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Student Spotlight

UH Law Center 3L Tiffany Penner secures two federal clerkships

Kirsten Williams, a member of the University of Houston Law Center's Class of 2022.

Tifffany Penner, a 3L at the University of Houston Law Center.

Jan. 12, 2022 - Tiffany Penner, a member of the University of Houston Law Center Class of 2022, will have multiple experiences working in a judge’s chambers for the better part of three years after she completes her legal education in May.

Penner will clerk with Judge Jeffrey V. Brown from 2022-2023 in the Southern District of Texas in Galveston. After her work with Judge Brown, she will then re-locate to the nation’s capital from 2024-2025 for a clerkship with Judge Robert Leon Wilkins on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“I look forward to developing as a writer and researcher during my clerkships,” Penner said. “I hope that my D.C. Circuit experience will open doors to litigation roles with some exposure to appellate and administrative law work.”

Penner said clerkships interested her because they presented opportunities to unravel difficult legal questions under the mentorship and experience of a federal judge.

“A judicial externship with Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal solidified my resolve to pursue clerkships,” Penner said. “My interest in the D.C. Circuit began when I took Professor Sapna Kumar’s Administrative Law course. I previously worked at NASA, and Professor Kumar’s class left me fascinated by the Constitutional power struggle between the executive branch, Congress, and the courts that Administrative Law attempts to sort out. I am excited about the D.C. Circuit’s heavy Administrative Law docket.”

Penner said another source of inspiration to pursue clerkships was Law Center alumna Rebecca Cutri-Kohart ’16, a former D.C. Circuit Court clerk, who provided encouragement and information during the application process.

“Both of my clerkships mean a lot to me,” Penner said. “First, Judge Brown served as a judge at every level of the Texas state judiciary before joining the Southern District of Texas and is a UHLC alumnus who is committed to investing in current students. As someone who plans to build a career in Texas, I cannot think of a better “first boss” to guide me through my initiation into the practice of law than Judge Brown.

“Second, I am incredibly grateful to Judge Wilkins for giving me the opportunity to clerk on the D.C. Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is unique among the appellate courts because all the judges and clerks sit in the same building and frequently interact. I feel very fortunate to learn from and work for Judge Wilkins.”

Penner said her interest to pursue a legal education stemmed from her experience at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

“As a Contract Specialist for the International Space Station, I supported NASA’s SpaceX and Northrop Grumman Commercial Resupply Services contracts, which were multibillion-dollar, high-scrutiny contracts that often required me to interact closely with NASA attorneys during negotiation and scope changes,” Penner said. “The attorneys were my guides through tricky situations, and I was attracted to their role as complex problem solvers and counselors. I also had the chance to write about and research the Federal Acquisition Regulations at length during my time at NASA—and I truly enjoyed it—which I took as an indication that I was perhaps uniquely situated to enjoy practicing law.

“An unrelated but equally as powerful pull to law school came during my time as an undergraduate student, when I volunteered extensively with immigration services organizations. I saw how immigration attorneys could profoundly impact the lives of individuals, and I wanted the tools to serve my community so directly and tangibly.”

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