December 6, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Steven Choi ’04, Executive Director for the New York Immigration Coalition, was honored at the 2013 Felix A. Fisherman Awards Luncheon on Nov. 21. The award recognized his “progressive advocacy work and commitment to helping others in need at the House of the New York City Bar Association in Manhattan.”
December 5, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Last summer, 2L Steven Green worked at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. In this role, Steven worked on a variety of projects, ranging from legal research and writing to working on search warrant affidavits and other trial-related documents. He also had the opportunity to work on international legal assistance requests regarding investigation materials.
The Fraud section allowed Steven to combine his interests in criminal law, litigation, international law and investigative work. Steven’s summer experience shaped his future plans by reinforcing his desire to pursue a career in litigation, and further exposed him to the benefits of federal government work.
The Fraud Section accepts about a dozen interns every summer, creating a collegial and collaborative atmosphere among the intern class. Each intern is assigned a mentor attorney who assigns projects, so the work Steven did closely tracked the needs of his mentor. The atmosphere of the Fraud section was collegial and cordial while also being fast-paced and hard-working. The hours were manageable and allowed for an enjoyable summer experience.
In addition to informing his future career plans, Steven’s experience at DOJ also helped improve his legal research and writing skills. These skills have come in handy back at HLS when, for example, he is assisting a professor with research or editing a journal article for grammar and bluebook errors.
Steven recommends the Fraud Section at DOJ for anyone looking “to do high-level, interesting legal work with a real sense of purpose and an enjoyable atmosphere.” He recommends the experience for anyone interested in litigation, corporate, or other areas of the law, because the Section covers a wide range of interests by allowing interns to pursue criminal litigation involving business matters.
Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Ally Coll Steele
December 4, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Until recently Emma Fenelon was a Legal Project Manager at the AIRE Centre (Centre for Advice on Individual Rights in Europe). She hails from Ireland and earned her undergraduate law degree at Trinity College Dublin. As a teenager Fenelon was drawn to Law because she enjoyed debate and had read about the efforts of figures such as former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson and Senator David Norris, and how they had used law as a tool for progressive social change. During her first summer of undergraduate study, she interned with a senator in Dublin which developed her interest in public policy and spent much of her time at Trinity involved in the College Historical Society, the University’s oldest debating student society. A year spent on exchange at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia led to an interest in international criminal law and a summer interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague on the defence team of Radovan Karadzic. This experience made Fenelon realize that she would rather work with everyday public interest law than mass atrocities.
After completing her degree at Trinity, Fenelon spent a year earning her LL.M at Harvard Law School, where she focused on international human rights and the law relating to social movements, studying under Professors Philip Alston, Lani Guinier and Catherine MacKinnon. In addition her experience as a member of the the International Human Rights Clinic, and the supervision of Former Professor James Cavallaro was particularly influential. The summer after receiving her degree she worked on an Irish Presidential campaign and was a legal trainee at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. This traineeship was a formative experience; Fenelon’s interest in European Convention law deepened, and she developed experience that proved useful in her first job at the AIRE Centre a London-based nonprofit that protects vulnerable and marginalised migrants by assisting them in asserting their European Union legal rights, providing legal advice, and representing them before domestic and international Courts.
Funded by HLS, Fenelon joined the AIRE Centre as a Satter Human Rights Fellow and spent her first year working on the Centre’s projects in the Balkans. She was responsible for implementing projects in Serbia and Montenegro, including rule of law projects designed to train judges, prosecutors, and other legal professionals in human rights law, especially the European Convention on Human Rights. The following year Fenelon became a staff member, which involved working for the Center’s advice service, which provides free advice on EU law in relation to immigration and welfare benefits. In addition to written advice, Fenelon represented low-income, marginalized clients before domestic tribunals and, when under the supervision of the Legal Director, at the European Court of Human Rights. During her second year at the AIRE Center Fenelon also became a Legal Project Manager. In this role she works to identify, condemn, and eliminate discrimination against ethnic minorities in the UK and to empower those minorities, particularly members of the Roma community.
Fenelon spends a lot of time with clients, and finds that working with and on behalf of those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal advice is the favorite part of her job. Fenelon also values the opportunity to make a deeper impact by bringing strategic cases before domestic and international courts; because the Center receives many requests for assistance, it has a comprehensive understanding of the systemic legal problems faced by vulnerable migrants and can select strategic cases to advocate for policy change. During the past few years, working on EU law has allowed Fenelon to engage directly with the immigration debate, a particularly controversial issue in the UK and throughout the Continent.
This September, Fenelon left the AIRE Center for the House of Lords, where she became a Parliamentary Legal Officer for Lord Anthony Lester, a Liberal Democrat Peer who often works on human rights matters. Fenelon hopes that this new position will teach her about the machinery of the legislative process and deepen her knowledge of extra-legal advocacy. Moving forward she plans to become a barrister and continue to work on public interest issues, including human rights and immigration.
Fenelon advises students planning public interest careers to talk to as many people as possible in their areas of interest; these informational conversations and informal chats allow students to get a feel for whether they are suited to particular kinds of work. Those hoping to work for NGOs should realize that paid entry-level jobs are extremely difficult to come by, so it is important to be creative about how to make oneself a valuable, attractive potential hire. Students should apply for fellowships and should choose their internships strategically to maximize the likelihood that they will lead to regular employment. Last but not least, Fenelon encourages students to be open-minded about their early career steps. While she could not have foreseen that she would work in immigration and EU law, she loves her work and the opportunity to both help individual clients and pursue international cases with a broader impact.
Written by 2013 OPIA Summer Fellow Julie Yen
November 27, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Current 3L Abbey Marr spent her summer working at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NWDA) in Oakland, CA. The NDWA and its 45 affiliate organizations advocate for “respect, recognition and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers.”
After working in impact litigation on reproductive rights and education issues, Abbey sought out an environment that emphasized grassroots organizing. At the NDWA, she found a small, innovative umbrella organization consisting of organizers, policy and media staff, and several undergraduate and graduate policy interns. Although at the time the NDWA did not have any attorneys, they may bring on a lawyer soon.
Abbey split her time between researching state labor laws and joining a national campaign around immigration reform. As many states have been pushing for new labor legislation to include domestic workers, the NDWA needed a comprehensive sense of the existing laws. For legal supervision, she turned to the attorneys at the National Employment Law Project, who partner with the NDWA. While working on the “We Belong Together” immigration reform campaign, Abbey analyzed aspects of the proposed bill through a gender lens and suggested adjustments to the legislation to better serve women specifically.
Abbey described the NDWA’s Oakland office as community-based, casual, flexible, fun, and occasionally chaotic. NDWA shares its space with one of its affiliate groups, whose members were often coming in and out of the office, and holding English or yoga classes. Abbey appreciated that she could easily talk to domestic workers who were convening at the office, and she sought their input on the proposed nationwide bills that she was analyzing. Although many of the staff members were traveling for the immigration reform campaign throughout the summer, Abbey said she received good project-based supervision from the NDWA staff and National Employment Law Project attorneys.
As the only legal intern, Abbey warns that students in won’t get experience in legal representation at the NDWA. But she spoke highly of the NDWA internship for students who want to see how lawyers and organizers work together. NDWA is a dynamic organization that is part of a rapidly growing movement, and Abbey recommends this position for students interested in being at the forefront of organizing low-wage workers.
Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Sophie Elsner
Alison was drawn to this internship largely because she wanted to learn more about public interest law. She had also developed a specific interest in education after tutoring and teaching in community education settings. After spending time on OPIA’s internship databases and reading previous interns’ glowing reviews, Alison decided to apply to DESE.
Alison reports that she had a phenomenal experience at DESE. The Office of Legal Counsel is a small team, and she was one of only three interns. This afforded her many opportunities to get to know the staff members and to learn from their work. She speaks particularly highly of her supervisor, who made it a point to ensure that Alison was getting to work on projects that interested her and was being exposed to a variety of tasks.
The Office of Legal Counsel has a wide scope of responsibilities as the department’s in-house counsel, but Alison focused on a few projects this summer. She most enjoyed writing a procedural manual on how to conduct investigations on teachers’ licensure revocations because it allowed her to learn about the entire investigative process, from start to finish, and because she knows it will be useful to future staff members and interns. Alison also reviewed collaborative agreements between school districts and put her LRW skills to work in a variety of legal research projects.
Alison will work at a law firm in New York City next summer, but she plans to keep the door open to working in the education field again. She highly recommends an internship at DESE to students looking for substantive work and caring mentors.
- Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Isabel Broer
November 19, 2013 | Leave a Comment
If someone had told me at age 24 that I would become a lawyer, I would have told them they were crazy. I had majored in geology as an undergraduate, spent a couple of summers at Woods Hole, and entered a Ph.D. program with the idea of becoming a marine geologist. After deciding that path was not for me, I had an M.S. in geology and no career aspirations. I considered a number of options, ranging from scientific journalism to carpentry. Deep down, though, I was seeking a way to turn my 1960s activist spirit into a job. As a young teenager, I had been angry and passionate about the Vietnam War, civil rights, and what we then called women’s liberation. Environmental issues were never at the top of my list of political concerns, but I was attracted to environmental advocacy because it would allow me to integrate my love of science with political action.
When I started at Harvard Law School in 1980, the environmental offerings were paltry. I almost dropped out after one year, because I couldn’t envision how a law degree could translate into meaningful work. But I was fortunate to connect with the Conservation Law Foundation (a regional environmental advocacy organization headquartered in Boston) as a 2L, and I worked there as an intern over the next two years. The lawyers there were stopping offshore oil leasing, battling pollution, and saving forests, and I was hooked. After law school, I spent one year as a legal fellow for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco and two years as a Massachusetts assistant attorney general in the environmental protection division.
I learned to my surprise that I actually thrived as a litigator, in spite of my initial terror at any type of public speaking. When family life brought me to the New York area, I was lucky to land another position at NRDC as a litigator in its “citizen enforcement project.” That project—which was disbanded in 1994—focused almost exclusively on enforcing Clean Water Act discharge permits. But the cases were more varied than one might expect: one enforcement action against a Texaco oil refinery lasted for 19 years, requiring several trials and appeals to hold the refinery accountable for its pollution. (The moral of that story is that public interest lawyers have to be like pit bulls; once we latch on, you can never shake us off!)
I am now a member of NRDC’s litigation team, a group of about a dozen lawyers, located in four of our offices, who specialize in litigation, rather than a particular substantive area. (Most other NRDC lawyers focus on a discrete set of issues, like energy, oceans, clean air, or endangered species.) Thirty years after becoming a lawyer, I am having the most fun of my career—because of the excellence and camaraderie of my team, the freedom to choose what cases to tackle, and the rewards of mentoring young litigators. I also love seeing a case go from the first development of the legal theory through motions, discovery, trials (occasionally), and appeals. My favorite cases typically involve a big, bad actor (industry or government); an intractable environmental problem; and feisty clients. In the past few years, I have helped to secure a cleanup of chromium from historical industrial operations in a working-class community in New Jersey; to challenge EPA’s registrations of pesticides that pose risks to human and ecological health; and to formulate legal strategies to target mold in New York City public housing. I am particularly drawn to environmental justice litigation and have learned that environmental advocacy is intimately bound up in the political, economic, and social concerns that moved me as a teenager.
My advice for HLS students who are aspiring environmental advocates is to learn to be a great writer, a critical thinker, and a resourceful researcher. Those generic skills—combined with a demonstrated drive to serve the public good—will carry you far. You also have an exciting array of academic and clinical choices, along with a vibrant environmental community, to help you on your path to a rewarding career.
Written by OPIA Summer Fellow Samantha Sokol
Current 3L Jessica Frisina spent last summer in New Orleans as an intern at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (formerly known as Juvenile Regional Services). This agency provides public defense in delinquency proceedings to over 1,000 juveniles in New Orleans each year. They use a team-based approach with social workers, youth advocates, and attorneys working together to holistically support juvenile clients and their families.
Jessica was paired with a staff attorney who provided close supervision. During each day, she worked closely with the attorney on a variety of tasks. She was able to work directly with clients and their families nearly every day. She also had many opportunities to appear in court, which was one of her favorite parts of the summer. In the office, she had a chance to practice legal writing by drafting motions and other documents for the court, writing investigation requests, and making referrals to client services.
Over the course of the summer, her supervisor gradually allowed Jessica more opportunity to work on tasks independently. She was on the whole very happy with the level of supervision, feeling that her supervisor simultaneously supported and challenged her in a way that allowed her to develop new skills and served the clients’ best interest.
Jessica returned to Harvard even more committed to a career in juvenile justice. She’s continuing to develop her skills, currently working to defend juveniles in Boston through Harvard Law’s Criminal Justice Institute. She credits her summer in New Orleans with making her realize how much she enjoys working with youth and doing defense work, and that she particularly likes delinquency work.
However, in reflecting upon her summer experience, Jessica expressed that she developed a deeper belief in the need for structural change in the criminal justice system. She described seeing cases in New Orleans where the adversarial system was not serving the best long-term interests of the youth and communities she was working with. Learning from this experience, she hopes to be able to combine criminal defense work with more systemic criminal justice reform in the future.
Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Jessica Ranucci
A career in public interest law was always on the agenda for Suzette Smikle ’02, who currently serves as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Northern District of Georgia. Smikle was born in a poor neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in New York City, where she attended public schools. She then received a scholarship to attend an independent preparatory school in Connecticut. Her Jamaican-American background inspired an interest in international and community service. “I’ve had so many great opportunities,” she says. “I knew I had to give back to my community, both locally and internationally.” A skilled oral advocate, Smikle decided from an early age that a career in law would be her way to give back.
When Smikle arrived at Harvard Law School in 1999, she knew that she wanted to pursue public service. At HLS, Smikle was active in the Black Law Students Association and served as Co-Chair of the Africa Summit Committee. She planned and attended humanitarian trips to South Africa, Kenya, and Haiti, and served as the president of Direct Action, a human rights group on campus. Her 3L year, Smikle arranged a for-credit internship in Jamaica with the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights. She remarks, “I found that there were an abundance of international opportunities available to me at HLS. […] I figured out that I loved international work.” Smikle also pursued many traditional opportunities. She participated in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Family Law Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, the Criminal Justice Institute, and the Child Advocacy Program. At the same time, Smikle kept busy as a member of the Harvard Law Review. Smikle recalls, “I never went to bed before midnight at HLS. There were too many exciting things to do!”
After graduation and a judicial clerkship, Smikle was awarded a Heyman Fellowship and began work as an Honors Attorney at the Department of Justice in the Civil Division’s Office of Consumer Litigation. After almost five years, however, international work still sparked her interest. In 2008, she was appointed as a Foreign Service Attorney at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Because of her French language skills and previous experiences, Smikle expected a post in West Africa. Instead, USAID offered her intensive Spanish training and sent her to Lima to serve as the Regional Legal Advisor for Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. There, she provided training and legal advice on USAID’s programs in health, education, agricultural development, democracy promotion, water sanitation, and economic growth. Smikle found this work challenging and broadening, but missed the opportunities for trial advocacy she had at DOJ.
Smikle’s interest in trial work ultimately led her to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, where she prosecutes violent crime, gun and drug cases, bank robberies, human trafficking, and gang-related cases as an AUSA in the Major Crimes Section of the office’s Criminal Division. Smikle’s day-to-day work involves writing motions and briefs, researching the law and investigating the facts of her cases. She also uses her oral advocacy skills, appearing in court for trials as well as sentencing, suppression, detention and mental competency hearings. She comments, “I get to do work that suits my skills and at the same time is important and benefits the public good.” An added bonus of her cases is that their fact pattern is always stimulating. “All of the witnesses are characters, and every case is like a soap opera,” she says.
Smikle’s advice to HLS students is to pursue whatever interests them. “Don’t follow a particular path because it’s easy, you’re being recruited, or you have too much student loan debt,” Smikle remarks. Citing her own experiences, she advises that students need not consider debt an obstacle because HLS programs, like the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP), offer many opportunities to lessen the burden. “The most important thing is to love going to work in the morning,” she says.
ReNika Moore, HLS class of 2003, is currently the director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Economic Justice Group. The purpose of this division is to address racially driven obstacles to economic equality, as well as discrimination in employment and housing. The bulk of the division’s work is impact litigation, but they also engage in legislation, regulatory advocacy and public education. On a typical week, Ms. Moore is involved with some aspect of the litigation process such as brief writing, deposition, discovery, and trial preparation. She also works on some appellate cases and amicus briefs.
After graduating from law school, Ms. Moore clerked on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for Judge Robert Carter, who had a prominent career as a civil rights lawyer, including working on Brown v. Board of Education. Ms. Moore then went to work for Outten & Golden, LLP, a plaintiff’s employment law firm before coming to the NAACP LDF.
When asked to give advice for current students looking to pursue a career in racial justice and public interest more broadly, Ms. Moore recommended being creative and flexible. She did not take the path she thought she would when she was in law school and she suggests that students be flexible in both the geographic areas as well as in subject areas they work in. She also emphasized that in law school students should stay involved in the subject areas or organizations they are interested in. During law school, Ms. Moore was an editor of the Civil Right Civil Liberties Law Review, was in the Criminal Justice Institute clinic, as well as interned with the NAACP LDF. Students should also build a network of people doing interesting things and stay connected with them so they can help identify paths and opportunities for you as you build your career.
For students interested in working in racial justice issues or the NAACP LDF in particular, Ms. Moore says that most attorneys in this area have done some work with the organization or partner organization during or after law school. Attorneys cannot come in “cold” but rather need to have a demonstrated commitment and experience in civil rights law. She says that professors, OPIA, and alumni are very helpful in connecting students interested in this area with organizations and opportunities.
Prepared by former 1L Section Rep Nora Mahlberg
“I thought my career was ruined,” recalled Ms. Elizabeth Westfall of the moment that she found out she did not receive a Skadden Fellowship. It was the fall of 1995, and she was 3L, planning to embark on a career as a civil rights attorney. Now it seemed liked her “life was over.” Thankfully, it wasn’t. To the contrary, since her graduation from HLS, Ms. Westfall has worked at two different law firms (the law firms now known as WilmerHale and Relman, Dane and Colfax, PLLC), two non-profits (Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Advancement Project), and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Back in 1995, however, her dreams of working to further women’s rights seemed impossible. She had spent her time at HLS taking courses such as Employment Discrimination and Voting Rights to gain a substantive foundation in civil rights. Although she believes that those courses were important, she cautions students against becoming too focused in one substantive area while in school. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of gaining skills, such as litigation, that are transferrable, and critical, to any legal practice area. Indeed, throughout her career, she found that her experience in litigation put her at an advantage vis-à-vis other lawyers. Many of her colleagues had never been in a courtroom.
After learning that she did not receive a Skadden fellowship, Ms. Westfall participated in “on-campus hiring” and was immediately hired by WilmerHale, despite never having summered there. She decided to move to Washington, DC to be with her fiancé. She concedes that today’s legal market is very different from the “boom” days of the 1990s. With firms cutting back and hiring fewer associates, “on-the-spot hiring” is not very likely. Therefore, she advises students to choose summer internships very carefully with an eye to their futures. For example, she suggests that students interested in civil rights split their summers between “major civil rights shop[s] and firms that give litigation experience.” She also encourages students to build relationships with both supervisors and peers because “it’s all about whom you know.” She believes that the people that students meet during their summers could have a large impact in the future, particularly in small practice areas. She also suggests that graduating students settle in the city in which they want to practice long-term in order to develop roots and network.
Ms. Westfall spent two years at WilmerHale doing traditional defense work for large corporations. She believes that during her time there, she received valuable training that laid the foundation for what set her apart from other attorneys involved with civil rights advocacy. After two years, however, she began searching for other opportunities in the DC area. She employed a strategy that she recommends students use while searching for jobs. She was broad in her search and reached out to people in the HLS network by “blindly calling alums.” By word-of-mouth, she learned of a staff attorney position with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. There, she began working on Fair Housing Act litigation, a field that was new to her. About a year into her work, one of her colleagues decided to start his own firm and asked her to join him. She spent the next five years working on fair housing and public accommodation issues at a firm then known as Relman & Associates. She gained “tons of litigation experience” and even did class action work.
By 2004, however, Ms. Westfall was ready to try something new again, preferably related to the upcoming election. Once again, through conversations and networking, she came across an ad for a position at Advancement Project conducting temporary grassroots organizing. She got the job, but it ended up being something entirely different. As it turned out, Advancement Project was looking for someone who could manage the organization’s litigation; the majority of young attorneys there were not experienced litigators. Ms. Westfall, on the other hand, believes that litigation expertise and the skills gained through litigation (strong research and writing skills) are key components of advocacy work. Indeed, once she started hiring attorneys at Advancement Project, candidates with litigation experience stood out to her. Still, she notes that litigation experience is not a prerequisite for doing advocacy work, particularly for those students who are interested in policy work and have no desire to engage in litigation.
Through her work at Advancement Project, Ms. Westfall also developed management skills—she learned how to “develop a work-plan, execute it, and hold others responsible.” She believes that students interested in advocacy work should cultivate such skills early in their careers because while traditional litigation creates its own work-plan, advocacy work does not. So having management experience and training sets candidates apart. Ms. Westfall worked her way up to Director of the Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program.
In 2010, with the election of President Obama, Ms. Westfall decided that she wanted to work in the Justice Department and joined the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division as a trial attorney. In many ways, she has come full circle with this position as she is investigating and litigating her own cases. Yet, she is enjoying her work because she works with “some of the most talented voting rights lawyers in the country on high profile voting matters.”
She hopes that through learning about the variety of her experiences students come to understand that while “you cannot control your career,” “there are plenty of brilliant and talented people serving individuals, groups, and issues.”
Written by Former 1L Section Rep Tharuni Jayaraman