After 2L year, Greg Baltz (a current 3L) spent his summer with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) in Florence, Arizona. FIRRP is a non-profit organization with its central office serving adult non-citizens detained in Florence and Eloy, AZ as well as two offices serving unaccompanied minors held in shelters in Phoenix and Tucson. Greg worked in FIRRP’s Florence office, where six attorneys as well as two legal assistants and a social service coordinator serve approximately 2,500 non-citizens, almost eight percent of the overall detained population in the United States. These men and women are detained in five separate immigration detention facilities run by the federal government, Pinal County, and private contractors like the Corrections Corporation of America in the towns of Florence and Eloy, Arizona. FIRRP strives to ensure that detained individuals have access to counsel, understand their rights under immigration law, and are treated fairly and humanely by the judicial system. Because the need in the area is so great and the attorneys are so few, FIRRP has created a triage system involving “Know Your Rights” presentations, short consultations with current detainees to determine which detainees may qualify for immigration relief, and follow-up meetings to help prepare their cases. Most of FIRRP’s work focuses on giving detainees targeted assistance to enable them to represent themselves. FIRRP cases span the gamut of removal defense, including asylum applications, U and T Visas, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and cancellation of removal for both lawful permanent residents and undocumented individuals.
While at FIRRP, Greg’s day-today activities involved visiting detention centers two to three times a week, giving “Know Your Rights” presentations in Spanish, and interviewing non-citizens to gauge the organization’s ability to help them. He met with the detainees who were receiving assistance from FIRRP to help them gather evidence and prepare their cases for court. He also researched immigration issues and country conditions and contacted detainees’ families to gather further evidence in support of the detainees’ cases. Greg also drafted motions and briefs to present to the court. He represented a Somali refugee before an immigration judge both in a bond hearing, where he secured the refugee’s release from detention, as well in a merits hearing, where his client was granted lawful permanent residency or a “green card.” He gained experience researching and writing immigration law, preparing openings as well as a direct examination.
Applying to the organization.
Greg was familiar with FIRRP before coming to Harvard. In September of his 2L year, he submitted an application including a cover letter, resume, and writing sample. Greg finalized his 10-week placement in December, after deciding to spend the remaining four weeks of his summer working at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York, NY.
Things to consider.
Students interested in pursuing this type of work should consider what kind of substantive work they want to do over the summer. Greg’s work was legal-services oriented, involved regular client contact inside detention facilities, and required fluency in Spanish. Greg has found that his knowledge of the immigration system has been helpful in the community lawyering and housing work he engaged in with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston, MA. Working with FIRRP allows law students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the basics of immigration law, to get direct exposure to clients and the bureaucracy of the immigration detention system, and to appear in court. Overall, Greg would recommend an internship at FIRRP to anyone interested in seeing the inner workings of the immigration system, spending significant time in detention centers and in the heart of anti-immigrant animus in the U.S., working with individuals in removal proceedings, and learning from an excited, smart, and passionate team of attorneys.
Written by 1L OPIA Section Rep Marin Tollefson
December 10, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Brett Stark (HLS, class of 2012) and an organization he recently co-founded, Terra Firma, were highlighted in the Atlantic this month. The article spotlights work being done through medical-legal partnerships and how essential their work can be for different communities.
Last summer, Melanie Botho Emmen worked at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) in Rome. IDLO is an intergovernmental organization with a mandate to promote the rule of law around the world and expand access to justice to the most vulnerable. In addition to promoting the rule of law through programs such as training judges and prosecutors and providing toolkits on best practices, IDLO is involved in sustainable development by working in the realm of environmental law and land rights.
Melanie worked in the research department of IDLO. Her primary task was working on a UNICEF project on children’s access to justice in Eastern Europe, which involved researching and drafting case studies for incorporation into the report. However, her supervisor was more than happy to accommodate her other interests and allowed her to work remotely with IDLO’s office in the Hague on health issues. Melanie spent a significant amount of her time working on IDLO’s health program, developing a report on strategies to deal with counterfeit drugs in West Africa to present to the president of IDLO. Melanie identified clear and open communication between herself and her supervisor as key to making her summer a success. She was able to convey her interests as well as understand the needs of the IDLO research department; working together, she and her supervisor were able to satisfy both demands. If she could do anything differently, she would have started mapping out a work plan with her supervisor prior to her arrival in Rome.
Melanie really enjoyed her time at IDLO. Her colleagues were extremely knowledgeable and friendly and her boss allowed her the freedom to set her own schedule to a large extent, in addition to letting her work in her interest area. She appreciated getting constant feedback on her work, which helped refine her research and writing skills. In addition, she really enjoyed being in Rome. The work schedule at IDLO allowed her to leave the office at 5:30pm each day and gave her a lot of free time to explore the city. Melanie got a fellowship from the Ford Foundation, which connected her with IDLO. IDLO takes interns outside of the Ford Fellowship, though Melanie recommends reaching out to both the Human Rights department and the head of the department with which students are interested in working.
For 1Ls interested in working abroad, Melanie recommends talking to students who have worked abroad and with speakers and panelists at the many lunch events on campus. Although networking might seem intimidating, Melanie says that people are more than willing to help you get in touch with other people, so just go say hi if you’re interested in what someone does. Also, Melanie noted that a lot of international organizations look for summer interns in March or April, so don’t worry about the job search too early!
Written by OPIA 1L Section Rep Purun Cheong
October 10, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Some wonderful news for two alums of Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Fellows Program.
Mary Bonauto Director of the Civil Rights Project for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and a 2004-2005 Wasserstein Fellow, and Jonathan Rapping, President and Founder of Gideon’s Promise, a 2009-2010 Wasserstein Fellow have become MacArthur Fellows!
Alumni Spotlight: Aminta Ossom ’09, Crowley Fellow in International Human Rights, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School
April 25, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Aminta Ossom ’09 is the Crowley Fellow in International Human Rights at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. With an ongoing interest in international issues as a first generation American, Ossom was inspired to pursue a career in human rights after taking an undergraduate course in religion and foreign policy that profiled faith-based human rights campaigns. She entered law school knowing that she wanted to work in the public interest but was torn between pursuing a career in international human rights or domestic civil rights law.
After completing internships working on children’s rights issues with the International Justice Mission and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Ossom committed to a career in international human rights work. She enrolled in the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), conducting research and advocacy for its West Africa projects as a student. Her positive experience with the IHRC led her to pursue a Frank Knox Memorial Traveling Fellowship in London, where she studied African politics for a year while volunteering at Amnesty International. Her experience there was so fulfilling that she applied for and received a Satter Fellowship to return to the organization as a legal fellow the following summer.
Ossom’s Satter Fellowship allowed her to research the national justice systems of Sierra Leone and Ghana. Living and working in both countries, she interviewed government officials and local legal experts to outline the domestic legal framework for trying crimes under international law in their national courts. Amnesty International uses the reports Ossom drafted as part of its national and international advocacy.
Ossom’s experience at Amnesty International led to her current position at the Leitner Center, where she spends most of her time organizing research and logistics for an overseas documentation project, meeting with students, and coordinating a speaker series on international human rights law. Ossom takes pleasure in working directly with students and connecting them to other professionals that work in human rights law. She also appreciates that her job allows her to travel abroad frequently; she enjoys adjusting to other cultures and environments and loves learning how the people in other countries live their lives.
Ossom recently had the opportunity to teach a seminar on disability rights for a select group of students preparing to research access to education for people with disabilities in Rwanda. This experience was particularly rewarding because it allowed her to combine her passion for student mentoring with her desire to work directly with communities suffering from human rights abuses and amplify their voice.
Ossom also advises law students to think of each job as a learning experience and to view their career development as a lifelong journey. Ossom emphasizes that students today will likely take many different jobs in a variety of practice areas over the course of their careers, and may not find the job that is the right fit for them immediately after law school. She also advises that students take advantage of any opportunities to reach out to people who work in their interest areas. For example, students should go to speaker events or lunch talks given by professionals who work in their field of interest and shouldn’t hesitate to approach the speaker afterwards to make connections and learn more about their work. In fact, Ossom recommends that you email interesting speakers after the event both to thank them for speaking and to stay abreast of relevant opportunities as you begin your career.
Ossom notes that without significant field experience, entry-level positions or opportunities for recent graduates in international law are limited. Participation in clinics and extracurricular activities, such as the Human Rights Journal, will go a long way in strengthening your resume for potential employers after law school. Finally, Ossom reminds students that they should pursue work that they truly want to do, and not to hesitate to give interesting opportunities a try.
Alumni spotlight written by OPIA Fellow Kim Schroer
Alumni Spotlight: Michael Bahar ’02 – General Counsel to the Minority Staff of the House Select Committee on Intelligence
February 20, 2014 | 1 Comment
Working as the General Counsel to the Minority Staff of the House Select Committee on Intelligence gives Michael Bahar ’02 the opportunity to contribute to our country’s national security mission on a daily basis. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Bahar knew he wanted to pursue a career in public service from an early age.
When Bahar first arrived at HLS in 1999, he explored a variety of opportunities available to students. He enrolled in the Prisoners Legal Assistance Project, became involved in the Ethics Law and Biotechnology Society (ELAB), directed the Parody, and served as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard College. Shortly after 9/11, during Bahar’s 3L year, security law issues rose to the top of the national agenda. Bahar chose national security law as a path to public service. “I was always interested in military service,” he says. “With events at the time, national security work seemed like the most tangible way to directly serve the public.”
Before he graduated from HLS, Bahar was commissioned into the United States Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). He began basic training the morning after he sat for the New York State bar exam. While waiting for his Active Duty service to begin, Bahar was a Litigation Associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison LLP in NY City for ten months. His first JAG Corps post was as a criminal prosecutor in Jacksonville, Florida. Bahar then deployed to the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa as the Navy lawyer for the USS Nassau Strike Group, where he advised on the law of naval operations and conducted anti-piracy operations. Bahar was later stationed twice at the Pentagon, first serving as Aide to the Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Navy and then as Deputy Legal Counsel to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, both times working administrative law issues. He was then stationed in Virginia Beach with Naval Special Warfare Development Group, during which time he found himself jumping out of planes and advising on cutting edge legal issues involving the use of force.
Bahar’s time with the SEALs was cut short by a call to work at the White House. Between 2010 and 2012, Bahar served as Deputy Legal Advisor to the White House’s National Security Staff. Bahar advised President Obama’s National Security team on a broad array of issues, including foreign relations law, presidential emergency and war powers, intelligence law, information safeguarding and security, ethics, and congressional oversight. He weighed in on the executive response to some of the most pressing events in recent years, including the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Dealing with such a wide range of issues gave Bahar broad expertise.
Less than two weeks after leaving the White House, Bahar deployed to Afghanistan. There, he advised a Special Operations Task Force, working closely with his Afghan counterparts to improve their special operations systems.
Bahar left Active Duty in 2012 for his current position as General Counsel to the Minority Staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He describes leaving Active Duty as a very difficult career decision, but he enjoys being in the Reserves. In his current position, Bahar provides legal advice to Democratic committee members charged with overseeing seventeen elements of the U.S. intelligence community. As in his previous positions, Bahar does not shy away from hot-button national security challenges. His committee has recently addressed terrorism in North Africa, cybersecurity issues in U.S.-China relations, and the leaks to the NSA programs.
Bahar recommends that HLS students interested in national security work consider joining the military. “It’s the best way to break into the field,” he argues, “because military duty will help you build much needed credibility and substantive expertise. “National security is a small, specialized field, and it’s based largely on trust,” Bahar says. Although entering such a tight-knit field can be difficult, Bahar encourages students to relentlessly pursue opportunities because “once you’re in, it is far easier to move within the field–the first national security job you find will not be your last.” And there are many personal and professional rewards. “Your work will always be fascinating, important and humbling,” Bahar remarks.
Written by OPIA’s Summer Fellow Samantha Sokol
January 30, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Allison Elgart ’05 currently serves as the Legal Director of Equal Justice Society (EJS), a nonprofit focused on establishing more safeguards and legal protections against racial discrimination. Elgart’s work in impact litigation, education, and community organizing is central to achieving EJS’ mission. EJS works to challenge the Intent Standard, which requires that the complainant in discrimination cases prove that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff. Since EJS believes that bias is often unconscious, structural, and unintentional, they argue that plaintiffs should not have to prove intent.
While Elgart always knew she wanted to pursue public interest work, she found a passion for civil rights law at HLS. By her 3L year, Elgart was the Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review and a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “My interests were broad, but I had a pretty good sense I wanted to pursue employment, housing, education, or immigrant rights law,” she says.
After a year-long judicial clerkship, Elgart began work as an Associate at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, a national plaintiff’s firm. There, she litigated class action employment discrimination and consumer protection cases on behalf of employees and consumers. Elgart highly recommends working at a private public interest firm to students interested in pursuing civil rights law. “The valuable litigation experience you earn will take you a long way,” she says.
After almost five years at Lieff Cabraser, Elgart was interested in finding a position where she could apply the litigation skills she learned at Lieff to a mission-driven nonprofit organization focused on issues of racial justice. She found a posting for a Supervising Attorney position at Equal Justice Society in OPIA’s weekly Alumni Jobs Digest e-mail. EJS seemed like a good fit; Elgart wanted to work in an organization that partnered with leading racial justice or civil rights groups and had a collaborative, dedicated staff. EJS is driven by a “mission to change constitutional law so that it better protects people of color.” Elgart started as a Supervising Staff Attorney and then became the Legal Director. Her day-to-day duties include meeting with allied civil rights organizations, performing legal research and writing or editing memos or briefs, and strategizing about legal theories to challenge the intent doctrine. As a supervisor, Elgart oversees young attorneys and law clerks. “Mentoring is one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” she says. “I enjoy helping attorneys who are deeply committed to civil rights move along on their career paths.”
Elgart’s advice for HLS students and alumni interested in civil rights is to demonstrate to potential employers that they are passionate about the field. “Do a one or two year fellowship at a nonprofit. Semester-long internships and clinics are also great. Even if you are already at a corporate firm, take on the pro bono cases available and volunteer in your free time,” she advises. Elgart also stresses the importance of networking and informational interviews. Talking to practicing civil rights attorneys and asking them about their experience will help you learn how to succeed in your job search, she says. Lastly, Elgart argues that making a good impression at a job interview is essential. “That’s how applicants stand out in my mind,” she says. “Let your enthusiasm, commitment, and passion for civil rights come across.”
Written by OPIA Summer Fellow Samantha Sokol
January 16, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Last summer, Caroline Sacerdote worked for the Legal Resources Centre (“LRC”) in South Africa. Most of her time was spent working on domestic impact litigation, but she also had the opportunity to work in international human rights. Caroline’s summer at the LRC showed her how the law can be used as a tool to solve social problems.
At the LRC, Caroline worked closely with an attorney focused on women’s and children’s rights. She conducted legal research and drafted memoranda on topics including indigency law and special schools. Caroline carried out fact-finding, creating a questionnaire to discover how policies were being implemented, and did follow-up interviews with community stakeholders. Her research uncovered problems with the implementation of laws, and she was able to see how impact litigation begins and discuss strategies for how to tackle problems.
Caroline also analyzed testimony for the Marikana Commission, which is mandated to investigate the events at the Lonmin Mine, where 34 people were killed and more than 70 people were injured during a strike in 2012. She synthesized and coded testimony for the attorneys to use in their closing arguments. Additionally, Caroline participated in a civil society meeting critiquing South Africa’s draft report on women’s rights for the Maputo Protocol and worked on both the LRC’s commentary and shadow report.
At HLS, Caroline has sought ways to develop her knowledge on a variety of public interest issues, with an emphasis on gender and sexuality. Her work at the LRC helped narrow her focus to LGBTQIA and reproductive rights issues. It also solidified her desire to work in impact litigation. An aspect of the LRC’s work that Caroline particularly admired is how connected the Centre is with the people it serves.
Caroline enjoyed working at the LRC. The staff was extremely driven but the atmosphere was friendly, casual, and non-hierarchical. She was given leeway to manage her own workload, and her supervising attorney provided ample feedback on her work. She enjoyed sitting in the copy room with another intern and a legal researcher. Instead of being a distraction, Caroline liked the steady flow of people, which allowed her to get to know her co-workers very well.
One of the best parts about working in South Africa is the newness of the country’s constitution. The jurisprudence is so new, and there is a strong focus on human rights issues embedded directly within the constitution.
Caroline would recommend the LRC for anybody interested in substantive public interest issues, international law, and/or impact litigation. She was able to get hands-on experience that has inspired her to pursue impact litigation as a career. This summer, Caroline will be interning with the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York as a Summer Ford Fellow.
Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Jillian Wagman
Meg Holden, a 3L, is deeply interested in environmental law, which she hopes to build into a career in environmental litigation and policy work. Prior to attending law school, Meg worked for two years for an environmental NGO in New Delhi, India. She came to law school in large part to prepare for a career focused on protecting the environment, both at home and abroad.
Last summer, Meg interned at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C., where she supported the organization’s environmental litigation and broader policy efforts. Meg loved her experience; she particularly enjoyed the autonomy that she was given in determining her areas of focus, as well as the diversity of her assignments (her work covered a wide variety of topics related to climate change and international policy). One of the highlights of her internship was helping to research/write a brief for a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
During her 1L summer, Meg worked in the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Throughout the summer, she worked on criminal litigation in which the defendants, typically corporations, had broken laws aimed at protecting ecological and wildlife resources. Meg really enjoyed the work and found that it provided her with a more nuanced appreciation for the demands of environmental litigation. She particularly valued the opportunity to work on substantive assignments alongside a team of such high-caliber attorneys.
As someone planning a career in litigation, Meg found her 1L summer experience in litigation particularly valuable. She also underscores how important it is to network before, during and after 1L summer.
Meg will be clerking in Washington, D.C. next year and eventually hopes to continue to work on environmental litigation and policy.
Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Ilan Stein
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.”