Guest blogger Alonzo Emery is currently a 3L at HLS.
Eighteen hours after the last final exam of my 1L year, I started my summer internship in New York. My mentor at the office where I was working reminded me that mastery of the law requires first serving as an apprentice—be it at a big law firm, international organization or public interest NGO. She encouraged me to seek out deep-relationships with mentors and then serve as a mentor myself whenever possible. My time at HLS has presented me with multiple opportunities to learn from dedicated, seasoned mentors. But, what should have been unsurprising is that my classmates have proven one of the sources of greatest learning, and inspiration, during a legal education that spans two continents.
Both the summer prior to and during an HLS semester abroad at Peking University Law School, I worked with the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), a pioneering non-governmental organization in Beijing. Contrary to widely held assumptions, Chinese citizens are collaborating with public interest organizations like CLAPV to stop factories emitting hazardous pollutants. During my time at CLAPV, I was invited by a local judge and my mentor, lawyer Zhang Jingjing—dubbed “China’s Erin Brokovich”—to sit-in on a session preparing a client for trial, where he would testify about the polluting activities of a foreign-owned factory in the area. In Zhang Jingjing’s accepting of this ultimately successful case and her bold willingness to question the status quo, I began to appreciate the deep impact made by Chinese public interest lawyers.
Eager to continue contributing concretely to the development of public interest initiatives in China, I returned to HLS to work for the Harvard Mediation and Negotiation Clinical Program (HNMCP) on a project with one of the world’s largest computer companies, Hewlett-Packard. The project allowed our clinical team to assist two of HP’s supply-chain factories in southern China to further refine their internal corporate social responsibility initiatives. Our clinical team visited the supplier factories in Dongguan during the 2010 winter term and made a series of implementable recommendations. These factories are now evaluating those recommendations for the future development of their internal grievance mechanisms. HP is also continuing to evaluate the recommendations and capacity building that it recommends to suppliers in light of the UN Special Representative and Harvard Kennedy School/HLS Professor John Ruggie’s principles for rights-compatible grievance mechanisms. Compliance with the “Ruggie Principles” ensures that workers have ready access to multiple grievance channels allowing them to report their concerns anonymously about anything from labor rights violations to dorm living conditions.
One of the most gratifying experiences of this year-long HNMCP project was working closely with Professor Bob Bordone and Stephan Sonnenberg. Their expertise in disputes system design and consensus building made a theoretically and logistically complex clinical project into a rich learning experience and opportunity for meaningful cultural exchange.
Clinics at HLS try to entrust students with as much responsibility as possible. My HNMCP student teammates—Alexis Chernak (3L), Marisa Cruz (2L) and Sally Wagner Partin (3L)—proved absolutely indispensible to the success of this project: by refining our ideas and recommendations, they unquestionably served as my greatest teachers.
As a board member of the Harvard Asia Law Society this year, I worked with another dedicated team of students to raise money for an orphanage for the blind and visually impaired in Beijing. Our organization’s student members formed the true strength of our efforts and almost every active member lent a helping hand in time and money. Already we have raised enough money to fund an entire year of a blind Chinese student’s life-skills and professional training at the orphanage.
Inspired by this experience and another mentor at HLS, Professor Bill Alford—an expert in Chinese law and international disability rights law—I will continue my work with China’s physically and mentally challenged citizens after graduation. Hopefully with financial assistance for this effort, I will work with Renmin University Law School in Beijing to represent disabled clients and create an active disability law clinic—a first of its kind in China.
The lessons learned from my many mentors at HLS—the students, lecturers and tenured professors (only a small few of them mentioned here)—have proven fundamental to developing my capacity as a legal practitioner. As graduation approaches with frightening speed, it is now time that I try to give back in a way that reflects all that I have been given.