From the small Texas town of Royse City to the growing, bustling metropolis of New York City, Christa Bieker has come a long way to achieve her dream of working within consumer financial law.
Christa recently graduated from Columbia Law School, earning a juris doctor while being named a Harlan Fiske Stone scholar for superior academic achievement.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and law in a global society. The Ivy League law school combines traditional strengths in corporate law and financial regulation, international and comparative law, property, contracts, constitutional law, and administrative law with pioneering work in intellectual property, digital technology, tax law and policy, national security, human rights, sexuality and gender, and environmental law.
Students graduating in the top 30 percent of their class receive the Harlan Fiske Stone scholar honors.
Christa said her experience on the Royse City High School debate team pushed her toward entering an Ivy League law school.
“It was the most educational and valuable experience of my high school career and definitely changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.
Christa loved being a part of her high school debate team so much that after graduating in 2003, she enrolled at the University of Texas at Dallas and joined the university’s cross examination debate team.
While at UTD, Christa studied government and politics and continued to remain active in the debate team, gaining the valuable experience she would eventually need while attending Columbia.
She graduated from UTD in 2006, becoming the first within her family to graduate from a four-year university.
Christa continued to follow her passion for debate, and ran the Debate Central youth program for the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas for four years. The program provides free resources and workshops for high school debaters.
Christa used her position at NCPA as an opportunity to give back to the high school debate program in Royse City, heading an annual workshop for RCHS students to practice and learn the art of debate.
“It felt great to be able to give back to a program that has given me so much,” Christa said.
As a member of the debate teams of RCHS and UTD, Christa said she was often exposed to the practice of law, which eventually led to her decision to apply to Columbia Law School in New York.
During her tenure at Columbia, Christa became more interested in federal government, as many of her professors held past positions within the White House. One such professor, Robert J. Jackson, who served within the Treasury Department during the financial crisis, encouraged Christa to apply for an externship at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Christa said externing for a semester at the bureau was an enjoyable experience which made her want to work within the field of consumer financial law in Washington, D.C.
“I saw that D.C. was such an exciting place to be in that particular field right now, because there’s so much new regulation and work that’s being done,” she said.
No matter the size of the class at Columbia, Christa said the all of the professors made an effort to interact with the students, guiding them towards their career interest with a willingness to see them succeed in their chosen fields.
“There’s a lot of involvement with professors at Columbia, and they’re very interested in helping you succeed and helping find the right job for you,” she said.
According to Christa, all of the students are required to write a research paper alongside a professor, and the professor she chose was Jackson, who teaches corporate governance at Columbia.
Another professor, Gillian Meztger, was also instrumental in helping Christa with her externship at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in D.C.
Metzger, who along with Jackson won the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for excellence in teaching at Columbia, was Christa’s administrative law and federal courts professor.
“I referred to my notes from her classes all the time whenever I encountered different problems at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Christa said.
Her experience with the professors at Columbia reminded her of a teacher she had back in Royse City – Anne Payne – who taught Christa’s speech and debate class at the high school and has been working within the Royse City school district for nearly a decade.
“If I had not been in her class there’s no doubt I would not have gone to law school,” Christa said. “We just learned so much about the world in her class because of the topics we debated.”
Christa also branched out from doing purely legal studies and work within law while at Columbia, participating in several pro bono volunteer programs such as the Harlem Tutorial Program. Her work with the program involved tutoring young kids at a charter school located in Harlem, just north of Columbia.
Christa said the area was known for being extremely crime-ridden and poverty-stricken, and that recently the largest gang bust in New York City history occurred within a block of the school where she helped tutor a small group of fifth- and sixth-graders.
Another volunteer project Christa participated in was the Uncontested Divorce Workshop, where she helped battered women get divorces from their abusive husbands, including one of her fellow classmates.
Christa plans to continue pursuing consumer financial law, and will join K&L Gates, an international law firm in D.C. in the near future.
“I was really impressed with the people there,” she said. “They’re hard-working, good-natured and they’re all very close, and that’s something I didn’t expect to find at a state corporal law firm. They do excellent work and I’m excited to be a part of their team.”