Growing up in Oakland, there were two things that inspired Nikayla Johnson to go to law school—the first was when members of her family became involved in the criminal justice system; and the second was a Social Justice Academy at San Leandro High School, where she studied a curriculum that brought together “critical, intersectional, and transformative education, community, and solidarity.”
“Together, these experiences cultivated my interest in all things youth-advocacy related,” she said.
A native of the Bay Area and a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, Johnson was part of the California Scholars Program, a scholarship program for California residents who attend HBCUs and choose to attend law school at UC Hastings. She also was a member of the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP) at Hastings, which admits students from adverse backgrounds and supports them to succeed.
Johnson said she initially considered becoming a social worker but realized she could do more to help people as an attorney. “I was specifically drawn to Hastings’ concentrations and clinical opportunities,” she said. “Hastings is the place to challenge you and cultivate your different interests.
While at law school she got involved in numerous activities and organizations. She was the Co-Chair of the Moot Court Team, Vice President of Communications for the Black Law Students Association, Co-Student Coordinator for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, Vice President of Education Surrogacy for Hastings Association for Youth Advocates, and a member of the Hastings Prisoner Outreach.
After graduation, Johnson said she wants to focus on a career on youth advocacy but is also considering work in the area of employment law or civil rights law. She said her summer jobs during law school helped prepare her to be a successful attorney.
During the spring semester of her second year, she was an extern at East Bay Family Defenders, assisting parents facing Child Protective Services. “Working at EFDB was probably my most memorable experience in my three years of law school,” she said. “Although it was very emotional for me at times because I could see people I knew and grew up with in some of the clients, it was rewarding to be able to connect with them and do everything I could to help.”
She also worked as a judicial extern for California Court of Appeals Judge Therese M. Stewart and at Prison Law Office, an office that fights for the constitutional rights of incarcerated people. Johnson said, “All of these positions helped prepare me for the ups and downs that come with the type of work I’m interested in going into.”