PUBLISHED:November 01, 2021

Duke Law Podcast: Liz Wangu '16 charts course to career in international law

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Liz Wangu '16 describes her path to a prospering career in international project finance at Clifford Chance and her love for pro bono work.

In this episode of the Duke Law Podcast, Liz Wangu '16 stops by the booth following a lunchtime discussion at Duke Law in which she shared insights with students on pursuing a career in international project finance in today's legal market. Approaching her fifth year at Clifford Chance's D.C. office, where she focuses her practice on international project finance (energy & infrastructure), corporate finance, and other cross-border development finance transactions, Wangu is currently on secondment as a legal counsel at the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group. 

Jabrina Robinson, director of LLM Career Development and Outreach at Duke Law's Office of International Studies, sits down with Wangu for a conversation that ranges from her well-traveled upbringing – she lived in parts of Africa and Europe before emigrating to the U.S. – to how her desire to effect positive change through the law fueled her academic and professional aspirations. Wangu also reflects on her time at Duke Law, citing some of her most important faculty, peer, and course influences.

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Excerpts

On speaking to students about careers in international law:

"I was actually incredibly impressed with the caliber of the questions that I got from the students. It was interesting to me how they tied their questions to current events... I really do think it's a critical and interesting time to be studying the law right now, so I was very impressed by how much they knew about what was going on and tied it to the questions that they asked me."

On her work as an associate at Clifford Chance:

"My legal practice at Clifford Chance focuses on project finance and development corporate finance, and other types of development finance transactions. Our project finance and development group advises developers and lenders on large-scale energy and infrastructure projects, mostly in emerging economies, and we advise on a whole range of projects. They range from roads and ports to wind, solar, and geothermal projects, but the neat part about project finance in particular, and I told this to the students, is that the projects we advise on have a direct connection to the real economy and they really benefit people and the development of the host countries that we work in, so it feels really meaningful."

On the importance of pro bono work:

"It really is important to me to maintain an active pro bono practice and I mentioned that to the students. We spoke a lot about international careers and development finance work, but we can't really forget the importance of playing a meaningful role in supporting the challenges in our own communities. You know, I'm also American and I care a lot about the issues going on at home. One of the projects that I've really been excited to be involved in at the firm was spearheaded by one of my colleagues, Patrick Jackson, and it was being part of a core team of lawyers that drove the voter protection efforts leading up to the U.S. presidential election last year. Some of the most meaningful work that I've done and I've learned from the most has been through pro bono, like that voter protection program, and so when I was speaking to the students earlier, even though many of them were interested in learning about the cross-border and international transactions, I still really encourage them to look to law firms that will truly support them in taking on domestic pro bono work."

On developing an ad hoc seminar during her third year at Duke Law:

"The ad hoc seminar program is one of my favorite programs and I'm always telling people about it. And just for context, ad hoc seminars are student-developed, student-directed seminars and they explore specialized legal topics that are generally not covered in the regular Duke Law curriculum. When I was in my third year of law school, I had this idea of this development law finance class that was really specialized. It focused on issues of access and inclusion, governance and innovation, and I got together with a few of my friends and we wrote out the syllabus. We had to take it to the curriculum committee to get it approved and Professor Trina Jones served as a faculty advisor. And so, the ad hoc seminar program is a terrific leadership opportunity because as a third-year student you essentially get to direct a course and you work with other students, and you teach one another and you essentially drive your own learning experience.

On tapping into Duke Law's global network:

"Interestingly enough, I moved to Frankfurt, Germany, a few years ago. I was on another secondment with Clifford Chance and I went to go support their banking and capital markets team in Frankfurt, and when I was there I didn't know anyone in Germany. So, I actually reached out to a Duke Law alum, Wolfgang [Ettengruber LLM '15], who works in our Frankfurt office, and he invited me to a Duke Law alumni event in Frankfurt. I was very shocked that there's this vibrant Duke Law community and that's how I made my friends outside of work since I didn't really know anyone in Germany. So even beyond borders it really is a strong network."

Sean Rowe is manager of strategic communications at Duke Law School. Reach him at sean.rowe@law.duke.edu.