Q&A with Jeremy Zhang ‘23GS, 1L at NYU School of Law

Kicking off a new series spotlighting Dual BA alumni pursuing legal studies, Jeremy Zhang ‘23GS shares how his background in sustainable development fuels his passion for public interest law.

February 21, 2024

The impressive endeavors Dual BA alumni pursue are as varied as their unique interests and experiences, but some throughlines can be spotted. The law is one such commonality, with a plethora of Dual BA alumni engaging in legal studies and careers across an array of specialities. 

In recognition of this shared interest, visible among both current students and alumni, we’re highlighting several recent Dual BA alumni in the law, starting with Jeremy Zhang ‘23GS: a 1L at NYU School of Law. Zhang is channeling the passion for sustainable development he fostered at Columbia into public law pursuits. He shares how his time in the Dual BA influenced his path, along with advice for current students considering law school.

Majors: Politics and government, sustainable development 

Sciences Po campus: Le Havre

What is your GS story? 

I was born and raised in Toronto, to parents who immigrated from China, with a stop in Germany along the way. While in school, I learned French, and inspired by my parents’ international background, I became enamored with the idea of spending some time in France during my undergraduate degree. On top of that, I had the idea that I wanted to go to law school from when I was 14 or 15 years old. As I developed an interest in politics and current affairs, I was always particularly intrigued by the ways in which the law could be a tool for progress or a tool for oppression in different circumstances. I wanted to understand how this was possible, as well as find ways in which I could use the law to help others. 

Through a stroke of luck, I was sent a letter describing the Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po, and it immediately became my singular focus as it felt like the program was perfectly crafted for me. The opportunity to realize a far-fetched dream of living in France, while studying policy, social issues, and the law, and getting bachelor’s degrees from two world-class institutions, was simply too good to miss out on. I was very excited about the global perspectives offered by the program, having grown up seeing how different cultures can lead to different ideas and solutions to complex problems. After spending my entire life in one city in North America, I couldn’t wait to go learn about Asia and immerse myself in a new city in Europe.

What were some highlights of your Dual BA experience?

I was in France from September 2019 to May 2021, meaning I had about six months of what would be classified as a ‘regular’ experience at Sciences Po. Looking back, in sort of disbelief, I realize that we really made the most of a very difficult situation. I made some lifelong friends over the course of those two years as we learned to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. The bonds that we formed will certainly be what will stay with me, more than any Zoom lecture or take-home exam.

Another highlight, and an obvious strength of the Dual BA program, was that I got the chance to take advantage of a natural turning point during the transition from Sciences Po to Columbia, and chart out what I wanted to do with what I had learned so far. 

When I began preparing for Columbia, one of the first important questions was what my major would be. Although I had deepened my interests in policy and law at Sciences Po, I was itching for something more specific to guide how I wanted to make an impact. I soon realized that the sustainable development program aligned with my values as it seeks to create a world that is environmentally sustainable, as well as economically robust and socially equitable. As I was taking stock of how lucky I was to have the educational opportunities afforded to me, I felt that this would be how I could translate my privilege into a positive impact on those around me. I’m not sure that if I was in a more traditional four-year program I would have had the push to seek out something different from what I started with, and make this pivot.

What drew you to law and to your current law program? & what specific interests or goals do you have within the law field?

NYU Law vs. Columbia Law Soccer Game

Something that really drew me to NYU School of Law was the culture of empowering public interest law. From the first day of touring the school on Admitted Students’ Day, I could sense that there was a community here of people driven to practice law with the goal of helping people. NYU has been a great place to learn from incredible professors and peers, with the room to explore the issues that matter to me. And of course I would never complain about spending three more years in New York City!

Not too surprisingly, I am interested in a career in environmental and energy law. This summer I will be interning as a law clerk at the Environmental Law Institute, where I hope to work on projects related to climate change mitigation and adaptation, energy, and climate-related judicial education. I am also interested in eventually trying my hand in renewable energy project finance, which excites me because I feel like it’s an opportunity to contribute to a tangible solution that can have an almost immediate positive impact.

How did the Dual BA and GS’s nontraditional educational opportunities prepare you for or inform your law pursuits? 

My career goals within law have largely been inspired by my time in the Dual BA, as I look for areas where I can use my education and abilities to have a real impact on the efforts to slow climate change and create economic opportunity in a socially equitable manner.

“Working as a lawyer, at its core, is about representing your clients’ needs and telling their story. Having the open mindedness to truly understand your clients’ needs and incorporate diverse perspectives can only lead to more success when advocating for them."

One unique aspect of the Dual BA that I have found to be really useful during my time in law school so far is the global perspective the program cultivates in its students. Sustainability issues can vary so much between disparate communities and countries because of a variety of scientific, social, and political factors, so having an open mindset ingrained in me has helped me appreciate that there are not always one-size-fits-all solutions. To me, working as a lawyer, at its core, is about representing your clients’ needs and telling their story. Having the open mindedness to truly understand your clients’ needs and incorporate diverse perspectives can only lead to more success when advocating for them.

What advice would you have for current GS students, especially fellow Dual BA students, who are interested in law school? 

I would encourage students to really explore the things that excite you. Ask yourself what classes get you out of the bed, what projects you’re actually excited to work on. The most important thing I found heading into law school was having a ‘why.’ The great thing about the law is that it can be tied to just about any industry or issue area. You just need to find the problem you want to learn how to solve, the people you want to learn how to help, or the movements you want to learn how to support. This doesn’t just help with crafting your personal statement, although I think it is an important element of your law school application, but will give you greater perspective when you are doing your civil procedure or contract readings.

More specific to Dual BA students, I would advise you to embrace the uniqueness of your path through undergrad! Law schools do a great job of building a holistic class of students that feature a mix of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. You bring something so special to the table because you may have learned about a specific legal issue others have never considered, or you may have seen a legal solution in action that hasn’t been implemented elsewhere. Emphasize these parts of your story because they will help demonstrate the value you can bring to the law school community.