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A Look at Refugee Legal Advocacy in Germany

Isabel Schayani and Niku Jafarina JD ’19 at WDR in Germany

By: Niku Jafarnia JD/MPP ’20

This J-term, I did an independent clinical in Germany, exploring the issues refugees are facing in the country, particularly with respect to legal advocacy and representation. More specifically, I wanted to explore the viability of an organization that would allow refugees to play a greater role in legal processes relevant to the refugee community.

From my work in the refugee legal advocacy space, I have been struck by the lack of initiatives that include and train members of the refugee community to work as legal advocates for themselves. I felt that Germany would be a good place to start building an organization that would work towards this goal. Since an influx of refugees arrived in Germany in 2015, the policies put in place by the German government, while far from perfect, have generally given Germany the image of being a “pro-refugee” society, particularly when compared to many of its neighbors. I wanted to test this claim, and learn more about what organizations in Germany were doing to support and empower refugees.

I had the opportunity to meet with people working across a vast spectrum of organizations, from small start-ups, to much larger government-supported NGOs, to German government and UN employees. I also had the opportunity to spend a day with Isabel Schayani (pictured), a former Harvard John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow who started a program within WDR (a German public-broadcasting news station) that provides refugees with critical programming and information about their legal rights in Farsi and Arabic. Most importantly, I was able to meet with people who had come to Germany seeking asylum, and to hear their perspectives on the ever-changing asylum and refugee system in Germany.

During my research, I was particularly struck by the divergences between the German and U.S. asylum and refugee systems. Though the German system has significant room for improvement—particularly as their efforts to deport and exclude refugees have increased—there was a certain humanity that I recognized in the system of services and in the government-provided provisions, educational opportunities, and shelters provided to refugees. This image presented a stark contrast with the U.S.’s increasingly militarized southern border and systematic imprisonment of migrants. Hopefully, countries will look to Germany’s inclusionary policies as an example, rather than replicating the U.S.’s administration’s efforts to demonize and dehumanize those who have come to the U.S. seeking refuge.

While I still have many unanswered questions, my time in Germany has made clear that in spite of Germany’s more progressive policies toward refugees and migrants, there remains a lack of support for members of these communities to advocate for themselves, particularly in the legal sphere. On a more positive note, my research also revealed that there is a general willingness among many refugee-focused NGOs and government agencies to support an initiative that would empower refugees, and that would allow them to meaningfully participate in their own communities’ legal representation. I look forward to returning to Germany this summer to further explore my organizational idea.

A Lawyer’s Limits

By: Solange Etessami, J.D. ’20

Solange Etessami, a 2L at Harvard Law School

In the middle of January, the town of Mytilene on the island of Lesvos is stuck in holiday mode. Christmas songs are still streaming, decorations are still up, and the bakeries still have “Happy 2019!” cakes in the windows. Just a few miles away from this idyllic little Greek town is Moria. Moria is an entirely different world—just the name itself evokes some Lord of the Rings like-nightmare. The infamous camp houses refugees hailing primarily from Afghanistan, Yemen, the DRC, and Iran. 8,000 men, women, and children—all living in freezing, flimsy tents in a shanty town on a hillside.

Most of these refugees are stuck in Moria for months at a time, waiting for the date of their important asylum interviews. This interview will determine whether or not they are granted asylum in Greece, or whether the European Asylum Office (EASO) or Greek Asylum Service has determined that their country of origin or port of last entry (usually Turkey) is safe enough for them to be deported back there. Upon arrival, many of these asylum seekers are asked which European country they would like to go to upon their arrival, and most are not aware that they will not be allowed to remain anywhere besides Greece, if allowed to remain at all.

As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, I was extremely fortunate to have the Farsi language skills to be able communicate with many of the refugees. In 1978, both sides of my family led happy, middle class lives in Iran. My maternal grandfather grew up extremely poor, but managed to put himself through engineering school and had finally reached the stage where he was able to provide for his family. My paternal grandfather was third in command of the Central Bank of Iran, the highest position he could obtain in the government as a Jew. But with the stirrings of revolution and the subsequent overthrow of the Shah in 1979, everything changed. My mother’s father was warned by a friend that the Jews would be thrown into ghettos, and my father’s father was sentenced to death in absentia, owing to his close ties with the newly deposed Shah. Both sides were forced to flee the country they had called home for generations.

Like most children of immigrants, growing up with stories of my family and how they had to start a new life in a foreign land has played a huge role in who I am and the way I see the world. I have always been acutely aware of the true fortune my family had in being able to come to the United States when they could no longer able remain in Iran. Though it took many years and a lot of struggling, my family eventually rebuilt a life in the States. And I’m not sure, given the climate of today, if they would be so lucky…

Because of my family history and with the knowledge that Farsi language skills are desperately needed on the ground in Moria, I jumped at the opportunity to spend my Winter Term in Lesvos. It was the first time I witnessed firsthand the power I could have as a lawyer and advocate. I helped clients prepare and practice for their asylum interviews, and made sure they knew their rights during the process. I accompanied clients to the EASO office to explain their questions and help them get the papers they need. I assisted our lawyers with filing family reunification papers to unite family members with relatives in other countries. I helped a severely mentally disabled man to get guardianship from his cousin, and got him registered with EASO so he could get his papers, a doctor’s appointment, and soon, an open identity card that would allow him to travel to Athens.

My time in Greece was also the first time I had to confront the limits to what I could do. I simply did not have the power to fix the food in Moria, which is so unpalatable that one woman told me she eats just enough to keep herself alive. I did not have the power to compel the man in the Greek post office to surrender a letter to a minor containing the identity card he needed to prove his age. I could not change the interview dates of a mother and father who had to wait in Moria for another 6 months. I could not bring back electricity when it got cut during the freezing cold night. And I simply did not have the power to erase the pain of the man who had witnessed his family members die in front of him.

Although I faced these significant limitations on my ability to change the desperate situation of the people of Moria, I also witnessed firsthand the incredible power I could have as an attorney in helping others attain their legal rights, and in serving as an advocate and confidante for those that are not in the position to advocate for themselves. My experience in Lesvos was the first time I felt truly rewarded in my decision to pursue the path of the law.

Transformative Constitutions: How One African Nation is Writing A New Constitution for National Healing and To Learn from The Past

By: Oladeji M. Tiamiyu, J.D. ’20

The Constitutional Review Commission in The Gambia, located in the Greater Banjul Region

When democracies endure prolonged crises, a complete constitutional review can be valuable to legitimize the nation’s constitution and to create an outlet for national healing. The Gambia launched the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to conduct a full-scale review of the current constitution after enduring the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh, whose administration was characterized with the flouting of constitutional norms and violations of clear constitutional provisions. The Gambia is a small West African nation that is—with the exception of a 50-mile coast on the Atlantic Ocean—surrounded entirely by Senegal and is seven times smaller than Niger State, the largest state in Nigeria. Despite the country’s small size, what happens here has important implications for youthful constitutional democracies around the globe.

The CRC is considering a broad range of issues for the new constitution ranging from granular issues, such as what the qualifications for a judge should be, to broader issues like whether a right to health care and housing should be enshrined within the constitution. This is the second time a committee has been organized to review a pre-existing constitution. When Jammeh came to power as leader of the 1994 military junta, he organized a CRC to create the nation’s current constitution. Important considerations for the current CRC include: 1) how a culture of judicial independence can be constitutionally promoted and protected when, at best, the judiciary has been silent in the midst of unconstitutional conduct or co-opted to serve the interests of the President; and 2) how the constitution’s language can be given substantive effect to protect, among other things, a free press and rights of marginalized groups.

Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest effect of the CRC’s presence will not come with changes to the constitution, but instead through empowering civil society to share political opinions without the fear of repercussions. The CRC has traveled across the country to receive input from members of civil society and this has fostered a sense of political and civic activism that would have been unthinkable under the prior administration. From speaking with local taxi drivers during my morning commute to discussions with senior members of the Gambian Bar Association and lawyers at the Ministry of Justice, everyone is deeply engaged with the complex issues facing the new constitution. Despite diverging opinions, the unifying theme is for greater oversight on the president.

Adama Barrow, The Gambia’s current president, has little in common with former President and military junta leader Yahya Jammeh. For one, President Barrow came into power at 51 and ran for president as an independent while his predecessor came into power as the leader of a military coup at the ripe age of 29. Moreover, Barrow has freed journalists and members of opposition parties while his predecessor imprisoned and, as described in hearings at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), tortured government dissenters in the infamous Mile Two prison and executed 50 Ghanaian nationals. Barrow has also sought to rekindle economic and diplomatic ties with Senegal and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region while his predecessor created extensive diplomatic schisms within the region. Yet despite these differences, the experience with Jammeh has left the nation skeptical of the presidency as an institution. There are high expectations that the new constitution will be more durable and effective than the current constitution.

The current constitution came into effect in 1997 and provides for, among many important provisions, “freedom and independence of the press and other information media,” §207(3), prohibitions against torture and inhumane treatment, §21, and that the judiciary “shall be independent and…shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority” §120(3). However, Jammeh successfully introduced amendments that undermined these provisions. For example, President Jammeh amended §52 of the Criminal Code Act to make written or oral statements considered critical of the government a legal cause of action. To prevent the erosion of constitutional checks and balances “by the parochial interests of one man,” the CRC is just one facet of the transformative justice process that operates in tandem with the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to raise greater awareness of Jammeh’s actions. The TRRC has heard testimony from those who participated in the military coup with Jammeh and claims of torture during his administration.

Dr. Baba Jallow, the Executive Secretary of the TRRC, described the purpose of the transformative justice process as creating ‘nation-schools’ that inform citizens, especially the youth, on the language and purpose of the constitution so that no future government can violate or trivialize their rights as the previous administration did. A constitution, regardless of how well written, can only have substantive effect if a nation’s citizens understand their rights and oppose those forces that conflict with the constitution. The outcome of this process will serve as an important template for similarly situated constitutional democracies seeking to promote civic engagement and prevent the re-occurrence of harmful government actions.

Oladeji M. Tiamiyu is a 2L at Harvard Law School who spent the January semester as a legal intern at The Gambian Ministry of Justice.

Independent Clinical Experience with the Surfrider Foundation

By: Alex Gazikas J.D. ’17

I spent my January term interning at the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization in San Clemente seeking to preserve and protect the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches. Founded in 1984, Surfrider is a grassroots activist organization that seeks to advance environmental protection, ensure and expand public beach access, and manage local beach cleanup efforts. This advocacy is effectuated through lobbying, local volunteer projects, and litigation. Notably, Surfrider is currently involved in a beach access dispute in California in which the landowner purchased a public beach and has attempted to close it to the public. Surfrider prevailed in the California appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court recently denied certiorari.

During my time with Surfrider, my primary work was to research a potential new legal theory to address the problem of outdated beach access laws in Massachusetts and Maine. In most states, the public has a right to access all land below the average high tide line for recreational purpose. In Massachusetts and Maine, the public literally does not have the right to walk along the beach because this land can only be used for fishing, hunting, and navigation. This limited right of access is rooted in a colonial ordinance from Massachusetts, but this ordinance has come to predominate beach access rights in both states. The legislatures of both Maine and Massachusetts have attempted to pass legislation expanding the public’s rights, but the supreme courts of both states have struck down the legislation as an unconstitutional taking.

As an intern, my role was to assess a potential new legal theory that could allow the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to expand public beach access. The research encompassed constitutional takings jurisprudence and the history of the public trust doctrine in Massachusetts. The goal of my research was to ultimately assist in changing the beach access laws, either through proposed legislation enacted through lobbying efforts or litigation by local counsel. Surfrider litigation is generally handled by local pro bono counsel, with the in-house legal team serving an advisory role. This opens up the interesting possibility for previous interns to actually represent the organization later in their careers in a pro bono capacity.

In addition to my work on beach access, I was also able to assist the legal team in operational tasks. This aspect of the internship was unique because it allowed me to get a sense of the normal daily operations of a nonprofit organization. In one such task, I was given sole responsibility to conduct due diligence about a Surfrider Foundation sponsor. Surfrider regularly conducts diligence about its sponsors and partners to ensure that the companies are not involved in “green washing” or otherwise attempting to use their Surfrider affiliation to conceal environmentally irresponsible business practices. It is essential that Surfrider regularly conduct diligence on these companies because any negative publicity about its partners would make it less effective as an advocacy organization. My work product was reviewed and then sent directly to the Surfrider executive staff to help them decide whether to continue the partnership with the company in question.

In addition to the due diligence project, I assisted in licensing agreements and other daily tasks typical of a nonprofit environmental organization. I was also able to participate in the annual Surfrider meeting, led by C.E.O. Chad Nelson, which is conducted at the start of each year and involves representatives from Surfrider chapters around the country.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable culture at Surfrider Foundation and explore San Clemente and the surrounding areas. Because the organization is based in San Clemente, I had access to a variety of beaches and state parks. San Clemente is a great little town, but I also took time on the weekends to go into L.A. and San Diego. I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my final January term at HLS.

Cravath Fellows pursue law projects around the world

Via Harvard Law Today

During Winter Term, students traveled to nine countries to do clinical work and research

Headshot of student

Credit: Lorin Granger

Niku Jafarnia ’19 spent Winter Term in Amman, Jordan, undertaking an independent clinical with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Her commitment to working with refugees and asylum seekers began in college, when she drew on her Iranian heritage and her fluency in Farsi as an intake volunteer. A semester abroad, and later a Fulbright grant, took her to Turkey, where she lived in a city with a large Iranian and Afghan LGBTI refugee community. “I started teaching them English classes and tried to support them along their journey. I essentially chose to come to law school to be a better advocate for these communities.”

At HLS, Jafarnia became deeply involved in work arising from the executive orders banning travelers from Muslim countries from entering the U.S., gathering a group of classmates to protest at Logan Airport, returning the next week to assist affected travelers and working with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic on its amicus briefs to the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court. Her Winter Term clinical in Jordan afforded her an opportunity to explore the full effects of the ban, well before the people affected try to enter the U.S. For the two years before the ban, “the U.S. was taking in significantly more refugees than any other place in the world. At the end of the day, even though many more spots have opened up in other countries, it’s just not enough to make up for the decrease in U.S. spots,” she explains.

Working at IRAP allowed her to refine the client intake skills she has been building through the chance to interview clients during her time there. Additionally, drawing on her earlier experience in Turkey, she researched and drafted a memo describing the ways in which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has failed to meet its own standards. IRAP also set up meetings for its interns with a wide range of important actors, from UNHCR and UNICEF to smaller NGOs working on the ground. “It was an amazing opportunity to get an in-depth look as to what issues refugees are facing daily—from a basic, housing-and-needs level, to a policy level in Jordan.”

Traveling to Jordan gave Jafarnia a chance to address these issues from a new comparative lens. “Each country presents a unique set of challenges for refugees”; she notes; Jordan hosts a significant number of refugees, but does not offer employment for them, and is almost entirely landlocked, which makes it more difficult for refugees to leave.

“My hope for the future is to start my own organization, giving refugees legal assistance but also empowering refugees with legal backgrounds to be doing this work themselves,” she explains. “I think countries have to work significantly harder at giving refugees work opportunities. Once you let people in, they need to be given the opportunity to create a life for themselves. There’s an image of people who have been displaced as burdens on the system, when in fact they’re not given the opportunity to be self-sustaining.” Her Winter Term work in Jordan has confirmed for her that this is a change that has to happen very soon.

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Defending the Indigent in Hawaii

By Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18

Photo of Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18 in front of Federal Public Defender building sign in Honolulu

Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18

During winter term, I spent three fantastic weeks at the Federal Public Defender in Honolulu, Hawaii, through HLS’s Independent Clinical Program. Having spent both my 1L and 2L summers at law firms, this was my first opportunity to see a public interest setting.

Client Contact

At HLS, I have been fortunate to take classes with some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. But due to inherent limitations, a classroom setting can only accomplish so much. The Defenders immediately put me to work doing something I am familiar with: legal research and writing. However, this time, I saw my research make a tangible impact on someone’s life. Since federal defenders carry a lighter case load than do most state defenders, there is more time to thoroughly research legal issues during plea negotiations and in preparation for trial. For example, one of my projects involved drafting a motion in limine to suppress a piece of evidence the government plans to introduce in an upcoming trial. I had the chance to not only conduct research, but also see how the findings influenced the team’s trial strategy.

Value of Competent Defense

Working with Defenders also affected my view of the criminal justice system overall. In the federal system, to say that defendants have an uphill battle is an understatement. My criminal procedure class, under the instruction of Professor Paul Butler, explored many of the inequities in criminal law. But it was still shocking for me to see how these things developed in reality. Whether it is Miranda warnings, searches and seizures, coerced confessions, and a number of other topics, prosecutors have an advantage.

Accordingly, the constitutional right to attorney representation is a bedrock part of our legal system. The Defenders supply counsel to individuals immediately after they are arrested and booked. As defendants speak with pre-trial services regarding basic facts about their background, the Defenders are there to ensure the person’s right against self incrimination. Similarly, it is the Defenders filing motions to secure a defendant’s release pending trial and it is them arguing to continue sentencing for an additional week so that one person had a few more days with his family. In Honolulu, I observed passionate individuals who were unanimously intelligent, dedicated, and professional. And they had to take on some of the most challenging cases one could imagine.

This opportunity has opened my eyes to an entirely different setting where effective lawyering happens. I am still unsure about my career path, but this J-term has certainly piqued my interest in a career as a defense lawyer.

Constitutional Implementation in Kenya

By Rachel Corrigan, Berkeley Law Exchange Student

Rachel Corrigan, Berkeley Law Exchange Student

I spent this January Term in Nairobi, Kenya, working for the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC). The KLRC is a statutory commission that was established in 1982 through the enactment of the Law Reform Commission Act. The mandate of the Commission is to “keep under review all the law of Kenya to ensure its systematic development and reform.” Among other things, the KLRC drafts legislation, reviews existing laws, holds stakeholder consultations, and provides recommendations for the alignment of statutes with the 2010 Kenyan Constitution.

During this January Term, I undertook a project researching and analyzing practical barriers to implementation of Article 27(8) of the 2010 Constitution, which articulates the “two-thirds gender rule.” Article 27(8) requires that “the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” However, as I discovered throughout my research, the Kenyan Parliament has not succeeded in passing legislation enacting the two-thirds gender rule. Despite multiple bills focused on redesigning the composition of legislative bodies and electoral processes, Kenya has still not implemented the two-thirds gender rule, and most governing bodies are still over two-thirds male.

My project was to find out why this was, and provide recommendations for effectively implementing the two-thirds gender principle. In my research, I learned a great deal about Kenyan electoral processes, constitutional provisions, and comparative law. I also had the opportunity to attend meetings with a former MP and Cabinet Secretary, and with a member of the National Gender and Equality Commission to ask questions about the development of Article 27(8) and remaining barriers to implementation.  Eventually, I was able to produce a comprehensive memo analyzing the issues facing implementation of gender quotas and provide recommendations for Kenya.

My experience at the KLRC was one of the best experiences I have had in law school. I was surprised by how much responsibility and freedom I was given to conduct research and develop concrete recommendations. I also learned a great deal about international and comparative law. I hope other students are able to have as wonderful a clinic placement as I had!


International Arbitration in Hong Kong

By Hayley Evans, J.D. ’19

I spent this January term interning at the International Arbitration Centre in Hong Kong (HKIAC). The Centre provides crucial dispute resolution services—arbitration, mediation, adjudication, and domain names disputes resolution—to a variety of domestic and international clients. HKIAC provides services for dispute types ranging from corporate and finance to maritime, construction, and international trade. A non-profit organization, HKIAC is the third most preferred and used arbitral institution worldwide and the most favored arbitral institution outside of Europe. Established in 1985 in an effort to provide dispute resolution services in Asia, HKIAC has a track record of handling matters involving parties from a large number of jurisdictions; in 2016, HKIAC saw parties from thirty-nine different jurisdictions. The top nationalities of these parties were (by number of cases): Hong Kong, Mainland China, British Virgin Islands, Singapore, and the United States.

Hayley Evans, J.D. ’19

While at HKIAC, I undertook legal research on various topics in the field of international dispute settlement. One of my favorite projects I helped with was conducting research on the quantification of damages in international arbitration for the ICCA/ASIL Task Force on Damages. The Task Force intends to promote consistency and rigor in the quantification of damages in international arbitration, and I assisted with research for an online tool promoting that end. While awards of monetary damages are the most natural forms that remedies tend to take in international commercial and investment arbitration, there are also a variety of equitable remedies that can be used as well. These remedies might include provisions like specific performance and disgorgement of profits. Based on the work that I did at HKIAC for Secretary-General Sarah Grimmer, I actually have the opportunity to continue doing research for the Task Force remotely this semester.

Interning for HKIAC was a wonderful experience. Not only did it provide me with an on-the-ground introduction to the work of an arbitral tribunal, but it also allowed me to work with many talented interns, attorneys, and staff. While there, I learned about interesting procedural issues like consolidation, joinder, and translation of documents, as well as exciting substantive matters like enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and state sovereign immunity. I would definitely recommend an internship at HKIAC to other law students interested in international arbitration.

Gaining a global perspective on securities regulation

By Elizabeth Ferrie, J.D. ’19

Photo of Elizabeth Ferrie, J.D. ’19 standing infront of ASIC sign

Elizabeth Ferrie, J.D. ’19

This January, I interned at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in Sydney, Australia. I was fortunate to have dedicated supervisors and mentors that provided me with a broad range of experiences to enhance my knowledge of international capital markets.

My 3 weeks at the ASIC were a great learning opportunity and instilled in me the importance of a global business perspective. Indeed, most of my assignments involved an intricate understanding of global market structures and coordination with foreign securities regulators in investigations. I performed research and drafted memos on a variety of cases tackling market manipulation. Having taken a Securities Regulation course in the fall provided useful background knowledge since there are many fundamental commonalities in the approaches taken by securities regulators in both the U.S. and Australia. For example, I noticed striking similarities between U.S. and Australian securities laws while helping advise senior attorneys about ASIC’s disclosure obligations to a third party under the Freedom of Information Act. 

I have a strong interest in international law and business, especially as it relates to the Asia-Pacific region. Previously, I spent my 1L summer at a corporate law firm in Seoul, South Korea and I will be working at a corporate law firm in NYC for my 2L summer. However, this was my first experience performing legal work for a government organization and it was incredibly meaningful to gain experience outside of the private sector in a foreign jurisdiction.

For the 15-page paper requirement that accompanies the independent clinical project, I will be writing a paper comparing the approaches of securities regulators around the world in regards to cryptocurrency regulation under the supervision of Professor Kathryn Spier. It is an emerging area and there is notable variation in the approaches of different countries in classifying and regulating cryptocurrencies. I am excited to gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating topic.

Advocating for those without a voice

By Kate Barnekow, J.D. ’19

Kate Barnekow, J.D. ’19

I came to law school because I wanted to help those whose voices are often not represented in the legal system. As a longtime supporter of the animal protection movement, I was thrilled as a 1L to discover HLS’s Animal Law and Policy Program and, subsequently, learn about all of the ways we can help animals—who are still considered property in the eyes of the law—through the legal system. Once I committed myself to a career in animal law, and particularly after a summer spent working with an animal rights organization, I was eager to continue learning from attorneys in the field. Because HLS does not currently have a dedicated animal law clinic, I was excited to learn that I could work for an existing animal protection organization for clinical credit during the academic year through the Independent Clinical Program.

I have been working with the legal team at Compassion Over Killing (COK), a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization that focuses on cruelty to farmed animals used in agriculture. Last semester, I worked on a wide range of projects, researching state criminal law and pending federal legislation, conducting factual research, and helping to brainstorm new approaches to ensure the safety and welfare of farmed animals, as well as the workers who come into contact with them. One of the issues my work touched on was an ill-conceived policy proposal to raise line speeds to levels that present unprecedented and unacceptable risks to both animal welfare and worker safety.

As many law students will tell you, the work you do in law school on a daily basis is often not representative of what you will do after graduation—or of the reason you came to law school in the first place. For those reasons, my time working with COK was invaluable. It has further honed my research and writing skills, as well as introduced me to a wide range of field-specific laws and regulations and ways of thinking about the law, all while allowing me to put into practice the reason I came to law school: to work for the protection of those without a voice in the legal system.

Harvard Law students travel across the world in pursuit of clinical work

This winter term, over a hundred students have traveled to 62 cities across the world to pursue clinical projects with governmental agencies, legal services organizations, non-profit organizations and the judiciary.

Students can engage in clinical work with outside organizations through HLS’s Independent Clinical Program and Externship Clinics.  Through the Independent Clinical Program students have the opportunity to be entrepreneurial and design a placement that will meet their individualized learning goals. This semester, students have designed a wide range of projects focusing on issues such as community economic development,  domestic violence, international human rights, consumer rights, and voting rights located in 26 states across the US and 22 countries worldwide.

Through Externship Clinics, students can also participate in on-site clinical work at hundreds of organizations across the United States. This semester they’re working with the Attorney General Offices in California, Iowa, New York, and Ohio; organizations such as the Office of the Federal Public Defender (Sacramento, CA), The Capital Appeals Project (New Orleans, LA), American Civil Liberties Union (Durham, NC); and private entities such as the Kraft Group (Foxborough, MA),  Nashville Predators (Nashville, TN), and the National Football League and Brooklyn Nets (New York, NY). These experiences are further enriched in the classroom through discussions and reflections.

United States Countries Worldwide
Ann Arbor, MI Las Vegas, NV Abuja, Nigeria
Atlanta, GA Los Angeles, CA Amman, Jordan
Auburn Hills, MI Marietta, GA Astana, Kazakhstan
Austin, TX Milwaukee, WI Bangkok, Thailand
Beaumont, TX Minneapolis, MN Beirut, Lebanon
Berkeley, CA Nashville, TN Bogotá, Colombia
Boston, MA New Haven, CT Cape Town, South Africa
Cambridge, MA New Orleans, LA Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Camden, NJ New York , NY Guangdon, China
Carrollton, OH Philadelphia, PA Haag, Netherlands
Chicago, IL Portland, ME Harare, Zimbabwe
Columbus, OH Providence, RI Hong Kong
Denver, CO Sacramento, CA London, UK
Des Moines, IA San Francisco, CA Nairobi, Kenya
Durham, NC Santa Ana, CA New Delhi, India
Flagstaff, AZ Seattle, WA Ontario, Canada
Foxborough, MA Shreveport, LA Seoul, South Korea
Grand Rapids, MI St. Louis, MO Stockholm, Sweden
Honolulu, HI Tacoma, WA Sydney, Australia
Houston, TX Washington DC Arusha, Tanzania
Tel Aviv, Israel
Tunis, Tunisia

Interning at the Federal Public Defender Office

By Veronica Saltzman J.D. ’19

Portrait photo of Veronica Saltzman J.D. '19

Veronica Saltzman J.D. ’19

This semester, I interned at the Federal Public Defender Office for the District of Massachusetts. Going into this internship, I hoped to get an in depth look at the criminal justice system at the federal level. Since I will be interning at a state public defender office over winter term, I wanted the chance to compare federal and state systems.

On the first day of my internship, I immediately felt welcomed by the office. My supervising attorney introduced me to every attorney in the office and made sure I was given an assignment immediately. My first assignment (and several other assignments later in the semester) involved researching how certain judges sentenced defendants pleading guilty to particular charges. In some cases, my research involved sentencing in firearms cases; in others, I delved into financial fraud cases. The purpose of these assignments was to present information to clients trying to decide whether to accept a more definite plea deal from the prosecutor, or opt for an open plea deal and leave sentencing to the judge. Working with the attorneys on these projects, I started to understand how difficult it is for an attorney to convince a client to accept what are often lengthy sentences to avoid the uncertainty of judicial sentencing. In addition to research on sentencing, some of my other assignments included writing a letter to a prosecutor requesting pretrial diversion for a client and crafting a memo on habeas law to advice an attorney on whether our client could submit an amended habeas petition. In particular, the habeas memo forced me to learn an entirely new area of law and improved my researching and writing skills as I sorted through complex legal issues.

The most exciting part of my internship was working down the street from the federal courthouse. My supervising attorney constantly encouraged me attend court proceedings. Early in the semester, I visited one of our clients in lockup with an attorney before attending his pretrial release hearing. As the semester went on, I also attended several sentencings. At one, I witnessed the court deport a woman my age and saw ICE agents take her away. At another sentencing involving sex trafficking, I observed intense victim impact statements and an emotional allocution. Finally, I got the chance to attend oral argument at the First Circuit and see a variety of strategies in appellate advocacy.

My internship at the Federal Public Defender Office increased my knowledge of federal criminal law and procedure immensely. I appreciated the opportunity to work with fantastic attorneys and gain experience by working on important tasks and witnessing intense moments during the criminal justice process.

My three weeks on Capitol Hill

By Michael Perloff, J.D. ’17

The Capitol Building and its surrounding structures carry the regal magnificence of a European castle.  Marble stairs and floors grace the entryways; ceilings vault endless upwards; and stone arches greet entrants passing from one corridor of power to the next.  In some ways this majesty is surprising: America came into existence to break free of aristocratic trappings and leaders throughout the country’s history have made homage to the salt of the earth.  Yet, despite its elegance, the Capitol does not fully belie national claims of humility; for the building’s sheer grandeur imposes a sense of solemnity on those who walk its hallowed halls.

Or at least it did for me.  Before my J-Term internship, I never spent time on Capitol Hill—no prior internships, no family vacations, not even a class trip.  This omission was striking because politics fascinates me.  As a kid, I remember watching SNL’s Gore-Bush debates with my dad and developing a (bad) knock-off version of Darrell Hammond’s Al Gore. In high school and into college, I followed Barack Obama’s rise with excitement and admiration; and just this past fall, I volunteered to knock doors for Hillary Clinton.  The experience of finally approaching the doors of the Capitol was thrilling; it felt like arriving at the set of a movie, only a lot nerdier.

Somewhat overawed, I walked into Congressman Bobby Scott’s office and met with David Dailey, my supervising attorney and the congressman’s legislative director.  From the start, David made me feel part of the team.  He included me in the weekly conference call and asked me to come with him and another staffer to grab lunch.  He also invited me to join the rest of the staff as we introduced ourselves to the new members of the Virginia congressional delegation—an aspect of Southern hospitality that won bipartisan plaudits.  Over the week, other staffers opened up, too.  Paige Schwartz, a legislative assistant from Virginia turned to me after every inside joke to give context; Evan Chapman, a more senior legislative assistant, made sure to stop by my desk to talk about his book list and our shared search for vegetarian restaurants in Boston; Press Secretary Gabby Brown talked with me about the her job responsibilities as she took me from press conference to press conference; and Joni Ivey, the Chief of Staff, made sure to invite me to events when she had extra tickets.  By the end of the first few days, I felt part of the team, someone who was valued and respected rather than simply an eager young person in the big city.

My sense of inclusion also stemmed from the substantive assignments I received.  Within my first week, David and Rep. Scott assigned me a time-sensitive project.  The task required extensive research on federal and state statutory interpretation and resulted in an 8-page memorandum.  Rep. Scott checked in with me personally several times throughout the week, asking me for my legal conclusions and asking me questions about the finer points of my legal interpretation.  The opportunities to advise a congressman directly was thrilling; it made me feel useful and gave me confidence I could make an impact as a lawyer.

The following week, my work turned to criminal justice reform.  While I had enjoyed the previous week’s work, criminal justice was the issue area I planned to target by interning with Rep. Scott.  My interest in that issue area had grown during law school, to the point that I plan on devoting myself to criminal justice reform after graduation.   When I met with David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, to discuss this passion, he suggested I work with Bobby Scott, whom David described as one of Congress’ most aggressive advocates for eliminating the draconian aspects of federal criminal law.  I collaborated with David to secure an internship with Rep. Scott not only to learn about politics generally but also to study the battles for criminal justice reform at the highest levels.

I explored this issue through three projects.  First, I reviewed several criminal justice bills that Rep. Scott planned to introduce during the upcoming legislative cycle.  My job was to ensure that the bills, as drafted, achieved their policy goals and, if they did, write letters encouraging other legislators to support them.  In completing this assignment, I analyzed six bills and wrote a 5-page memo analyzing the loopholes in one of them.  I also wrote six letters advocating for the bills.  This experience honed my legal writing skills, allowing me to make strong rhetorical cases for legislation while explaining legal provisions in ways non-lawyers could understand.  More importantly, though, the assignment introduced me to federal sentencing law and helped me appreciate the consequences of several disturbing statutes.  One of the most jarring parts of the code is 18 U.S.C. 924(c), a provision that, among other things, imposes a 25-year mandatory minimum on anyone who possesses a firearm in multiple incidents of drug dealing.  Reading about the implications of this provision was chilling and helped me appreciate the stakes in reforming federal criminal law.

My second project was to analyze and reorganize the SAFE Justice Act.  Rep. Scott’s most ambitious legislative effort, the SAFE Justice Act is an omnibus bill that would, among other things, eliminate a slew of mandatory minimums, increase prosecutorial accountability, and create new mental health programs.  The bill is over 100 pages long and Rep. Scott introduced it in 2015 only to have it pushed aside by a less progressive reform bill.  Rep. Scott plans to put it forward again in the new session of Congress.  My task was to revise the bill to ensure the provisions followed a logically cohesive structure.  As I worked on the bill, I joined David in several meetings with its key supporters, including one of the leaders of a national advocacy organization, a staffer for a Democratic co-sponsor, and a staffer for a potential Republican ally.  After these meetings, David took me aside to explain some of the concerns about the original version of the bill and the obstacles that lay ahead for this draft.  These conversations taught me about the battle for committee positions, how Nancy Pelosi has lead the Democratic caucus, the influence of advocacy groups, and the way a centrist bill can harm a more progressive one.  Taken together, the conversations helped me better understand the interests that move major players in congressional advocacy.

My third task was to analyze a recent set of federal guidelines pertaining to the Death and Custody Reporting Act (DCRA).  Enacted in 2014, DCRA requires the Department of Justice to collect data on homicides committed by state, local, and federal law enforcement officials.  Last fall, DOJ promulgated a set of guidelines on how it would implement the statue; however the guidelines won little praise from Rep. Scott and the other lead sponsors of the Act.  DOJ responded by publishing another set of guidelines in December and my role was to review these guidelines to note what DOJ improved and what new problems it created.  The result of my analysis was a four-page memo that will provide the basis for a possible comment that Rep. Scott may submit critiquing the guidelines.  This project allowed me to explore the challenge of turning a statute into a policy and the tension between branches when that process goes awry.

As I completed these projects, Rep. Scott and David made sure that I got a full taste of life on the Hill.  On many afternoons, Rep. Scott would invite me to join him for a press conference and talk politics with me on the way back to his office.  Other times, David would ensure I had a seat at events—including one closed-door meeting between legislative staffers and a Pennsylvania department of correction official who has led the movement for penal reform in his state.  I had lunch with a labor counsel for the minority staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, enjoyed long conversations with a civil rights counsel on that committee, and sat in on a hiring meeting for someone who would assist with Rep. Scott’s criminal justice portfolio.  Throughout it all, the staff left everything in the open and treated me like a colleague.

My final day coincided with the Inauguration and I watched from the window as President Obama boarded Marine One, his term in office complete.  Most of the day I spent working on a final memo—this one on election reform—but I still made time to reflect on the moment I was witnessing.  Like everyone else in the office, I felt nostalgic as I watched the president fly off, remembering how his election coincided with my first year of college and his presidency with the first chapter of my adult life.  With law school graduation approaching, that chapter has ended and the next one, the one where I am no longer a professional in training but a professional in practice, is rapidly approaching.  My experience this January made me feel ready for my new beginning; it gave me confidence that I could go to a new office, make friends with my fellow staffers, and work quickly and effectively to contribute to a common goal.  Walking down the grand staircase and exiting through a highly arched door for the last time, I no longer saw the Capitol Hill compound as intimidating; instead, it was a reminder that I was ready for what would come next.

Legal assistance for refugees in Israel

By Hannah Belitz, J.D. ’17 


Credit: Hannah Belitz, J.D. ’17

I spent this January term interning at HIAS in Israel.  HIAS is an international nonprofit that assists and protects refugees; it was founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, and in the 2000s it expanded its resettlement work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees throughout the world. The HIAS office in Israel assists refugees – primarily those from Eritrea and Sudan – in obtaining asylum and works to improve the asylum system in the country so that it adheres to international and domestic legal standards.  Over the course of my three weeks at HIAS, I conducted legal research to support the asylum applications of HIAS clients, traveled to the Eritrean Women’s Community Center in South Tel Aviv to assist with interviews, and had the opportunity to attend a refugee status hearing.

The situation for refugees in Israel is particularly dire.  Approximately 55,000 asylum-seekers currently live in Israel: roughly 36,000 from Eritrea, 15,000 from Sudan, and 4,000 from other African countries.  Although the vast majority of them arrived primarily between the years 2005 and 2012, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) did not allow Sudanese and Eritreans to file individual asylum claims until 2013 – the reasoning being that they were protected under the “temporary group protection” afforded to Sudanese, Eritrean, and Congolese asylum seekers.  Since 2013, when MOI began adjudicating asylum claims, asylum officers have assessed approximately 5,000 to 12,000 claims submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers.  Of those, only seven Eritreans and one Sudanese have been granted refugee status.  The overall rate of granting asylum is less than 1%.  Internationally, Eritreans and Sudanese are granted asylum at a rate of approximately 80% and 30%, respectively.

In addition to filing asylum requests for clients in Israel, HIAS also works to resettle refugees in the United States.  During my final week, lawyers from the HIAS office in Vienna came to conduct intakes with refugees who may be eligible to come to the United States under the U.S. refugee resettlement program.  The resettlement program offers a final hope to refugees who face little chance of being granted asylum in Israel.  However, now that President Trump has issued an executive order severely restricting the entry of refugees, the future of the resettlement program remains unclear.  What is clear is that the need for both immigration attorneys and humane asylum policies – in the United States and in Israel – has never been more pressing.

Remedying segregation at historically black colleges and universities in Maryland

By Peter Im, J.D. ’18

I spent J-term at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law at a federal bench trial about remedying unconstitutional segregation at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Maryland. During the first week of J-term, I was at the Lawyers’ Committee’s DC office preparing for trial, which started on January 9th. I spent the next two weeks in Baltimore with the trial team. The case was filed in 2006, and litigation has dragged on for the last decade. In 2013, after the first trial, the judge found that the state’s perpetuating segregation at HBCUs violated the Constitution. This trial focused on the issue of remedies.

During the Jim Crow era, Maryland and many Southern states established public HBCUs as the black part of a de jure segregated system. Even after the end of de jure segregation, many states made some efforts to desegregate their white institutions but continued to shortchange their public HBCUs. Several federal lawsuits have addressed these practices, but the Maryland litigation is the first to do so in twenty years. As with desegregation cases and cases that address other systemic inequities in access to educational opportunity, crafting a successful remedy here is daunting. The Supreme Court has held consistently that the remedy must match the scope of the Constitutional violation, but what does this mean when the violation is a century of denying students and schools educational opportunities? And what does integration look like in the higher education setting, given that educating black leaders is a core part of HBCUs’ missions?

To address these thorny questions, the parties presented experts who relied on competing, often irreconcilable social science research. My task at the Lawyers’ Committee was to help prepare our experts to testify about the remedial proposal that they had prepared. Like in any complex litigation, the questions I worked on sometimes seemed distant from the main issues in the case. The experts had to defend their methods, so we discussed the relative merits of different social science methodologies. We explored how research, case studies, and data could be used to craft an “educationally sound and practicable” remedy. This work made me think about the larger question of how empirical research should affect court actions and how education litigation will evolve as we move into the era of “Big Data.” In decades past, courts could trust the expertise of experts who made qualitative claims. Moving into the future, empirical claims about remedies will increasingly need to rely on quantitative analysis. But what do we lose when courts of law privilege numerical data over the lived experiences of students?

It occasionally seemed a bit absurd that on the plaintiffs’ side alone, a dozen people were cooped up in hotel rooms away from their families for six weeks putting together slide decks, filing documents, preparing exhibits, and conducting meetings. But then I would remember that this case will have a huge impact: at stake is the fate of four universities. The outcome of the case will also reflect how Maryland, and ultimately other states, deal with the legacy of segregation.

A wonderful clinical experience with the National Health Law Program

By Amanda Brown-Inz, J.D. ’17

This January, I interned at the National Health Law Program, a public interest organization in Los Angeles (with offices in D.C. and North Carolina) that focuses on access to health care for low-income and underserved populations, as well as more specialized issues such as reproductive rights and opioid addiction. With the Affordable Care Act potentially on the Congressional chopping block, it was, to say the least, a fascinating time to be at a health law organization – each day, I participated in meetings, conference calls, and even traveled to a Congressman’s office to talk about the future of the ACA and, more generally, health care law. I assisted NHeLP staff in exploring all of the potential risks of ACA repeal, reflecting on its reverberation throughout society.

Participating in these advocacy efforts highlighted for me the deep symbiosis between legal and grassroots advocacy – as we learned from grassroots organizers about state-level efforts to protect and defend health rights, we were able to provide guidance on navigating the complex legal and regulatory aspects of the ACA and Medicaid, as well as the legislative process in Washington D.C. It was invigorating to be a part of this collaboration at such a crucial time in the history of healthcare law. Further, as I drafted several fact sheets about the likely impact of ACA repeal on Americans’ health rights, I honed my skills in communicating complex legal concepts in a manner that will resonate with the public. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and an amazing opportunity to witness firsthand (and participate in) the groundbreaking work of this organization.

My winter term working on criminal appeals

By Isaac Gelbfish, J.D. ’17

During J-term 2017 I interned at the Criminal Appeals Bureau (CAB) of the Legal Aid-Society, New York City’s largest public defender office. I was fortunate to have amazing supervisors and had the opportunity to work on a number of criminal appeals. With closed and relatively short records– it was kind of like second-semester LRW, but with real cases.

I had the opportunity to work, from start to finish, on various appeals because the Appeals Bureau works on all cases– big and small alike. Sure, a 3-week intern wouldn’t bear responsibility to lead a murder conviction appeal, but, it turned out, a very large percentage of the CAB is not actually flashy murder appeals. The appeals docket, rather, consists mostly of smaller misdemeanor convictions, like disorderly conduct or public lewdness, where defendants risk loosing public benefits or housing, or being deported, or simply risk attaching further addenda to an existing criminal record.

Such misdemeanor convictions come quick and dirty, by hasty trials with very short records. A person charged with disorderly conduct, i.e., a penal, rather than an administrative offense, for playing his music too loud can be convicted in a matter of minutes – one appeal I worked on regarded a seven and half minute trial. The officer testifies, and, boom, before you know it, there’s a conviction. On appeal, then, enter the lawyers, asking all sorts of legally nuanced questions. What are the legal standards for determining whether conduct was “disorderly;” are they objective or subjective; and were those standards met in the current case?

The lawyers at the CAB approached these questions seriously and methodically. I was continuously impressed at just how committed the lawyers were to each and every case. Appeals were carefully considered, and, in weekly team meetings that I would attend, attorneys would discuss and deliberate about their arguments. The legal questions were always interesting, even if relating to all too common behavior. In one case I worked on, for example, a defendant/client peeped three times under a dressing room stall, and was then convicted for harassment. In quite a lawyerly fashion—conceding and bracketing that the defendant was up to no good—the CAB lawyers in our weekly team meetings started discussing: what did the harassment statute say, and was the three-timed peeping considered a “course of conduct” as required by the harassment statute? If not, the defendant’s conviction must be reversed.

Much of criminal appeals work is indeed quite abstract – lawyers sitting in a room, researching, writing, and defending clients they never met. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention quite a different type of appellate lawyering that I saw at CAB—one that was quite inspiring. A CAB senior attorney described to me the relationship she would form with her clients. Whereas some appellate attorneys wrote briefs and focused exclusively on the legal and often abstruse defenses for the client, she would aim to explain to the client the arguments she intended to make. So often, she explained, the clients were quite astute, even pushing back and actively shaping the arguments on appeal. In some instances clients’ insistence on certain arguments might– in the lawyers’ view– be harmful or not productive, and in those cases she would sit down with the client, engage with him or her, and best explain the reasons behind the argument. Through the months and years of the appellate process, the senior attorney was able to form a relationship with the client that trial lawyers often could not; the clients came to trust her meticulousness and respect her dedication. And while the vast majority of appeals are lost, she concluded in response to my final question, the appellate process was a way to “be there for her client,” to provide him with the feeling that somebody had his back, in a system where he had likely bounced around from person to person. For me, the idea of losing the vast majority of cases was initially disheartening. But I was happy to hear what, to me, was an inspiring answer. I came to value her dedication.

My Independent Clinical in Sarasota

By Jessica Blanton, J.D. ’18

During winter term, I worked for three weeks at Legal Aid of Manasota in Sarasota, Florida. The experience was invaluable, and I would strongly encourage other Harvard Law students to take advantage of independent clinical opportunities.

Several of my cases involved domestic violence clients, and I was deeply moved by the stories they shared. Sadly, the theme of violence weaved through many of the cases, including those not explicitly about domestic violence. I worked on landlord-tenant cases, which, on the surface level, involved technical legal issues within tenant leases. However, a common underlying issue was that male landlords were threatening female tenants when they made a complaint about the condition of their homes, and thus the women could not safely advocate for themselves.

I was impressed with the commitment of the Legal Aid attorneys in the office, most of whom were retired attorneys working as volunteers. I noticed that clients were frequently relieved to have a safe space to share their stories, and they were often seeking emotional support in addition legal advice. Many clients suffered from a mix of chronic health issues, unstable home environments, and limited emotional support networks. I watched as the Legal Aid attorneys expertly balanced listening respectfully to their clients’ stories and directing the conversation to elicit necessary information about their case.

Previously, I had performed legal work in federal offices in DC and NYC (at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Attorney’s Office), and I did not know what to expect at this small Legal Aid office in southern Florida. Fortunately, I learned that the substance and complexity of legal issues at the state level are no less interesting or challenging than at the federal level. At Harvard Law, our curriculum is often focused on federal law and federal courts, and students frequently seek clerkships with federal judges. Nonetheless, there is a clear need for motivated young lawyers to work at the state level and clerk for state judges, which I am now considering pursuing in my legal career.

Reflecting on my Independent Clinical in Zimbabwe

By Mila Owen, J.D. ’18

Mila Owen, J.D. '18 worked at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in Harare, Zimbabwe

Mila Owen, J.D. ’18 worked at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in Harare, Zimbabwe

Mila Owen spent the 2017 winter term at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. At ZLHR, she was able to engage in a wide range of challenging and meaningful work and looks forward to continuing her working relationship with the organization, and furthering as much as possible the relationship between HLS and ZLHR.

“My goals for my winter term independent clinical were fairly straightforward – to do legal work in Zimbabwe, to get a sense of what being a lawyer is like in my home country, and to contribute to meaningful public interest work. I am grateful that the lawyers at ZLHR enabled me to accomplish much more. Even though the frenetic pace of work and high caseload of ZLHR staff meant that there was a significant amount of casework I am passing on to other interns, my last week fortuitously brought a number of satisfying project conclusions. A case challenging the criminal code provision that penalizes insulting the President was heard before the Constitutional Court – the very first case heard this term. It was a thrilling and educational experience to listen to oral arguments with a full understanding of the case, and in particular for a case I had contributed to briefing. I also finished scoping for potential work pursuing conjugal visitation rights for Zimbabwean prisoners, an extremely ambitious and progressive project that entailed fascinating research about the rights to marry and form a family, sex in prisons and programs to reduce prison violence and recidivism. Finally, an article I co-wrote on State obligations in the face of the current typhoid epidemic in Zimbabwe was published in a national newspaper on Tuesday.

I have also been able while I was there to discuss opportunities for ongoing collaboration between ZLHR and HLS. There is enormous scope for collaborative projects, ranging from future student placements to advocacy campaigns, and even contributing to writing new constitutional law and international human rights casebooks for the University of Zimbabwe. I hope to play a role in the collaborative work and also encouraging and facilitating other student involvement. It is very rewarding to feel that HLS gives me the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to such important work in my home country.”

Students travel worldwide to do clinical work


This winter term, over a hundred students are travelling to 54 cities across the world to pursue clinical projects with a wide range of governmental agencies, non-profits and other organizations. Within the United States, students will be engaging in clinical work with placements such as the Attorney General Offices in California, Iowa and Virginia; organizations such as the Texas Defender Service (Houston, TX), World Bank (Washington, DC), American Civil Liberties Union (Los Angeles, CA), and private entities such as the Brooklyn Nets and the National Football League.

Students can engage in clinical work with outside organizations through two avenues.  Students are given the opportunity to design custom and individualized clinical placements, in collaboration with their HLS faculty sponsor and on-site supervisors, through the Independent Clinical Program. This semester, these independent clinical students have designed a broad range of projects focusing on issues ranging from international human rights to community economic development.  Through Externship Clinics, students can also participate in on-site clinical work at organizations across the United States,  an experience which is further enriched in the classroom through discussions and reflections.


United States   International 
Arlington, VA Jacksonville, FL Accra, Ghana
Atlanta, GA Kalispell, MT Amman, Jordan
Austin, TX Kansas City, MO Arusha, Tanzania
Baltimore, MD Las Vegas, NV Bogota, Colombia
Berkeley, CA Los Angeles, CA Brussels, Belgium
Boston, MA Minneapolis, MN Cape Town, South Africa
Cambridge, MA Montgomery, AL Harare, Zimbabwe
Chattanooga, TN Nashville, TN Istanbul, Turkey
Cleveland, OH New Orleans, LA London, UK
Daytona Beach, FL New York, NY Lagos, Nigeria
Denver, CO Philadelphia, PA Ottawa, Canada
Des Moines, IA Phoenix, AZ Pasig City, Philippines
Detroit, MI Sacramento, CA Sydney, Australia
Durham, NC San Francisco, CA Tel Aviv, Israel
Eau Claire, WI Sarasota, FL Toronto, Canada
Fort Lauderdale, FL St. Louis, MO Yangon, Myanmar
Hartford, CT Ventura, CA Yerevan, Armenia
Honolulu, HI Washington, DC
Houston, TX

Student Honors Program at the SEC: An inside look at a government agency


Monica Kwok, J.D. ’18

By Monica Kwok, J.D. ’18

This fall, I worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) through the Student Honors Program. The program is specifically designed to familiarize students with the regulation of securities markets by providing them the opportunity to work directly on projects that uphold the SEC’s mission. Through agency wide meetings and broadcasts, I became acquainted with the Commission’s various divisions and their functions. Though I worked specifically within the Enforcement Division, it was fascinating to learn about the different responsibilities of the Corporation Finance, Economic and Risk Analysis, Investment Management, and Trading and Markets divisions.

Over the course of my time at the SEC, I was staffed on various legal research and writing projects. The Enforcement Division is unique in that it investigates and litigates securities laws violations, such as fraud. My placement made it possible for me to survey crucial components of the process, including attending investigative testimonies and participating in Commission wide meetings. These key opportunities gave me insight into how the Commission’s attorneys and forensic accountants advance legal arguments and evidence for an enforcement action. My work ranged broadly from researching legal standards to help narrow investigations to gathering and analyzing information pertaining to tips and referrals.

I was also fortunate enough to work directly with several fantastic attorneys, all of whom provided excellent guidance and professional mentorship.  It was incredible to learn about their unique career trajectories, as they each hailed from vastly different fields of law.

This experience has transformed the ways in which I think about current events, particularly in the financial regulation space. With my remaining time at Harvard Law School, I hope to further explore the intersection of regulatory policies and proceedings and corporate criminality through related coursework and research projects.

New Markets Lab – Independent Clinical Program – January 2017

The New Markets Lab will supervise an independent clinical project in January 2017 to offer students an opportunity to see firsthand the impact that the commercial legal and regulatory environment can have on development and economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.  The independent clinical project will take place in Tanzania, where the New Markets Lab is working with partners on the ground, including the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, among others. The program will expose students to the role of government, business, and international institutions in interacting with and shaping the enabling environment for business and trade to encourage agricultural development at the grassroots level.

This winter term independent clinical placement will involve applying the substance of the required reading group in consultations with agribusinesses, local organizations and institutions, and public sector and civil society representatives to better understand how legal and regulatory needs and challenges are dealt with in the market.  Students will assess how these needs could possibly be addressed and how local institutions could be strengthened moving forward.

As part of the program, students are required to produce a 15 page paper that conforms to the independent clinical program guidelines and is supervised by a Faculty Sponsor.


Students interested in applying should fill out the Independent Clinical Application by November 1, 2016.

When filling the application, students should list the Placement Organization as the New Markets Lab and the Supervising Attorney as Katrin Kuhlmann.  There is no need to describe the details of the project as they have been provided above.  Students should, however, upload  a statement of interest for the project, instead of a project proposal, and any relevant experience they have in the field.


This project is being funded through the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, and therefore there is no need to submit a funding application. It is anticipated that students who are selected for the program will have their transportation and housing costs covered.

Please feel free to email Ms. Kuhlmann if you have questions about the project and/or are trying to decide whether to apply.  She can be reached at  kkuhlmann at  or by telephone on 202-263-3524.

My winter term at the Utah Transit Authority

By William Organek, J.D. ’16

William Organek, J.D. ’16

I was very fortunate to work for the Utah Transit Authority over the Winter 2016 term. Transit issues have fascinated me for years, after seeing how improved transit can spur economic development, reinvigorate underutilized neighborhoods, and redefine people’s interactions with each other and their city. I was looking forward to helping the UTA expand transit service as part of its role in the Mountain Accord, an innovative cross-jurisdictional plan to preserve and improve the nature and tourist industry of the region. Yet, since the UTA only has a small legal department within an organization with a wide mandate, I also had the opportunity to work on legal issues related to employment regulations and civil litigation.

The most surprising, and gratifying, part of my experience was the level of trust and responsibility given to me by my supervisors. Shortly after arriving, I was helping craft language for legislation which will be submitted to Congress in connection with the Mountain Accord, as well as writing the first draft of a motion to dismiss a civil claim against the UTA.

This experience, putting my legal writing skills to use in a litigation and policy setting, was one of my most valuable in law school and I could not more strongly recommend working for the UTA.

Learning from an Israeli Immigration Law Clinic

By Nathan MacKenzie, J.D. ’17

Nathan MacKenzie, J.D. '17 pictured (first one from the right), with a team of lawyers and client at the Supreme Court in Israel

Nathan MacKenzie, J.D. ’17 pictured (first one from the right), with a team of lawyers and client at the Supreme Court in Israel

Sometimes the best way to better understand your own world is to visit another. Doing so gives you a different frame of reference, an alternative against which you can challenge your perspective and your preconceived notions. As a student of immigration policy here in the U.S., I found that spending January term working in an Israeli immigration clinic in Tel Aviv challenged many of my own ideas on citizenship, society, and immigration. I had the opportunity to work as a student attorney for the Clinic for Migrant’s Rights at the College of Law and Business, where I assisted with client intake interviews for asylum seekers, met with organizations and government officials involved in the immigration debate in Israel, and conducted international and comparative research for upcoming impact litigation cases. In order to gain some additional perspective, I spent my weekends traveling to the Holot detention center for immigrants, the holy sites in Jerusalem, and the West Bank. What I learned from all of these work and travel experiences left me with a picture of an immigration system very different from our own, both in its philosophical aims and its technical administration.

Israel considers itself a “Jewish Democratic State,” but there is a big debate raging about what exactly that means. What should take priority, being Jewish, or being a liberal democracy? What should the demographics of Israeli society look like moving forward? These questions illicit fierce and seemingly irreconcilable responses from various factions. This divide has led to system of laws that is a mash-up of western democratic principles, old Jewish law, and protectionist policies. For example, though the government is elected democratically and several human rights are protected in Basic Laws, buses do not run on Saturday (Shabbat) and Jews cannot marry non-Jews.

These competing concepts have an enormous impact in Israel’s immigration policy. Unlike the U.S., Israel’s immigration policy only really allows people of Jewish ancestry to attain residency and citizenship. Known as the Law of Return or “making aliyah,” Jewish people worldwide can come to Israel and apply for citizenship. There are very few opportunities for other people to achieve permanent residence in Israel, even through the asylum process.

Approximately 46,000 asylum seekers live in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. They arrived by crossing the Sinai from Egypt (before Israel constructed a massive wall on the border) and many spent months in Bedouin torture camps there before their families could pay high ransoms to secure their release. Though the government will not deport people to either Sudan or Eritrea because of human rights concerns in those countries, it has been loath to grant refugee status and asylum to non-Jewish immigrants and has been engaging in a campaign to coerce these individuals to “voluntarily” leave to a third party country (Rwanda or Uganda) through detention in the infamous Holot facility and over burdensome administrative procedures.

While working at the clinic, I had the opportunity to use the interviewing skills I learned at the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinic (HIRC) to conduct an intake interview and then produced a legal memo on the new client’s case. Additionally, I conducted research for several cases, including a major impact litigation case that will be going before the Israeli Supreme Court next month. Though I was only there for a few weeks, I felt like I was able to perform meaningful work that helped my hosts with their large caseloads. Perhaps just as importantly, this experience gave me the opportunity to learn about Israel and its immigration system, which in turn has allowed me to reflect upon the aims and administration of our own system here in the U.S.

Mental Health: Aspirations and Reality in India

By Ariel Simms, J.D. ’16 

This Winter Term, I had the opportunity to work with the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy (Centre), a nonprofit disability rights organization based in Pune, India. The Centre is dedicated to ensuring implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a United Nations treaty that has been signed and ratified by many countries, but unfortunately, not by the United States. The treaty requires that all persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities, be treated with respect, dignity, and on an equal basis with others.

My interest in working with people with disabilities came from my experience working as a Mental Health Counselor in a locked, psychiatric unit of a hospital. For two years, I counseled patients with serious mental illness under a paradigm of substitute decision-making. As a professional, this paradigm was extremely frustrating, as it considered only the putative “best interests” of the patient, without actually consulting the patient regarding his or her own preferences. Rather than making decisions for the patients on our unit, I wanted to help our patients make their own decisions, including treatment decisions, envisioning the role of service providers as helpful aides in decision-making, rather than as substitute decision-makers. Such a paradigm is called supported decision-making and is mandated in human rights law by the CRPD. My professional experience as a counselor led me to come to law school to become an advocate on behalf of those with mental illness, as well as to empower those living with mental disabilities to advocate for themselves.

Having no prior experience with Indian domestic law, I began my clinical work at the Centre with background research, including India’s existing mental health law and a new Mental Health Care Bill introduced in Parliament in 2013. It was this new bill that, if passed, would bring essential tenets of the CRPD into the Indian mental health care context. India though, like many countries that have ratified international human rights treaties, has a gap between what international law mandates and the realities of its domestic laws.

I assisted the Centre with a project around supported decision-making for persons with mental disabilities. In India, there are several barriers that keep caregivers and service providers from implementing supported decision-making, including: a lack of awareness about the CRPD and human rights obligations, a lack of understanding about what supported decision-making is, cultural norms and mores of power among service providers and caregivers, and persistent stigma surrounding mental illness. Although impossible to address any of these barriers sufficiently in three weeks, I had the unique opportunity to address at least some of them by drafting two separate guides on supported decision-making: one for caregivers and family members, and one for service providers. In order to create the most helpful guides, I also became more familiar with the realities of mental health care on the ground through extensive discussion with my colleagues at the Centre, in-person interviews with local psychiatrists, and in-person and group interviews with Indian caregivers.

From these conversations, I was able to gather that many service providers and caregivers have never heard of the CRPD or even think about human rights in their day-to-day lives. Many presume that the service user cannot ever make his or her own decision, so just make the decision for that person instead. In addition to substitute decision-making, service providers and caregivers also regularly engage in more serious human rights violations, including: practices of covert medication (e.g., hiding medication in the service user’s food or drink without his or her knowledge), giving informed consent on behalf of the service user, not seeking any informed consent for treatment (including for electroconvulsive therapy), taking away the person’s property, taking away the person’s liberty, and various other violations. On top of these, some families would just place their family member into one of India’s infamous mental hospitals and then just move on with their own lives.

My experience in India really brought home the gap between what law says we should do, and the realities of enforcing those laws on the ground, especially on a topic as stigmatized and oft swept-under-the-rug as mental illness. Human rights law in particular is often cast as aspirational, rather than as something that can immediately be recognized and enforced. Despite these challenges, I think this clinical experience helped me begin to bridge this gap between aspiration and reality in India, moving closer to the ultimate goal that all those living with disabilities will be able to lead lives characterized by dignity, equality, and autonomy.

I would like to sincerely thank and commend all the wonderful advocates at the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy who work hard every day to advance disability rights in India and who not only helped me with my project, but also with navigating a new country, and so much more. Special thanks to Dr. Soumitra Pathare, Professor Jaya Sagade, and Professor Michael Stein for their supervision and support throughout this project. I would also thank the Harvard Project on Disability, the Office of International Legal Studies, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP for their recommendations and financial support.

Addressing homelessness in Hawaii

By Marissa Florio, J.D. ’16 

Marissa Florio, J.D. '16

Marissa Florio, J.D. ’16

I spent this January term interning at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, a public interest law firm in Honolulu that focuses on policy reform related to local and state concerns. One such concern is the great homelessness problem in the state of Hawaii: Hawaii has the highest per capita homelessness rate in America. I spent my internship researching shallow rent subsidies as a potential partial solution to the state homelessness crisis. Rent subsidies have been shown to be one of the most effective ways of reducing homelessness. Most rent subsidy programs in place in the United States offer “deep” subsidies and are extremely expensive (e.g. Section 8). In order to reach the greatest amount of people, a more shallow subsidy program has been introduced in several municipalities. The appeal of these shallower subsidies, which offer lower amounts, is that they can reach more families with less money and that they can target a different audience: the working poor, rather than the homeless.

Notably, the federal government, through HUD, funded shallow rent subsidy programs nationwide for three years through their Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). HPRP was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and dispersed $1.5 billion in federal grants to shallow rent subsidy programs across the United States to combat the effects of the economic depression in the United States from 2009 to 2012. HPRP effectively prevented homelessness in a period of economic downturn. In the period from 2009 to 2011, homelessness decreased by 1% in the United States.

Over the course of my three weeks at Hawaii Appleseed, I explored what shallow subsidy programs exist in other states, compiling information on the number of participants reached, the eligibility requirements for each program, amount of each subsidy, length of each subsidy, funding sources, and any available information on the efficacy of each program. I then used these programs as models to design a recommended program to potentially implement in the state, taking into account best practices and the unique needs in Hawaii. My research and proposal will be used this legislative session to help spark debate and action on the funding and implementation of a shallow rent subsidy program.

Winter term in Italy: drawing lessons from the U.S. military proceedings

By Clara Spera, J.D. ’17 

This January, I went to Naples, Italy to work with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, specifically with the Victims’ Legal Counsel program. The Victims’ Legal Counsel provides lawyers to victims of sexual assault in the Navy, to help victims in a variety of ways, including guiding them through all the procedural hurdles of reporting an assault, advocating for their rights during court-martial (or other administrative) proceedings, and helping to file requests for expedited transfers. Each branch of the military has now implemented a victims’ counsel program—the creation of these programs was mandated by Congress—but each branch has done it a little bit differently. My focus was on the Navy, but it was fascinating to learn about the differences across branches.

In my role, I helped the Victims’ Legal Counsel for the Europe-Africa-Southwest Asia (EURAFSWA) region, Lieutenant-Commander Jonathan Freimann, HLS J.D. ’01,  with various research assignments mainly concerning victims’ rights under the Military Rules of Evidence. The military court-martial proceedings are essentially akin to federal criminal trials: a guilty verdict is a federal criminal verdict that can carry with it prison federal time and, in the case of sex offenses, registration on a sex offender registry. While my paper topic engages in a comparative analysis of on-campus adjudicatory procedures and the military justice system, it’s important not to diminish the severity and implications of a military court-martial.

Aside from my legal research assignments, the most exciting part of my time in Naples was meeting with people involved in the military justice system, from civilians working with Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, members of Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS… it’s not just a show!), JAGs working in the defense counsel office, JAGs working as military prosecutors, the JAG in charge of overseeing the legal operations of the base where I was stationed, and a Navy judge. Each person I spoke with had a different take on the Victims’ Legal Counsel program. Though there is general and strong support for the implementation of the program, there are certainly some concerns, many of which mirror the kinds of due process concerns that have been voiced regarding recent reforms of on-campus procedures.

Now that I am back on campus, I am excited to further explore the intersection of on-campus sexual assault policies and proceedings with the military justice system. Something I hadn’t quite realized before this independent clinical placement is that the profile of offenders and victims in both spaces are similar: young adults under 25, many whom are away from home for the first time, closely-knit social and work environments, enclosed physical spaces. In the past half-decade, both the military and college campuses have come under heightened public and congressional scrutiny for the mishandling of sexual assault complaints. I am excited to research how this increased scrutiny has affected both spaces and to see if there are lessons that can be learned and borrowed from one environment to the other.

HLS Students Pursue Clinical Projects Around the World

where in the world

United States  International 
Arlington, VA
Atlanta, GA
Asheville, NC
Austin, TX
Baltimore, MD
Boston, MA
Chicago, IL
Dallas, TX
Daytona Beach, FL
Detroit, MI
Des Moines, IA
Durham, NC
Florence, AZ
Gainesville, FL
Honolulu, HI
Houston, TX
Los Angeles, CA
Miami, FL
Minneapolis, MN
Montgomery, AL
Nashville, TN
New York, NY
New Orleans, LA
Newport News, VA
Newton, MA
Oakland, CA
Pittsburgh, PA
Providence, RI
Richmond, VA
Sacramento, CA
San Francisco, CA
San Jose, CA
Santa Fe, NM
Salt Lake City, UT
Springfield, MA
St. Louis, MO
St. Joseph, MO
Washington, DC
West Palm Beach, FL
Amman, Jordan
Bangalore, India
Capetown, South Africa
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Gurgaon, India
Hong Kong
Istanbul, Turkey
Lima, Peru
Melbourne, Australia
Mexico City, Mexico
Montreal, Canada
Naples, Italy
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Pune, India
Tel Aviv, Israel

This winter term, 130 students are travelling to 55 cities across the world to pursue clinical projects with a wide range of governmental agencies, non-profits and other organizations. Within the United States, students will be engaging in clinical work with placements such as the Attorney General Offices in California, Iowa and Virginia; organizations such as the Equal Justice Center (Montgomery, AL), World Bank (Washington, DC), American Civil Liberties Union (Honolulu, HI), and private entities such as the Brooklyn Nets and the National Football League.

Students can engage in clinical work with outside organizations through two avenues.  Students are given the opportunity to design custom and individualized clinical placements, in collaboration with their HLS faculty sponsor and on-site supervisors, through the Independent Clinical Program. This semester, these independent clinical students have designed a broad range of placements focusing on issues ranging from cyber-crime and public land management to issues related to the legal aspects of speeding the process of scientific discovery to health treatments.  Through the Externship Program, students can also participate in Externship Courses where students are able to take a course with our Externship faculty who have expertise in a particular area of the law like sports or criminal justice and engage in on-site clinical work at organizations in the field.

Gender Equality, Human Rights, and Women Agricultural Entrepreneurs in Tanzania

VICOBA PhotoBy Lauren Blodgett, J.D. ’16 

The advancement of gender equality and women’s rights is currently at the forefront of international discourse. Just last month, delegations from across the world gathered at the United Nations in New York City to participate in a “Commission on the Status of Women.” This group examined the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as it celebrated its 20th anniversary. The Beijing Declaration, adopted by 189 countries, is an initiative to promote the empowerment of women worldwide. However, despite collaborations like the Beijing Declaration, various human rights treaties, and endless efforts by women’s rights advocates, in 2015, there is still no country in the world that enjoys complete equality for women.

While issues of gender equality cut across many spheres of life, they are particularly visible in the workplace, especially in developing countries. According to the International Labor Organization, gender discrimination is the most prevalent form of inequality in the workplace worldwide. Because of this sweeping problem, I decided to utilize our clinical study in Tanzania to explore the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs on the ground and to examine these challenges in the context of human rights law and international trade. My goal was to identify solutions for empowering women entrepreneurs in Tanzania by combining knowledge of the laws and feedback from women regarding the obstacles they face.

After spending over a week in Tanzania and having over a dozen meetings with individuals and organizations, the commonalities in the challenges voiced to us fell into three categories: lack of capacity, no enforcement of rights, and cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality. It quickly became clear that the domestic laws and human rights treaties that purported to empower women were not effective in practice. Therefore, I found that operating outside of the prescribed legal protections and utilizing innovative grassroots solutions was the most successful method available. Such solutions include creating women-women networks, implementing programs that expose women to new markets, and offering training to help women entrepreneurs build the skills necessary for a prosperous business.

We were fortunate to witness a few of these solutions in action while in Tanzania. For example, we saw the power of women-women networks when we met with Vicoba, a microfinance organization that seeks to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to capital. The group has over 400,000 members, 88% of which are women. Vicoba represents a great example of women helping each other when the systems in place fail to help them.

One of the biggest lessons I received from this clinical experience is that lawyers cannot always rely on the law to create change. An important part of our legal education at Harvard Law School is being able to identify gaps where the law is failing and finding ways to help others through collaboration and innovation.

2015 J-Term International Travel Grant Recipients

Via HLS News

During the 2015 winter term, 52 HLS students traveled to 26 countries conducting research for writing projects or undertaking independent clinicals, with support from the Winter Term International Travel Grant Program, which includes the Cravath International Fellowships, the Reginald F. Lewis Internships, the Mead Cross Cultural Stipends, the Andrew B. Steinberg Scholarships, and the Human Rights Program Grants. The following are snapshots of 12 student experiences.

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