Jennifer Mohamed, a lawyer at the Bayne Law Group based in Princeton Forrestal Village, wasn’t trying to help her law practice in 2013 when she travelled to India to work with victims of human trafficking.
As part of a group called the Village Experience, Mohamed raised funds to expand a rescue center that provided housing and employment for girls who had been victims of sex trafficking. The funds she helped raise built a new dorm for the clients, as well as a new kitchen and space where the girls could make fair trade handicrafts. “We would go to the rescue centers almost every day and provide humanitarian support for the girls,” Mohamed says.
Nor was she looking out for her practice in 2015 when she joined the same group as it traveled to Kenya, where she and other volunteers helped a foundation that rescues young girls from female genital mutilation and early childhood marriage, as well as a school where children with HIV, who are otherwise shunned from society, are educated.
Nonetheless, Mohamed found that these trips helped her be a better lawyer. “It certainly gives me a global understanding of what motivates people,” she says. “It helps me to have that broader perspective—that if you act with integrity, if you act with honesty, and if you have those as your goals, you are more likely to be successful.”
Mohamed will speak on ethics and cultivating prosperity by giving back at the Princeton Bar Association at Jasna Polana on Wednesday, November 29, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. For more information, call 609-454-4775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Mohamed got involved with global charity efforts through her interest in yoga. Mohamed, who is a yoga instructor, says a yoga group called “Off the Mat” encourages yoga participants to take the good intentions developed during yoga classes “off the mat” by dedicating themselves to a year of service. Off the Mat teamed up with the Village Experience during the trips that Mohamed went on.
“I have always had the drive to service, and have a non-ego-centric view of service to someone else as a way to heal,” she says. “When other people prosper because of your hands, you prosper too. “
Mohamed’s view of giving back is shot through with eastern philosophy, especially the idea of Karma. She says that when you take on a case, or approach any situation with the intention to win for the sake of winning, your victory will be a hollow one. “If you win, you won’t get what you want, or you don’t have full prosperity in that holistic way,” she says. “You are more likely to be prosperous in that full way, including economic prosperity, if you act with integrity and have the ambition of being a positive force in the world.”
In fact, a desire to help others is the basis for Mohamed’s entire law career. She grew up near Albany, New York, in a rural area where her mother was a state worker and her father was a farmer and construction company owner. She majored in Russian at SUNY Albany, and went to Albany Law School with the goal of becoming an environmental lawyer.
“It sounds really corny, but I always wanted to be part of justice, to be a voice for integrity and a voice for people and places that don’t really have a voice of their own,” she says. “I wanted to represent the Earth and in a way speak for it. It sounds totally corny, but I wanted to be a voice for the rivers, for the air, and for the soil that I would like to stay clean and be preserved for the future.”
Mohamed went to work in environmental law, first representing New York State’s solid waste program, and later going into private practice as a solo practitioner. She joined Drinker Biddle on College Road East in 2012, and has been with the Bayne Law Group at 116 Village Boulevard since 2014. She has trained with the United Nations in international environmental law and “green economy” and has presented domestically and internationally on international human rights and human trafficking, and the “green economy.”
Although she now sometimes represents defendants in environmental cases, Mohamed hasn’t given up using her legal skills for the greater good. She recently took on a pro bono case, representing a man from Tanzania who was seeking asylum in the U.S. due to political persecution in his home country. She took the case all the way through trial and won.
“Sometimes we think we don’t have time in our practices,” she says. “And sometimes you don’t. But sometimes you do, and sometimes, if it’s something that matters, a pro bono case could be the most meaningful thing that you do. It helps invigorate the mundane stuff that we all have to do to pay our bills. It gives it a little bit more meaning. You might find that there is actually enough time in the day to do these things.”
Mohamed encourages other lawyers to find causes that are meaningful to them and pursue them, especially during the holiday seasons when many people are thinking about giving anyway.
“It’s that time of year when we think about gift giving,” she says. “Maybe instead of spending money on a gift, someone could spend some time or do something a little bit more meaningful.”