakistan. She moved to the Federal capital, Islamabad, for a year to study at the Competition Commission of Pakistan. Hayat then practiced law in a male-dominated industry for six years before choosing Michigan Law. “Coming here was the best decision,” said Hayat. “Michigan has changed my life and outlook in ways I hadn’t considered before.”

At the adamancy of her family and close friends that the United States is unparalleled in its education, Hayat set her sights on the one institution offering the collegiality, excellence, and opportunities she was searching for in a law school. And she applied to Michigan despite never having visited the country nor having a strong background in U.S. law. “Michigan is not recognized in Pakistan like it is in the U.S. and other parts of the world,” said Hayat, who values the Law School’s ability to provide an exceptional learning experience, while also instilling compassion in its students. “It’s such a brilliant school. I want everyone back home to realize it too, which is why I plan to get involved in and strengthen the alumni network in Pakistan when I return. I hope it encourages prospective students to approach me, so I can tell them about my own experience at Michigan.”

For Hayat, whose eclectic work palette includes time spent handling labor law issues for Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan, professional development must be supplemented with academic growth. Which was why, when she came to Michigan Law, her involvement extended beyond the classroom. Hayat presented her first academic paper on “Climate Migrants and Adaptation under the Paris Agreement” as a Salzburg Global Cutler Fellow in Washington, D.C. She also was one of two students selected from across U-M to serve on President Schlissel’s Advisory Committee on Labor and Human Rights Standards, where she worked to introduce an environmental compliance policy into the University’s existing code of conduct for licensed goods and merchandise. “Coming in at an age where I am more mature and had work experience meant that I could prioritize things other than academics, including forming strong friendships,” said Hayat. “But even though I was used to 13-hour work days—sometimes seven days a week—moving back into academia after being in practice for almost six years was a trying jump, albeit an exhilarating one.”

Having studied law in Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Hayat has drawn parallels and paradoxes between the academic cultures and styles of the three jurisdictions. The first is that whereas Pakistan and the United Kingdom are more lecture-based, the United States focuses on interactive learning in a way that best prepares students for what they will face in practice. “The U.S. educational system is its crowning glory,” she said. “The Socratic Method applied here challenges one to think about any particular issue, legal or otherwise, from a variety of different perspectives. And, while the workload is heavier, it is exactly what you’re going to experience as a member of the profession.”

The most poignant difference Hayat concluded from her cross-cultural endeavors was the way women think in different parts of the world. “As a female lawyer in Pakistan, I often was aware that others saw me as a female first and a lawyer second. It affects your decisions, and increases the obstacles you encounter,” she explained. “In the U.S., I look around and observe how women don’t hold back because of their gender. It’s secondary to them, which is how it should be. Women in the U.S. act without the cultural considerations that I have to overcome in Pakistan. Even when female advocates are respected and encouraged by judges and colleagues, most tend to think about themselves as females first and lawyers second.” However, Hayat clarified that there are more female lawyers practicing in Pakistan now than ever before, which is a testimony to their quality of work and the maturing legal landscape.

A law degree from the United States is also prized because it inculcates understanding of domestic case law, which is studied as a model all over the world, said Hayat. “Even back home in Pakistan, we occasionally looked at precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court to extract nuanced arguments. A lot of people in the academic and legal circles of Pakistan discuss U.S. jurisprudence, just by virtue of its potency and how thought-provoking it is.” Hayat plans to use her understanding of the U.S. legal system to build upon the quality of her own work, particularly when she returns to her practice in Lahore.

“My time at Michigan Law has enriched my relationship with the law forever,” said Hayat. “I remain grateful for Michigan’s investment in me.” With the support of two fellowships, the M. Elaine Johnston Scholarship and the Michigan Grotius Fellowship, Hayat came to the Law School to learn new ways of thinking about familiar areas of law, while also availing herself of fresh opportunities. “It was a different environment with new people, outside of the familiarity and comforts of home,” she said. “But a Michigan Law degree, something that has opened so many doors for me, makes me want to keep improving myself to make the most of this opportunity.”

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