We caught up with Toby Berkman ’10, a two-time HNMCP clinic student, and current dispute resolution professional, for our alumnus spotlight this year.
During his years at Harvard Law School, Berkman also served as a student mediator in the Harvard Mediation Program, as a Teaching Assistant for the Negotiation Workshop, and after graduation, as the first HNMCP Associate (the title has since changed to Fellow). During his year at HNMCP, Berkman co-wrote, edited, and produced the first DVD teaching tool put out by the Clinic, in conjunction with the law firm WilmerHale, “Critical Decisions in Negotiation.” This fall, Berkman served as a facilitator in HNMCP’s newest, soon-to-be-released, DVD teaching tool on facilitated dialogue, Police-Community Dialogue, and this past spring semester, was a Lecturer in the Negotiation Workshop.
HNMCP: Can you trace any particular influences in your life that lead you to pursue the study of negation and dispute resolution at HLS? Given the range of clinic options available at HLS, why did you choose HNMCP?
Toby Berkman: I’d had a couple of hugely formative experiences in the years before law school. First, I started working for the nonprofit Seeds of Peace, and became friends with young people from countries around the world including Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and others. Then I spent a year as a teacher living in Casablanca, Morocco, and felt this really compelling connection to that place and its incredible cultural diversity, and then some time working for Seeds in Jerusalem. I was experiencing all of this in the early 2000s in the context of September 11 and then the Iraq war. I felt this calling to get involved and do something to promote cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. After a stint as a researcher in D.C. (focusing on international peace operations) I came to law school with a vague notion that I wanted to do something “practical” in the “real world” related to conflict resolution. Truth be told I had very little interest in being a lawyer—at least for the long term.
HNMCP was the one community at HLS where I felt totally at home, both with the other students and the instructors, and where I felt like my work really had meaning and was focused in the direction I wanted. As soon as I started working at the clinic I had this feeling like, “these are my people.”