April 14, 2016 | Leave a Comment
Kerri Sherlock Talbot (HLS, 2002) knew she wanted to focus on immigration work when she came to HLS, but wasn’t quite sure how a post-HLS career would look like in the field. Immigration positions are difficult to attain, but Talbot managed to secure a position after graduation that allowed her to do direct client work and start her career in immigration. Talbot eventually made her way to Capitol Hill, working for Senator Robert Menendez and currently works for the Veng Group, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington, DC. This profile was written when Talbot was Chief Counsel for Senator Robert Menendez.
Kerri Sherlock Talbot ’02 found her passion for immigration issues when she taught English to Mexican immigrants as an undergraduate at Tufts University. Teaching introduced Talbot to communities affected by immigration law and made her realize how badly the US immigration system needed reform. An international relations major, Talbot was also fascinated by immigration because it sat at the intersection of international and domestic issues.
Talbot knew she wanted to focus on immigration policy when she enrolled at HLS and worked in the immigration clinic. Talbot spent much of her time in the immigration clinic while at HLS and was immersed in the client work. Immigration policy jobs, however, are rare, so after graduation it was challenging to find a job. However, through connections she made at Harvard, Talbot secured a job with the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service in Baltimore. Although Talbot had hoped to work in advocacy instead of legal services, this first job out of law school allowed her to learn more about the field and start networking.
Talbot’s desire to move to D.C. led her to a job at Break the Chain Campaign, which works to prevent the abuse and exploitation of migrant women workers. She then joined the Rights Working Group, a coalition of over 350 local, state, and national organizations that advocate for civil liberties and human rights. At Rights Working Group Talbot became heavily involved in immigration policy issues and met her future employer, Senator Robert Menendez, when she briefed him on immigration issues in 2007. After a stint at the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, an organization with which Senator Menendez had a strong relationship, Talbot was well positioned to transition to her current position as Senator Menendez’s chief counsel, a job she used her strong network to land.
As Chief Counsel Talbot works on all judiciary issues, including national security, guns, domestic violence, crime, nominations, and her area of expertise, immigration. She researches all issues before the Senate, briefs Senator Menendez, writes letters for him, and attends meetings. Talbot has dedicated the past eight months to assist with writing the immigration bill that recently passed the Senate, an effort that involved negotiations with Republicans, briefing Senators, explaining amendments to them, and guiding the bill through the Judiciary Committee mark-up process. While Talbot works long hours, she relishes the opportunity to have a direct influence on policy and finds fulfillment in seeing the legislation she has written enacted.
Talbot advises students who want to pursue policy work on Capitol Hill to intern on the Hill while in law school. Those who hope to work in immigration should take advantage of every opportunity to work their way into the community and meet lawyers in the field, as immigration jobs are scarce. Talbot encourages students to explore different areas and to get experience to confirm their interest in a field. Most of all, Talbot says, students should have an open mind and remember that they have a long career ahead of them. If the first few jobs out of law school aren’t the perfect fit, they can still provide valuable experience and expose young lawyers to new practice areas.
Jill Tauber (HLS, 2005) never expected to be an environmental attorney. While she was committed to doing public interest work in her career, she started off focused on civil rights and had been working already on establishing a background around housing issues. It was her experience through Hurricane Katrina that deepened her curiosity about climate justice and led her down the path she is currently going down as an attorney with Earthjustice.
For the social justice advocate in Jill Tauber, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau was a defining experience of law school. During the two years she spent there, she was inspired in her work providing direct legal services in housing and unemployment benefits cases. She also took classes with, and worked as a teaching assistant for, Professor Lani Guinier, who was influential in Jill’s study of and engagement with social justice issues. At that time, little did Jill know that she would eventually become an environmental lawyer, now holding the position of Managing Attorney of the Clean Energy Program at Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law organization. Incidentally, she had never even taken a single environmental law course at HLS.
Jill’s current job, which she describes as “inspiring,” was not apparent as a career goal to her in law school, but she became increasingly passionate about combating climate change and protecting people’s right to a healthy environment during her Skadden Fellowship at Advancement Project, a national civil rights advocacy organization based in DC. During her two years at Advancement Project, she represented public housing residents in New Orleans who had to leave their homes when hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and were not permitted to return. “During my work in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, I started to better understand the impact of climate and energy injustice, and it made me realize that fighting for clean energy and healthy communities is a critical justice issue,” Jill says. At the end of her fellowship, she relocated to North Carolina and took the move as an opportunity to explore environmental work. While transitioning from one subject field into another, she says that it was invaluable to connect with an HLS alum who had worked at the Southern Environmental Law Center, where she got her first environmental law job. She says talking with the HLS alum and seeing how much she loved environmental law eased her nerves about entering into a new field. Because networking has been instrumental in her career in such ways, Jill is very encouraging of law students and young lawyers who want to reach out. “I receive emails often from students and recent grads, and I am always happy to talk with them about their career path,” she says, “I think it’s our obligation as public interest lawyers to help students and new lawyers.”
What enabled her transition into a completely new subject field were concrete lawyering skills she developed and a strong commitment to public interest. Right after HLS, Jill clerked in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California and completed a fellowship at Advancement Project, where she gained substantial experience in all aspects of litigation and advocacy. These proved to be solid transferable skills going into environmental law. And although she had not taken environmental law courses at HLS, she found classes like administrative law, as well as research and writing skills, to be applicable across a wide variety of subject fields. “Regardless of your experience working in a particular area of the law, a core foundation of legal skills, including writing, research and oral advocacy, is critical,” Jill says, “A commitment to the public interest is also an attractive quality to public interest employers, regardless of issue area.” She also advises attorneys looking to transition into a new subject area to expect and be prepared to answer questions during the interview process about why they want to make the switch.
Today, Jill works to advance clean energy across the country. Although her work days vary, a substantial part of her day-to-day job involves working on cases, including drafting briefs, preparing for hearings, etc., and providing management support. “I’m working alongside dedicated, talented and kind people every day,” Jill says, “We are trying to protect our communities and environment— I could not think of a better goal.” This idealism and social purpose is also accompanied by the realization that success doesn’t come easy. “We are often facing an uphill battle for clean energy and environmental protections, so that can be a challenge.” Despite this, Jill and her colleagues maintain their zeal and avoid burnout by building a supportive work environment. “Knowing that I work for an organization that is really supportive of its staff is important,” she says, “We’re all in this field because we are incredibly passionate about the work. It’s not unusual to have long days, but it’s important to try to seek balance, in part so we can keep up the fight.”
Becoming a human rights attorney takes risk, tenacity, and also some luck. Regina Fitzpatrick (HLS, 2008) had a little bit of everything to help launch her into the human rights field. Recognizing her passion for human rights early on, Regina set out to work within the field and lay the foundations for what has become a deeply meaningful career in public international law. Note: you can read another profile of Regina through a piece in Harvard Law Today from 2012.
Be in the right place and at the right time— this is the most important lesson United Nations Human Rights Officer Regina Fitzpatrick has learned about building a career in peacekeeping. “You can choose to be in the right place,” Regina advises, “Particularly in this line of work, there is always urgency and [the UN] often needs to hire immediately. They don’t always have time to go over the stack of resumes, so if you are right there and ready, that’s putting yourself in the right place.” Regina was hired in her first UN peacekeeping job in a similar way. In 2010, she asked herself what was happening in the world and decided to go to Sudan, where an independence referendum was planned as part of a peace deal to resolve decades of civil war. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and the UN started a new peacekeeping mission, she was there, qualified, and also knew an HLS alumnus who happened to be hiring. She was initially hired as a Judicial Affairs Officer in Juba, and then stayed with the mission more than three years as a Human Rights Officer.
It took a lot of tenacity and some risk for Regina to build a career in UN peacekeeping. Coming into law school, she already had a Masters’ degree in human rights and had worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and then she spent her summers working abroad in human rights protection and investigation roles. Through these experiences, she cemented her desire to become a UN human rights officer in conflict zones, protecting civilians and investigating atrocities. This career choice was uncommon and proved to be difficult to break into. “I had a false confidence that by focusing on my interests, I could come right out of law school and get the job I wanted,” she says. Instead, it required flexibility and risk to get her foot in the door. “I learned not to pass up opportunities while waiting for the perfect job, but to see that there were several avenues available to lead where I wanted to go,” Regina says. Regina spent two years after graduation in the U.S., clerking and teaching, before moving to Sudan on a fellowship to work with NGOs, Conflict Dynamics International and The Carter Center’s Democracy Program. It was only then that she got her dream job.
Her willingness to take risks has proved beneficial for Regina even after she joined the UN. When she was living in the U.S. after law school and trying to get back into international work, she decided to hop on a plane, fly to Nepal, and knock on the UN human rights doors in Kathmandu. Although this did not yield a job offer, the head of UN human rights there was someone whom she had reached out to previously as a law student. Years later, when Regina was in South Sudan, the same person arrived to lead the UN human rights team there, and remembered her. “Within a few months, I was his special assistant and working closely with him. We have a strong professional relationship now,” Regina says. As someone who is now on the receiving side of numerous networking emails, she advises students to always be concrete with what you’re asking for and nurture the mentor/mentee relationships you develop over time. “Nurturing and maintaining the relationship means following up and telling them how you’re doing,” Regina advises, “Stay in touch even when you don’t need anything from them. Also express an interest in what they’re doing.”
When asked about the compatibility of serious romantic relationships with a mobile career, Regina says, “What people always advised me was that if you want this kind of career, you’re more likely to find the right partner out there in the world rather than at home. You need to find someone who understands and supports you, which is more likely if he or she leads a similar lifestyle.” When she started her international career, she had no strings attached and was able to take the risks she did. Having flexibility has proven to be important in her line of work, and now, having a partner with a similar career means they’ve been able to make their professional and personal choices mutually.
Currently, Regina is stationed in Kandahar as a Human Rights Officer in the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, where her work focuses on the protection of civilians through monitoring and reporting on civilian casualties and advocating for the elimination of violence against women. In this role, she regularly meets with tribal elders, civil society members, and government officials. One of the most fulfilling parts of her job is working with Afghan women. “There aren’t many women in a UN field office, even among international staff. And it’s rare for Afghan women to be in the public sphere and speaking out,” Regina explains, “I find [working with them] rewarding because, sharing our experiences as women, we can have, I think, a valuable connection.”
Jacquelyn Greene has spent her much of her career focused on youth and child advocacy, but in different public interest practice areas. Students may often wonder (and wrestle) with the decision of doing direct legal work vs. doing policy work. Jacquelyn’s career has taken her through both arenas. Read about Jacquelyn’s career path and how it’s often important to focus on your passion to help you figure out your next steps.
When Jacquelyn Greene ‘98 witnessed a legal aid lawyer get a teen mother and her baby back into an apartment they had been evicted from, she thought “I want to be the person who can do that.” Jacquelyn, who at this time was fresh out of college working as a Family Services Social Worker for the Jesuit Volunteer Core, had been trying to help this young mother get back on her feet for weeks and, as Jacquelyn described it, “after one phone call at legal aid they turned her lights back on and forgave the arrears and it was in that moment that I decided I wanted to go to law school.”
It was through this context she entered HLS. Jacquelyn knew she wanted to do public interest work, and stuck to her agenda by using her time to work in the Family Law Clinic (now the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center) and closely working with the Office of Public Interest Advising to receive a Skadden Fellowship. Jacquelyn reflects that for her, “the biggest thing that helped me get the Skadden was actually the connection with a former fellow and I really only got to connect with him because of the people at OPIA.” That connection was Skadden and Wasserstein Fellow Kevin Ryan, the President and CEO of Covenant House, an organization that provides shelters and transitional living options for runaway and homeless youth across the country.
Jacquelyn’s first two years of legal practice through her Skadden Fellowship proved to be the foundational years of work she needed, but also quite challenging. Jacquelyn worked at the Covenant House in New Jersey, providing legal services to the children and young adults ranging from areas such as housing, child welfare, public benefits, employment, and low level municipal court representation. She worked side-by- side with her clients, as her office was located inside the shelter. Feeling somewhat drained after two years of this intensive work, Jacquelyn decided to change course a bit and left Covenant House for an opportunity in Albany, NY to do state policy work. Jacquelyn says “in retrospect I think I could’ve done that work longer if I had built a stronger network of peers”. Jacquelyn noted that this has been critical as her career has progressed, and advises young lawyers to develop and foster a supportive community wherever they go.
Jacquelyn spent the next six years working at the New York State Assembly as Counsel to the Committee on Children and Families and the Committee on Social Services, where she was able to use her experience at Covenant House to inform policy work around child welfare issues, public benefits issues, and juvenile justice issues. During this time, Jacquelyn was still able to direct client work, as she represented children in Family Court working on the Law Guardian Panel which provides representation to children who are the subject of proceedings in Family Court. For those interested in policy, Jacquelyn recommends pursuing direct service work first, as she finds “the policy world can get really lost in itself and it’s very easy to lose track of the lives that you’re trying to help.”
Jacquelyn’s policy work continued to serve her well through on the government level: In 2007 with the election of Governor Eliot Spitzer, Jacquelyn was selected to work in the executive branch as Assistant Deputy Counsel to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which operates New York’s state-run juvenile justice facilities and oversees other locally-operated juvenile justice facilities as well as the child welfare and child care systems. After about a year and a half, Jacquelyn moved into a newly created position: the Director of Juvenile Justice Policy at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. In this position, Jacquelyn collaborated with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, a board of juvenile justice experts, to restructure the federal juvenile justice funding provided to the State to create strategic, systemic change throughout New York’s juvenile justice system. Jacquelyn also worked as the lead negotiator on a major systems reform called “Close to Home,” an initiative to shift kids from New York City housed in state-operated non-secure juvenile justice facilities in upstate New York back to small, evidence-informed residential programs near their home communities. Jacquelyn found challenges during her time working in government, noting that “in the world of high-level state government policy making it is very hard to feel like you have really an adequate work/life balance, especially as a working mother… I was definitely tied to a blackberry and people felt free to use it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
In 2015, an opportunity arose at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, a branch of the Policy Research Associates which focuses on improving policies and programs for youth with behavioral health disorders who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Jacquelyn decided to pursue it to achieve a better work/life balance while continuing to develop impactful policy within the juvenile justice system. As she describes, “it was an opportunity for me to take all of my state level policy making experience and help states across the country as they look to improve their juvenile justice systems.” Today, she works with states to improve their response to children with behavioral health needs who are becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Her main projects are centered on school-based diversion from referral to the juvenile justice system and improving the capacity of all child-serving systems, such as juvenile justice, child welfare, public health, and education, to respond to the needs of children struggling with trauma as a result of their exposure to violence.
Jacquelyn advises students interested in policy, government, or direct service work to explore all three. She finds “that people find a niche that works for them and stick with it.”
Lee Strock (HLS, 2009) made the transition from the private sector to the public sector in 2012 when he made the jump to become the Director for the Peter Cicchinio Youth Project at the Urban Justice Center. The jump wasn’t easy, but with deliberate action at various stages of his career, and maintaining (and building) of his network, Lee was able to make the transition into a position he felt deeply committed to.
Law school was a rude awakening for Lee Strock. He had grown up caring about class and sexual orientation as political issues, had been involved in activism during his undergraduate years, and had come to law school with the hope of advocating for marginalized communities. “But very quickly during 1L, I learned the myriad ways in which the law works to protect and entrench the interests of people who are central and powerful,” Lee recalls. “The things that were taught to me in 1L as being neutral were infuriating for me. That instilled in me a productive anger that made me want to change the system.” After his first year, Lee took Professor Dean Spade’s Law and Social Movements class and Professor Lucy White’s Poverty Law class, which made a lasting impact on Lee’s career path; they taught him ways in which the law could impact the lives of marginalized people. Professor Spade’s class in particular allowed him to critically examine the limits of the law and the downsides of placing lawyers at the center of sociopolitical movements. “[The two classes] together provided a theoretical and practical framework that informs a lot of the day-to-day work I do even today,” Lee says.
Today, Lee serves as Director of the Peter Cicchino Youth Project at the Urban Justice Center, where he leads his team in providing legal services to homeless and street-involved youth. Although he always aspired to work at the intersections of poverty, race, and sexual orientation like in his current job, Lee also knew early in his law career that he would have to temporarily work in the private sector. “Law school is expensive and the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP) is great, but it is not the answer for everyone,” Lee explains, “so I knew I was going to have to spend at least some period of time at a law firm and my focus [upon graduation] was finding a firm that would allow me to do a significant amount of pro bono work.”
With this goal in mind, Lee spent a summer at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, where he later returned to work for three years after graduation. While job searching, he was candid about his intention to eventually work in public interest and thus was able to get an actual sense of how supportive a law firm would be toward pro bono work. “I was pretty upfront in my interview processes about my interests, which then allowed people to give me subtle or not-so-subtle hints about what the firm culture was actually like,” Lee says. Kramer Levin was a good fit for Lee because it had an externship program that allowed associates to work full time at the Housing Unit of South Brooklyn Legal Services for four to six months. Lee was thus able to get significant housing law experience in addition to taking on numerous pro bono asylum and impact litigation cases in partnership with nonprofits like Lambda Legal, which works for the civil rights of the LGBT community.
Lee advises public-interest-minded law student who anticipate working in the private sector to try to maintain their networks in the public interest sector. For instance, Lee volunteered in his free time at the Sylvia Riviera Law Project (SRLP), an organization that works for low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming. “That organization was my out-of-work political home base,” Lee says. “[It] kept me connected to movements and people engaged in social change.” In addition, Lee made it a habit to go to nonprofit fundraising galas where law firms buy tables. He would talk not just with other firm lawyers but also the staff of different nonprofits. On his own time, he also helped raise funds for SRLP, cultivating a network of professional acquaintances that has proven helpful at his current job as Director of the Peter Cicchino Youth Project. Such active engagement with public service and ongoing nonprofit networking enabled him to have a smoother transition to public interest. Eventually, a friend from his activist circles brought to his attention the opening for the job he currently holds.
When Lee moved into public interest lawyering, he took a significant pay cut but he always knew he could do it at the right time. “I did not want to be too senior such that it became too expensive for nonprofits to hire me,” Lee says of the timing of his switch. One of the best aspects of transitioning back to the public sector was having a job that was, for him, “soul-nourishing” and not having to supplement his job with more satisfying volunteer work.
Lee advises law students who plan to have similar private practice detours to use their 1L summers for practical and hands-on legal experience relevant to their field of interest. He also advises using clinical opportunities to show their commitment to a particular cause. “Public interest organizations need smart and passionate people who are willing to make a fraction of what they would make in private practice,” Lee says, “And these jobs can be much more competitive than law firm jobs. So if your longer-term goal is to get a job in public interest, then I think that is where your focus needs to be.”
March 10, 2016 | 1 Comment
Jason Gelbort (HLS, 2013) had an eye towards international work when entering HLS, but didn’t quite know how he was going to use a law degree to move that focus forward. After a few years of exploring HLS and the opportunities available to him through clinics, student groups and summer internships, he began to see how he would harness his experiences at HLS and direct it towards the work he wanted to be doing abroad. Jason emphasizes that it’s important to keep an open mind when exploring your legal education, and use all the resources available to you to foster that learning.
With destinations such as Sierra Leone and Turkey under his belt, Jason Gelbort’s transnational career took a turn to Thailand and Burma in 2013. Now there for almost two years, he has been working as an independent legal consultant, advising and supporting ethnic opposition coalitions and leaders on the ongoing ceasefire negotiations with the government.
In many ways his current job is starkly different from his life before law school, when he worked at a business strategy consulting firm in Cambridge, but it is the culmination of many years of wanting to have an international career.
When Jason entered law school, he was not entirely convinced that he wanted to be a lawyer, but saw legal education as useful. He had an academic bend towards development, governance and intra-state conflict, and traveled and worked internationally, so he knew international work attracted him, but he had little idea about what organizations would fit his interests. He thus started his legal education with an open mind and explored many different types of activities and internships: he spent summers at a variety of different institutions, including the Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section at the Department of Justice, a law reform commission in Sierra Leone, and at the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), a global pro bono law firm that works on peace agreements. He also participated in the Human Rights Clinic that allowed him to travel to the Thai-Burmese border on a fact-finding mission. A memorable part of his law school career was working with the Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS) which, he says, was a crucial practical addition to his academic education. “[In LIDS], we did hands-on work that was supporting organizations around the world and getting exposure to different types of work,” Jason says, “Coming from doing consulting work previously and into an academic setting, it felt healthy to be doing things that were practical in addition to academic.”
Jason recalls his willingness to experiment as a critical element in figuring out his current career path. For instance, his travel to the Thai-Burmese border not only solidified his interest in Burma and led him to pursue his current job, but his first summer at PILPG helped him see that he enjoyed legal research and writing, and was something he was good at. He ultimately returned to work at PILPG after graduation with a Helton Fellowship. “One thing that is useful to strategize about in law school is to think about what type of organization would be a good fit for you” Jason advises, “Students might find they fit better in different organizational structures: international NGOs, local community based organization, federal government or others. And although these types of organizations may be different, within each category there can be much larger differences in organizational culture, entrepreneurship and hierarchy. So I did things that were different but all of them touched on things I thought I might be interested in pursuing.”
Moreover, it made sense for him to not be a regional specialist, although he does not discourage those with strong regional or language interests to pursue them. He decided to focus his legal education more broadly on substantive skills rather than regional expertise; Jason never regretted the choice. “Both regional and issue specialists have important roles to play,” Jason says, “Like many things, it might depend on one’s passion.” Moreover, in a conflict or transitional society there are many different and intersecting issues that a professional has to work navigate through and stay on top of. Jason thus says that it is important to attend different talks, try out courses in different issue areas, and be open-minded about learning to further develop your knowledge base.
His dual degree from HLS and Tuft’s Fletcher School also provided an environment conducive to gaining a variety of skills and knowledge. At Harvard and Fletcher, Jason was able to pursue different but complementary things, including negotiation workshops, international law courses, and conflict resolution. “Harvard taught me critical thinking, fact-finding and research skills,” Jason says, “Whereas Fletcher helped me put my legal learning into a broader international context, particularly looking at policy.” He also gained exposure to a wider community of professionals at these schools: he found Harvard’s network to be expansive and varied whereas Fletcher’s was small but more close-knit and internationally-focused.
At his current job, Jason researches and writes memos to go to ethnic leaders, meets with the international community to advocate for different issues, and travels frequently. Although exciting, his job entails difficult situations in a context of intractable conflict. “It is very challenging that I am frequently confronted with really bad news,” Jason comments. In addition, being internationally stationed on-the-ground also entails substantial adjustments like speaking with family and friends less frequently, and having to put in extra effort to make friends. Yet, Jason’s sense of attachment to his job and to Burmese issues is ever-growing, and his zest for learning has not died down. “I am always learning¬ every day because I am exposed to complicated circumstances,” he says, “These issues will be things I will always care about.”
Lexie Kuznick is just 8 years removed from HLS, and she has already had a varied career path. From an Equal Justice Works Fellowship at the Urban Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Project to a position on Capitol Hill, to her current role as a policy director with Colorado’s Human Service Directors Association, she’s been exposed to different work settings, both legal and non-legal, that have allowed her to pursue her passions and interests, while also providing new challenges at different turns. Kuznick’s experience shed’s light on how one’s legal skills can apply broadly, not just to the legal field. It may all depend on how you pitch it.
Lexie Kuznick ’08 is the Policy Director of the Colorado Human Services Directors Association, a non-profit association that represents the county human services directors in the state. The Association promotes a human services system that encourages self-sufficiency of families and communities, and protects vulnerable children and adults from abuse and neglect. The position allows her the unique opportunity to work on policy issues at both the state and the local level. While she firmly believes that human services are critically important, in law school Kuznick would not have imagined herself in this job. Instead, she came to HLS planning to work specifically on policy related to gender and civil rights issues. “I think that focus really helped me in law school, because it shaped my law school experience,” she explained. “Every opportunity I had to do a clinical, or to do a January term, and my summer jobs, were all focused on getting a different type of experience in public interest.” As an HLS student, Kuznick worked at Greater Boston Legal Services, Texas Civil Rights Project, and the National Women’s Law Center, among others. This extensive law school background has proved useful for Kuznick, who has made multiple career transitions.
Though she was determined to do policy work eventually, Kuznick felt it was important to pursue direct services work beforehand. Accordingly, after graduating from HLS in 2008, she worked as an Equal Justice Works fellow at the Urban Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Project. While there, she was frequently in court, working as a litigator for the first time. Though she had not anticipated practicing litigation, she enjoyed the opportunity to develop that skill while working on an issue about which she is passionate. She also implemented her own project focused on housing issues for victims of domestic violence, another experience she greatly enjoyed. At the conclusion of the two-year fellowship, however, Kuznick felt ready to begin her transition into policy work. Though she had worked at the office of then-Senator Biden during a January term during law school, she knew she needed to know more about politics before she could fully enter the policy world.
At that time, her now-husband was returning to law school for an LLM degree, and the two decided to relocate to Boston, where Kuznick landed a job on the Revenue Committee of the Massachusetts State Legislature. This move represented a whole new area of law for her, but she was able to demonstrate her commitment in the rigorous interview process. In general, she noted, “employers are looking for the way you think about things, the skills you bring to the table, and generally understand that you can learn a new subject matter if you have the right skillset.” Ultimately, Kuznick learned the details of tax law and policy on the job, all while gaining valuable insight into the functioning of a legislative body. After about a year in Massachusetts, Kuznick set her sights on the next transition and began looking for jobs on Capitol Hill.
Through a series of informal lunches and coffee meetings with HLS alum working on the Hill, Kuznick learned of an opening for a Legislative Assistant in Senator Lautenberg’s office. Again she found herself in the position of proving herself in the interview process, because she did not have the typical background for a Capitol Hill staffer. Her law school work proved helpful in this hiring process, as she was able to draw upon a wide range of previous experiences to demonstrate her readiness to take on the position’s expansive portfolio. It was in this job that Kuznick’s law school plan to work on policy issues related to gender and civil rights materialized. In addition to a wide range of issues including immigration and gun safety, she worked on the Violence Against Women Act, equal pay issues, and racial violence issues after Trayvon Martin’s death. She found the position both exciting and fulfilling, particularly because she knew the office was making a difference. When Senator Lautenberg sadly passed away, Kuznick began looking for a new job in the West, where her now-husband had been offered a tenure-track professorship. It was then that she landed her current job at the Colorado Human Services Directors Association.
The responsibilities of the position shift frequently, but generally include both monitoring all state-wide bills that have an impact on human services, and working to advance beneficial bills. At the same time, Kuznick works to ensure that the state’s human services department is maintaining effective relationships with the county administered human services departments. In part, she values this position because it allows her to work on issues she cares deeply about, from economic security to family safety. In addition, “seeing how policies, both at the national and state level translate to the actual implementation at the local level has been really eye-opening,” she said.
Kuznick recommends taking advantage of the many opportunities that law school provides. Getting as much practical experience as possible is important in developing skills and relationships – both of which are critical to preparing for a career in public interest. In addition, she emphasized the importance of understanding the transferability of different legal skills when thinking about career transitions.
February 25, 2016 | 1 Comment
Robert McCreanor is now the Executive Director for the Rhode Island Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law center that focuses on providing services in Rhode Island around issues including housing, immigration, and workers’ rights. Read more about his organization at http://www.centerforjustice.org/.
This post was written when McCreanor was the Director of Legal Services at Catholic Migration Services (CMS), a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
Robert McCreanor ‘02 is the Director of Legal Services at Catholic Migration Services (CMS), a nonprofit civil legal service provider in New York City. McCreanor knew that he wanted to pursue public interest work when he was accepted to HLS. He deferred for a year to work in a public housing development through the I Have a Dream Foundation, doing community organizing with low-income children and their parents. At the time, McCreanor says, he did not know that engaging a community in collective action would be a recurring theme throughout his career.
At HLS McCreanor worked in the prosecution clinic and volunteered for Shelter Legal Services. Following graduation he spent three years as an Assistant District Attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where he gained valuable trial experience doing criminal prosecutions.
Soon, however, McCreanor found himself looking for more entrepreneurial, community-based work. He left the DA’s office and joined Catholic Migration Services (CMS) to start a housing services program. Previously CMS’s services had been limited to immigration assistance; this expansion of CMS’s work was the entrepreneurial challenge McCreanor sought. The Immigrant Tenant Advocacy Program began as a one-man operation. McCreanor set up community-based legal clinics, heard housing complaints, visited clients’ buildings, and organized tenants. He pressured property owners to improve conditions, filed suit against them, brought attention to housing issues through advocacy, and began to build relationships in the community.
A year into the project, unsure of where it was headed and facing a significant student loan burden, McCreanor left public interest work for the private firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. McCreanor describes his time away from social justice work as a learning experience; complex commercial litigation is very different from fighting slum lords in Queens. McCreanor appreciates the understanding of the private sector and the professional contacts he developed at his firm, which now offers pro bono services relevant to his work with CMS.
A year and a half later, in 2008, McCreanor returned to CMS to further develop the Tenant Advocacy Program. Simultaneously he launched a clinical program at St. John’s Law School, integrating his work at CMS with a course on law and organizing at St. John’s. During the financial crisis McCreanor and his team dedicated two and a half years to filing suit against predatory investors (large financial institutions that had bought real estate and attempted to evict residents) and organized a media campaign to expose their actions. CMS’s efforts culminated in a settlement facilitated by the New York Attorney General’s Office.
Since his return to CMS in 2008 McCreanor has taken on more leadership and administrative responsibilities. Now the Director of Legal Services, he identifies areas of need in the community and determines how CMS can best address them. This process led to the launch of a third legal services program, the Immigrant Workers’ Rights Program, several years ago. On a daily basis, McCreanor coordinates the work of CMS’s three units, assists attorneys with their legal strategies, collaborates with partner organizations, and dedicates a lot of time to fundraising. McCreanor says that trying to confront tremendous need with very limited resources is the most challenging aspect of his job; deciding which clients CMS can and can’t represent and where CMS can most effectively direct its resources is extremely difficult.
The job, however, is as rewarding as it is challenging. The best parts, McCreanor says, are the relationships he has built with CMS’s dedicated staff and with clients in the community, some of whom he has known for almost a decade. There is no substitute, McCreanor says, for time spent with people, and the many years he has dedicated to immersing himself in his community have allowed him to overcome the barriers between lawyer and client, build trust, and earn respect. Even while serving in an administrative role, McCreanor tries to stay close to this community and the day-to-day operations of his organization; each week he sits in on an intake session or attends a group meeting in the community.
McCreanor says his unconventional career path has shown him that it is possible to move from one practice area to another. Students need not agonize over finding the perfect job; instead, they should find an experience that will provide them with good mentorship and familiarize them with the community they hope to serve, as knowing the local legal landscape is invaluable. In addition, students interested in legal services should do clinical work and develop their language skills.
February 18, 2016 | Leave a Comment
Nisha Agarwal, ’06, is the Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), an office charged with promoting the well-being of immigrant communities – no small task in a city with an immigrant population larger than the total population of Chicago. One of the office’s most recent priorities has been the launch of the new municipal ID card, an ambitious initiative of Mayor de Blasio that will allow all NYC residents to access essential services and programs, regardless of their immigration status. Agarwal is at the helm of MOIA, managing hiring and firing, directing program and policy directions, and serving as a media and public spokesperson for the office and for the mayor. This prestigious post, though, was not always on her radar. In law school, “I actually often said I probably never would work in government,” Agarwal explained. “You can’t always plan what will happen in your career.”
In fact, this job was not the first unexpected turn for Agarwal. Before arriving at HLS, she was pursuing a PhD and expected to eventually end up as a professor. However, as she became increasingly involved in action-oriented grassroots organizing, she realized she wanted more practical skills training than a PhD program could offer and decided to leave for law school. At HLS, she found many opportunities for the practical experience she sought, including at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Throughout her three years, she also refined her interests in working alongside community organizing campaigns on immigrants’ rights issues in the broader context of racial justice and civil rights. This focus, along with a desire to live in New York City, led her to a post-graduate fellowship with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI).
Agarwal stayed with NYLPI for six years, working with community-based organizations and coalitions to protect and improve health access in immigrant communities. She was eventually appointed as the Director of the Health Justice Program at NYLPI and found this work deeply satisfying, in part because she was able to observe and participate in the local lawmaking process. At the same time, though, she was growing concerned about the increasingly toxic nature of anti-immigration bills across the country and wanted to work on a national scale. Contemplating making a change, she scheduled informal conversations with colleagues in her field who she admired and whose jobs she thought were interesting. When one of those colleagues, Andrew Friedman, asked her to join him in building a new national-level organization, she quickly agreed.
Together, Agarwal and Friedman helped found the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), which works from a pro-worker, pro-immigrant position to build the power of community-based organizing groups across the country. Handling not only initial campaign-planning, but also the detailed logistics of fundraising and setting up an office was eye-opening. “I had never worked that hard, I had never been stretched that hard,” Agarwal noted. “I was learning new skills left and right.” In addition to advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, while at CPD Agarwal was engaged in national conversations about implementing potential reforms in a manner that would also build organizing capacity on a local level. A couple of years into her work at CPD, she heard that the Robin Hood Foundation was looking for a consultant to help design a new program that took up just that question.
The program, called the Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), aimed to influence the field of legal service delivery in immigrant communities. Though Agarwal was deeply committed to the work at CPD, “it was just too tempting of an opportunity to take everything that I had learned and then actually be able to put it into existence through this organization.” Shortly after IJC launched, only a few months after she had joined the team, she received a call from Mayor de Blasio and was named the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs.
Her experience helping build CPD and IJC proved invaluable as she headed the rapidly expanding Office of Immigrant Affairs. The office grew from seven to roughly fifty staff members in her first eighteen months and widened its portfolio to include leading the launch of the municipal ID card and planning for implementation of executive action on immigration. Describing the office, Agarwal noted, “We work really hard, and there’s a lot going on and the pace is really intense, but when you actually see the outcomes of that work, and it’s actually changing the way the city works and for the better – that’s by far the most satisfying part of the job.”
For those still in law school, Agarwal suggested taking advantage of every opportunity to get a broad range of practical experiences in order to figure out what types of work fit your interests. She also urged the importance of keeping an open mind, an ethos that is clear from her multiple unexpected career transitions. “See where things lead you,” she said. “Don’t be too planned about it.”
Written by 2015 OPIA Summer Fellow Erin Kelley
February 4, 2016 | Leave a Comment
Cori Crider ’06, Strategic Director for the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism Team at Reprieve in the UK talks about her path to becoming a human rights lawyer.
Cori Crider ’06 grew up in a small town south of Dallas and went from the University of Texas to HLS with a vague notion that she wanted to do good. It was not until the summer after her 1L year, however, that she found her mission: fighting human rights abuses in counterterrorism and advocating for those who have been unjustly detained.
During an internship at a small human rights NGO, Crider sat in on a meeting and heard a Bush administration human rights official defend the government’s counterterrorism program, including detentions at Guantanamo Bay and holding children without charge or trial. Hearing the government support these practices angered Crider and motivated her to dedicate her career to fighting them.
Crider worked in the human rights clinic at HLS, traveling to Cambodia to research hydro development. During her 2L summer she interned for a human rights litigator who focused mostly on corporate accountability. Crider refocused on counterterrorism during her post-graduation job search and found Reprieve, a small nonprofit in London. Sponsored by Reprieve, she won two fellowships from Harvard and joined Reprieve as its third Guantanamo attorney.
Since Crider’s arrival in 2006, Reprieve’s staff has grown from seven to thirty-five, and its work has expanded significantly. Crider currently represents seventeen clients detained in Guantanamo and exposes the injustice of drone strikes, traveling to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia to document civilian casualties, collect testimony from locals, and conduct on-the-ground research.
Reprieve works through law, politics, and the media to effect change – but not necessarily in that order. The organization has helped over fifty inmates win release from Guantanamo, but only one, a fourteen-year-old boy, has been released by the order of a judge. In most cases, Crider says, Reprieve succeeds in the court of public opinion, using the media to highlight human rights abuses and put political pressure on those in power. Crider first learned that social justice advocates must look outside the courtroom to effect change from Michael Klarman, her constitutional history professor at HLS, and this lesson has stayed with her throughout her career. Advocates, she says, must be prepared to take their story to the public and to engage on the turf on which they can have the greatest impact. In April 2013, for example, Reprieve facilitated the publication of an op-ed narrative by a Guantanamo detainee in the New York Times, and the article helped fuel the national conversation about counterterrorism practices (see the op-ed at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/opinio…).
Crider advises students who have not yet solidified their interests to read the news and see which issues inspire them. She suggests that students take note of who is quoted on issues of interest and to research smaller, lesser-known organizations that may provide unique opportunities. Crider, for example, found Reprieve through her own research and has been able to play an integral role in the organization’s work and growth.
Although her pay is lower than it would be at a major law firm, Crider believes that it is crucial to find meaning and fulfillment in one’s work. Small organizations, she says, often provide more substantive litigation experience than major firms and give young attorneys the opportunity to take on interesting work and real responsibilities.
Crider says the most difficult aspect of her work is trying to balance strategically important projects with the dedication required of individual representation. Because Reprieve and its clients are constantly fighting against the odds, she has learned to cherish her rare victories. The most precious moments, she says, are when a client steps down from a plane after being released and hugs his family for the first time in years. That scene, Crider says, is one she will never forget.