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

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.

Nisha AgarwalNisha 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

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.

Cori CriderDuring 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…).

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.

Genzie Bonadies, a class of 2013 alumna, discusses her path to her current position, and how some of the lessons she has learned, early on, have really opened up her way of thinking of what it means to practice public interest law.

Genzie Bonadies’13, is an Associate Counsel for the Legal Mobilization Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she works specifically with the Voting Rights Project and the Educational Opportunities Project. She has a broad array of job responsibilities across these substantive areas, engaging in civil litigation, policy work, and community-education efforts. To name just three focuses of her job over this past year: she has drafted legal briefs related to vote dilution, discrimination in higher education, and appropriate remedies; she has designed and facilitated trainings for parents on how to advocate for their children’s educational needs; and she has collaborated with several state and national coalitions to advance voting reforms such as promoting online voter registration and better language access.

Bonadies reflects on her work at the Lawyers’ Committee

    Bonadies’s work in voting and education has taught her the power of well-designed and well-coordinated advocacy efforts to change administrative practices, observing “you can make pretty substantial change through cooperation with the administration and with election officials.” Bonadies has been most surprised by her newfound affinity for impact litigation work. Prior to joining the Lawyers’ Committee, Bonadies felt most drawn to direct services work because her time at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) showed her direct services could greatly lift both individuals and communities and, in contrast, she had fewer clear, tangible examples of how litigation could be effectively used as a tool for social change. Over the past year, Bonadies has witnessed firsthand how well-crafted litigation can likewise result in significant advancements for community-based interests. For example, she has seen how replacing discriminatory electoral schemes with more equitable systems can result in significantly greater success for minority candidates seeking public office. She likewise has learned that she has a much stronger interest in legal writing now that it involves causes she energetically supports, drawing a contrast with many of her writing assignments in law school which bore no connection to social causes she supports.

    How did Bonadies find her way to the Lawyers’ Committee?

Bonadies reflected that her path to the Lawyers’ Committee has not been a direct one. Bonadies drew her initial inspiration to attend law school from her work as an AmeriCorps teacher in Phoenix, where she recognized that students were facing barriers that she could not solve through her work in the classroom. Her students’ parents frequently asked her legal questions that she could not answer, and it became clear that “the instability that their parents were facing had very tangible effects on my students’ ability to learn.” Prompted by these experiences, Bonadies arrived at HLS intending to study education law. However, Bonadies soon found herself most interested in community-based lawyering and this interest led her to the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). Although HLAB did not focus on education law per say, Bonadies quickly discovered direct services required educational tools and resources to better orient indigent communities to the legal systems that structure their lives. HLAB also provided invaluable training in litigation, providing ample opportunity for oral arguments, depositions, and negotiations. Building on her work at HLAB, Bonadies developed a post-graduate fellowship focused on housing and employment law through the Public Service Venture Fund. Based at Centro Legal de la Raza (“Centro Legal”) in Oakland, California, Bonadies learned critical skills from Centro Legal’s experienced attorneys and the organization’s tiered service model which included clinics, limited-scope services, and direct representation. Moreover, Bonadies’s fellowship enabled her to continue her interest in education by strengthening Centro Legal’s partnerships with local schools to better inform students and their parents of their legal rights and available remedies.

Bonadies greatly enjoyed her work at Centro Legal, but her personal life presented a geographic challenge. She had always envisioned working where she grew up: California’s East Bay. But her partner was a Navy JAG who was assigned to work in Washington, D.C. Bonadies ultimately decided to relocate to be closer to her partner. Her first instinct was to look search for an organization that could replicate Centro Legal, but she quickly learned that duplicating experiences would not be feasible since each location presents its own network of public service organizations. She decided to embrace D.C.’s array of options for public service attorneys, and broadened the scope of her search accordingly to include more positions involving policy and coalition-based work. As part of this process, she set up informational interviews with D.C. attorneys, including several who she met through her supervisors at Centro Legal. Bonadies emphasized the importance of those interviews, which “connected me to the right buzzwords, the right issues driving each organization, the right people to talk to.” When she heard about the job at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, she saw an opportunity to combine her long-standing interest in education with an interest in voting rights she had developed in law school as a research assistant for Professor Lani Guinier.

Conscious that this job was quite different from her legal services background, Bonadies spent a significant amount of time writing and re-writing her cover letter. This careful drafting process helped her articulate the connections between voting rights and her past work. The application and interview process also resulted in a shift of her understanding of her own expertise. “To an organization’s eyes, I’m just a new attorney,” she said. “While I felt as if I was really specialized in something one year out of law school, I now think they had a different viewpoint: they saw me as a young attorney who needed training in any subject matter, but who had potential.” Affirming the transferability of her skills in housing and employment law, the Lawyers’ Committee offered Bonadies the position and she gladly accepted.

Speaking about a year into this work, Bonadies noted that the new environment required some adjustment and entailed “a very steep learning curve.” Fortunately, her new job has also presented her with talented and generous mentors. Along the way, she has developed additional skills and interests, including the new-found appreciation for impact litigation work mentioned above. Overall, she explained, “one of the best, most empowering lessons I have learned is that I can change locations and change subject areas. It’s freeing to know that I can pivot towards new practices when needed or desired.”

Written by Erin Kelley, OPIA Summer Fellow 2015

Opportunities to pursue international work and study are integral parts of Harvard Law School’s identity. Students can pursue numerous avenues to study international law, and explore it more deeply by doing an internship during the summer, or spending a semester abroad. Read about Peter Nash Stavros, a 3L, who spent this past fall semester at the University of Geneva and also spent his past two summers working abroad. Peter offers a glimpse into how one can build up international credentials and explore a wide array of work types while doing so.

Two Summers Abroad: The ICC and UNICEF Jordan Country Office
Peter Nash Stavros, a 3L, spent his recent fall semester at the University of Geneva and also spent the past two summers abroad. He worked at the Investigations Division at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court during his 1L summer and the Children Protection Section of UNICEF’s Jordan Country Office during his 2L summer. During his time at HLS, Peter has also worked for UNHCR in D.C. and Earthjustice in San Francisco. These experiences combined have helped him narrow his field of interest to international refugee and migration law in the MENA region.

What type of work did you do at the ICC and UNICEF, and how would you compare the two experiences?
At the ICC, my work involved the systemization of facts into analysis and coherent legal arguments intended to support the Prosecutorial Division. The ICC was a great experience, but going back, I would have split my time between the Prosecutorial and Investigations divisions. At UNICEF, I investigated human rights violations and documented related protection concerns. Most of my time was spent in the field conducting interviews at Azraq and Za’atari refugee camps. Being around a passionate and diverse group of people both times was incredibly rewarding.

How did you go about securing these positions?
The application for my ICC internship was due in early November, so I started the process in the beginning of the fall semester. I recommend speaking with Professor Alex Whiting, the expert on international criminal law. UNICEF was trickier. I utilized HELIOS and Google to obtain the contact information of specific individuals working in organizations based in the MENA region. During Christmas break, I began sending out concise e-mails with an updated resume, making it clear that I was seeking an unpaid position. This was helpful because conscientious recipients often forward your e-mail to their colleagues, and your resume can reach an office that needs you. Given the importance of networking, I recommend speaking to professors and offices like OPIA and the International Legal Studies, as well as Wasserstein Fellows and upper year students who can connect you to employers and other helpful contacts. I secured both of these positions around mid-February.

As a recipient of the Chayes and Human Rights Program fellowships, can you shed some light on how fellowship application deadlines fit into the job search timeline?
Students interested in public interest work will often need to reconcile separate timelines. There is one unified application for both the Chayes and HRP fellowships. In both years, I submitted this application well before securing a job, and I kept the staff at the ILS informed of my job search process.

Do you have any additional advice?
Be mindful of the international timeline. Many organizations will not begin looking at applications until January, and you will continue to receive interview invitations and job offers well into the spring. I recommend that you stay patient and not panic, as if you end up committing to a domestic job that you aren’t very interested in, you may miss out on some amazing opportunities. Also note that the following attributes are generally valued in international public interest work – language skills, substantive travel experience, related professional experience, and a commitment to public interest.

Written by OPIA 1L Section Rep Ha Ryong Jung (Michael)

Do you know any/are you a motivated undergrad looking to gain exposure to public interest law this summer? This is a GREAT opportunity for undergraduates to learn more about different areas of public interest legal work, take on a wide variety of projects to help support the office, and build on their research, writing and project management skills. The internship also consists of a lunch speaker series where local legal practitioners, faculty and staff come to HLS to discuss their career paths and the different areas of public interest law they might work in. OPIA is a small, close-knit office, so we also have a summer bbq at the Assistant Dean’s house, a community service outing, and other great experiences along the way. Come join us this summer!

The Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising at Harvard Law School seeks between 4-5 undergraduates to work as Public Interest Fellows for the upcoming summer. The office, staffed by experienced attorneys, counsels hundreds of law students and alumni interested in pursuing public service work. The job offers great exposure to the legal profession, particularly for someone contemplating a career in public interest law. We are seeking students with a background or strong interest in public service as well as prior experience working in an office environment. Our summer fellows take part in a brown bag lunch series exploring several aspects of public interest law and have the opportunity to participate in community service activities.

Applications are being accepted and must be received by March 4th, 2016. Hiring will be done on a rolling basis so students are encouraged to submit their applications early.

Project assignments will likely include (but are not limited to) the following:

• Help revise public service career specialty guides, such as a human trafficking guide, and national security law guide.
• Organize panels and events, and assist with planning for visiting Fellows.
• Conduct interviews with current HLS students and alumni to highlight and spotlight their public interest experiences and career paths.
• Maintain our public interest job search database, posting job opportunities and cleaning up data.
• Assist with internet research projects and synthesizing of information for internal and/or external use.
• Perform general office duties, such as fielding phone calls and emails from alumni and employers, photocopying, data entry, website updates, and project and publication support.

Qualifications: Strong attention to detail, excellent organizational and writing skills are required, along with the ability to self-start on projects and prioritize effectively. Must be a team player. Enthusiasm, a sense of humor, and a demonstrated interest in public service work are a must! Familiarity with Microsoft Office, PC computer platforms, and databases is extremely important. Knowledge of Word Press would be very helpful. The summer fellowships are paid positions: $12/hr, 35 hrs/week for ten weeks of work (more if the student’s schedule allows). Please include your GPA on your resume. Applicants are also encouraged to list all employment experience.

We do not hire first year students or students entering or enrolled in law school for summer internships. If we receive an outstanding application from a first year, we will encourage you to reapply for a subsequent summer. We will consider qualified rising juniors and the majority of our summer fellows have completed at least three years of their undergraduate programs.

To Apply: please send a resume and cover letter as soon possible, and no later than March 4th, 2016. Send materials to Micah Nemiroff at  mnemiroff at

There are numerous pathways within the field of law, which can be daunting for many. Read below to learn how one alumna followed an unconventional. Not everything is linear.

When Stephanie Gendell ’98 arrived at law school, she knew she didn’t want to follow a conventional path. She wanted to help children and she had no desire to do litigation. “At the time,” she said, “both of those things were very unusual.” Since then, with the help of strong, positive mentors, she has pursued a highly successful career in and out of government. She has benefited from seeing government systems from the inside and learned that litigation and law change are not the only ways to have an impact. While in law school, Gendell pursued her interest in the child welfare system by working at an organization called Massachusetts Families for Kids. Her supervisor there was an “invaluable” resource, showing her what a law degree could do in the field of child advocacy and urging her to consider a position in government.

Though it was stressful to watch her fellow students secure their jobs months in advance while she continued her search, Gendell stuck with her mentor’s advice and applied for several positions at the Administration for Children Services (ACS) in New York City. Though she was initially committed to working in the policy department, she found herself accepting a position working under the Deputy General Counsel (and then General Counsel), Joseph Cardieri, in the legal unit. “I was almost surprised myself that I was doing anything involving the legal unit,” Gendell said, “but I felt like I had really connected with him in the interview. He was the person that I really wanted to work with.”

At ACS, where she eventually became chief of staff to the Executive Deputy Commissioner, Gendell put her law degree to work in nontraditional ways. She trained attorneys and caseworkers on the implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, conducted court observation to see how resources and training could be improved, reviewed cases that w needed “fixing,” helped families where housing was the last barrier to reunification, and developed policies related to safety, permanency and well-being. As she saw “how very difficult it was to change the behavior of thousands of people working at ACS,” she learned that simply passing or amending a law does not automatically create change.

After 8 years, when a colleague from the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) contacted her about an open position, Gendell took it. Gendell currently serves as the Associate Executive Director for Policy and Government Relations at CCC, and manages the policy work related to child welfare and juvenile justice. Speaking of the transition from the public sector to non-profit work, Gendell noted that “the skills are very similar.” She works with many of the same people and attends many of the same meetings, “just with a different hat.” Gendell also found her extensive experience in government to be an asset in the non-profit world. “Having worked in the agency gives you credibility,” she said, as well as a deeper understanding of the experiences and challenges of the people who work there.

In line with her unconventional legal career, Gendell’s current work consists largely of policy advocacy and community outreach. Months after securing positions for twenty-five additional family court judges, Gendell was still triumphant about the win. And while a recent bid to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York was unsuccessful, she intends to try again. Gendell also spends a great deal of time speaking with the press, testifying at city council hearings, attending coalition meetings, and organizing classes to educate the public on children’s issues.

While she does not go to court or write new laws, Gendell said that she has found other highly effective means of changing the system and that her legal background is very useful in her day-to-day work. “There are definitely times when the answer is to change the law or sue somebody,” Gendell said, “but there are a lot of other ways to make change.” Her legal training allows her to better understand complex statutes related to her work, as well as the flaws in the court system around which the CCC advocates. She would not have always described her law degree as valuable for advocacy, she said, “but over time I feel like I can appreciate it more.”

Jacqueline Berrien ’86, a leading civil rights lawyer and former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, died on Nov. 9, 2015. She was 53. Read more…

Amal Bass ’06, Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, knew when she enrolled at HLS that she would emerge a public interest lawyer, though she wasn’t sure in what form.

Arriving with interests in Latino civil rights, education law, and gender issues, she spent her 1L summer with the Women’s Law Project and her 2L summer with the Homeless Advocacy Project. These internships exposed her not only to different fields but also to contrasting types of work. She explored policy-based work at the Women’s Law Project, assisting with impact litigation and researching and writing on legal issues. “It was very interesting,” she says, “I got to see an issue I care about up close and work with lawyers doing something that mattered, something that mattered to people in a big way.” Her 2L summer focused on more client-based work, assisting homeless individuals.

Ultimately deciding to pursue policy-based work, Bass returned to the Women’s Law Project after graduation as a full-time staff attorney. The small size of the organization fosters a busy, dynamic atmosphere. In a typical day, Bass deals with issues related to pregnancy discrimination, sexual assault on college campuses, female athletic programs, and domestic violence. These issues may be addressed through impact litigation, administrative appeals, policy drafting, or public education.

In the seven years since she joined the Women’s Law Project, Bass has noted an increase in certain kinds of cases. One such trend is the surge in pregnancy discrimination cases; in a recession, pregnant women are often the first people to be laid off. Bass hopes that pending federal legislation, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, will help to remedy parts of this problem. At the present moment, however, she and her colleagues must work within an existing legal framework that often fails to protect women from these discriminatory practices. “The most frustrating part of my job is talking to young women who think that they have more rights than they do. They feel their employers should treat them better but there’s often not much recourse because the law just isn’t as good as we’d like it to be,” Bass laments.

These gaps in the law demonstrate a need for change, and the Women’s Law Project is working to create policy to fill the voids. Their efforts recently resulted in the passage of a law that will require public schools to report data on gender equity in their athletic programs, and the Law Project played a critical role in the FBI’s revision of its definition of rape in 2012. These are just two examples of the ways in which the Women’s Law Project is able to impact systems and institutions in a profound way. “Data is important, knowledge is important, and access is important. It’s slow, but we do have successes. And we often don’t have time to sit and congratulate ourselves because we’re already onto the next issue,” Bass remarks.

Bass offers encouragement to those interested in her line of work. “A lot of people look at public interest work and think that getting your first job is all about luck,” she says, “And there is an element of that, but there are things you can do to make yourself more likely to be lucky.” She advises gaining clinical experience and seeking out contacts in communities of interest.

She also notes that students should try not to be anxious choosing the “right” job out of law school. She describes Philadelphia’s public interest law community as fluid, frequently sharing information, initiatives, and even employees; the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Community Legal Services, Philadelphia Legal Aid, and Women Against Abuse are just some of the organizations that cooperate with the Women’s Law Project, and Bass knows of many public interest lawyers who have worked on a variety legal issues at more than one organization over the course of their careers. “Where our issues overlap, I haven’t felt a sense of territoriality. Anyone who can come to the table and contribute is welcome,” she remarks, “It’s a really nice community to be a part of.”

Written by an OPIA Summer Fellow

Our spotlights on current and former students who interned in the public sector will shed light on the numerous opportunities available to HLS students during the summer. Read this and other OPIA blog posts to gain better insight into what a summer public interest internship can really look like.

Eva Bitran, 2L, spent her summer at the American Civil Liberties Union national headquarters in New York City working for the Immigrants’ Rights Project. Most of her day-to-day work involved research and writing in support of the organization’s impact litigation efforts. Eva’s assignments included general research on legal concepts as well as specific tasks for current cases. These diverse projects allowed her to gain “perspective on the higher-up practice of impact litigation,” including elaborating general legal theories, deciding whether to bring a specific suit, developing strategies for challenging a discriminatory law, and collaborating with allied organizations. Although Eva had not studied constitutional law before her internship, she was challenged to write a memo on a 14th Amendment issue and found that “you can just teach yourself anything.” “The cool thing about working for the ACLU,” she said, “is that you develop skills to actually advocate for changes in the law, beyond the predictive writing that you learn in LRW.”

Eva described her supervisors, a mix of junior and senior attorneys, as responsive to her interests and happy to assign projects relating to specific areas she requested. They were also willing to informally “engage with career advice.” Eva enjoyed the collegial environment of the office, even the large “laptop sweatshop” where interns from across the office’s various projects worked and socialized elbow-to-elbow. The office also held regular programming for interns, including inviting former ACLU attorneys to speak about their current work and career paths, as well as brown bag lunches with current senior staff.

Eva explained that this internship would not be ideal for a student hoping to gain extensive experience with client interaction, direct legal services, or court appearances. Interns at this large office did have to be proactive to seek out feedback and advice from busy attorneys.
Eva’s interest in immigration law stems from her family’s history. An immigrant herself, Eva grew up in Mexico and the United States and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008. Her family, Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain, made their way to Turkey and Chile before settling in Mexico in the 1970s. At HLS, Eva is on the board of the Harvard Immigration Project and leads its Community Training Team. She also participates in the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, conducts research on immigration law with Professor Deborah Anker, and serves as a member of the Board of Student Advisers. Eva is pursuing a joint doctoral degree in History, and plans to focus her dissertation on migration in North Africa. Eva will continue her work on immigrants’ rights at the Department of Justice in the Office of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions next summer, and ultimately hopes to practice immigration law and teach at a law school.

Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Lily Axelrod