Zach El-Sawaf ’12 is a native Cincinnatian. Although he attended the University of Notre Dame for college, where he majored in political science, he ultimately returned to Cincinnati for law school. This wasn’t always his plan, however; El-Sawaf spent a year after college working for Easter Seals, an organization for which he had worked seasonally throughout college. “Law school was always in the back of my mind, though,” said El-Sawaf. “I always enjoyed arguing, and I had really enjoyed the mock trial experiences I had had during high school. I also knew that a JD would benefit me in any career I chose to enter.”
El-Sawaf specifically chose the College of Law for several reasons. “For me, it was the best combination of a high-quality school that was also a great value, especially because I was eligible for in-state tuition,” he said. An additional benefit was El-Sawaf’s familiarity with the area. “I wanted to go to law school somewhere where I’d be able to be involved in the community, and I knew Cincinnati would provide that opportunity.”
During his first summer in law school, El-Sawaf worked for the Ohio Innocence Project. The experience was incredibly positive for him. “I knew coming into law school that I wanted to get both a public interest related work experience and a private practice work experience, and OIP was definitely the public interest experience I was hoping for.” He initially became aware of the Innocence Project during high school mock trial experiences, which were held at the law school. “I always heard about and saw students working while I was here, and I learned they were working to free innocent prisoners,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a part of that.’” El-Sawaf’s interest was heightened by stories from former law school graduates and classmates who were similarly interested in participating.
El-Sawaf stated that he has really enjoyed his experience as a fellow with OIP. Specifically, he pointed to the impact of being able to work directly with actual clients, which allows for the creation of bonds with them. He stated that he also enjoyed the camaraderie created between himself and the other fellows: “There are lots of lows, and not a lot of highs,” he said, “So everyone shares in each other’s highs and enjoys each other’s victories. We help pick each other up during the lows, too.”
A Summer of Experiences
During the upcoming summer, El-Sawaf will be working with Frost Brown Todd, thus gaining the private practice experience he hoped to get. “I am hoping the experience will narrow whether I want to do public interest or private practice,” he said. “My background lends itself to public interest, and OIP solidified my belief that I could practice public interest law successfully. At the same time, however, I do not want to foreclose the option of working in private practice.” El-Sawaf is excited about the possibilities this summer holds for having the opportunities to work in several different practice areas. “I hope I get to focus to some extent on my areas of interest, such as litigation, but I also hope to be able to get my feet wet in a lot of different practice areas.”
As for the future, El-Sawaf says the jury’s still out. “Hopefully by the end of the summer I will have a better idea of what I want to do,” he says. He plans to participate in a judicial externship next semester, and hopes to participate in the College of Law’s new small business clinic as well, thus increasing the broad array of experiences he will have had during law school. He did state that he hopes to stay in Cincinnati after he finishes law school, although at some point he can see himself practicing in a bigger city.
In the meantime, El-Sawaf is focusing on the present. As the end of his 2L year approaches, he attempts to enjoy whatever free time he has, mostly by relaxing with friends on the weekends. “We just get together, hang out, and enjoy the fact that we don’t have to be working at that particular moment,” he laughed.
Written by: Lindsay Mather ‘11