Nam ’21 makes his mark at Duke Law as "powerhouse" leader of pro bono projects and student organizations
Nam poured 400 hours into pro bono work this year, all while leading student organizations, maintaining his grades, and serving as research assistant to three faculty members.
Spending a summer helping consumers fight back against abusive debt collection practices was a galvanizing experience for Doo Hyun Nam ’21.
Nam, known as DH, spent his 1L summer at the East Bay Community Law Center’s economic justice clinic, where he saw firsthand the vicious cycle that can trap consumers on the financial margins when they miss a payment, resulting in a spiral of fines and fees, poor credit, rising debt, and higher interest rates.
“What I learned is the legal system is definitely not friendly to people at a lower income level,” Nam said. “There are very perverse incentives. It actually hurts to be poor.”
His experience at the clinic, which is affiliated with UC Berkeley Law, was so empowering that on his return to campus Nam threw himself into starting one of Duke Law’s newest pro bono groups, the Economic Justice Project. He recruited more than 80 student and forged partnerships with local and national consumer organizations, including the Duke Civil Justice Clinic, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Center for Responsible Lending, that supervise members as they provide limited legal services for consumers, support consumer litigation efforts, and participate in legislative advocacy work to promote the interests of consumers.
“That summer at EBCLC was a great experience and I just got really excited about consumer law and wanted to bring it to Duke and promote interest in the field,” Nam says. “Consumer law is an often overlooked but very important area of the law that impacts everyone. It’s been very rewarding helping people, but it’s been especially rewarding working with other students who are really passionate about it.”
Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Nam graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in government, then worked at the United Nations Development Programme – Seoul Policy Centre before entering Duke Law. Nam, who is pursuing the Law School’s Public Interest and Public Service Certificate, found his focus on public interest law sharpened after health issues forced him to take a leave in the spring of his first year.
“Going through all of that gave me the perspective that there are bigger things in life,” Nam said. “I think I've been more driven to do this kind of work after the medical leave and experiencing so much support.”
As a volunteer for the Civil Justice Clinic, Nam conducted a detailed analysis of false claims made in a bankruptcy proceeding to support an unfair debt collection case, drafted form letters to request corrected information from credit reporting agencies, and assisted with drafting pleadings in several cases involving consumer finance issues.
“He was extraordinarily generous with his time and willing to help in any way that was needed,” said Clinical Professor Charles Holton, who directs the Civil Justice Clinic.
Nam poured more than 400 hours into pro bono work in his second year, also serving as executive director of the Duke Immigrant and Refugee Project, through which he helped asylum seekers detained at the Alamance County Jail prepare for their initial interviews with immigration officials and coordinated clinics to help them with legal paperwork.
“DH is a pro bono powerhouse,” said Clinical Professor Kate Evans, who directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic. “His dedication and organization allowed students to provide critical advice and counseling to more than 100 detained asylum seekers. He also volunteered to help organize the state’s first workshop to help pro se asylum applicants facing deportation preserve and develop their claims in immigration court, in partnership with the University of North Carolina, local service providers, and the leading national organization in this area.
“The workshop itself had to be postponed due to COVID-19, but the groundwork laid by DH means that we are ready to go when public health conditions allow. DH’s drive to serve others was an absolute inspiration and critical to the success of Duke Law’s new Immigrant Rights Clinic.”
He was also co-president of the Duke Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) and special staff editor for the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, and worked as a research assistant for three faculty members.
Over his 2L summer, Nam is working both remotely and in the Washington, D.C., office of Janet Dhillon, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After graduating in December 2021, he plans to return to Washington and dedicate his legal career to changing systems he sees as disempowering to individuals.
“I think there are limitations on how to make the existing system function right now, so it’s better if you try to change it,” Nam said. “For this kind of work, the biggest chance for change is happening in D.C.”