by Olivia Klein
Over the course of their winter term, many HLS students choose to partake in independent clinical projects. Students travel far and wide to work at organizations they are passionate about, completing a variety of projects during the three-week term. Some students stay close to home, working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Boston, while others work on the other side of the world, researching environmental law at the New Zealand Department of Conservation. No matter where their work takes them, our students gain valuable knowledge from their independent clinicals, which they share in weekly reflections.
During their first week, students get situated at their placements, form relationships with their supervisors and coworkers, and begin the projects they planned ahead of time. Even with only one week under their belt, many students reflect on the immense amount they have learned, not only about their organizations and areas of the law, but also about themselves.
“Reflecting a bit on my own career, my first week of work has made me question my ideal role within an organization like DOC. Is it most fun to be a regulator, cogitating and pronouncing on policy? Or would I get more satisfaction from working within a community? If I were to work within a community, would I miss the higher altitude vantage point?” – Lowry Yankwich, New Zealand Department of Conservation
“In coming here, I expected to learn a lot more about the inner workings of a massive nonprofit health care system. I had somewhat forgotten that the Legal Department has a significant “people focus” as well. The lawyers regularly work with doctors and hospital police to keep patients and the hospital safe… I am excited to learn more about the issues that are so unique to public health care settings. My projects and observational opportunities cover many of these varied subjects, and I am glad that I can contribute my work to the department. It is a great learning environment, and I am looking forward to making the most of my time here.” – Evelyn Atwater, UNC Health Care System, Legal Department, Chapel Hill, NC
“So far, my projects ask for a lot of my input and creative legal thinking, which I appreciate – it isn’t about finding case law to support a certain theory or set of facts, but rather about going out to find the issues and then figuring out how to attack them. My supervisor mentioned that he views animal advocacy as following the “death by a thousand paper cuts” strategy. We rarely get the giant blow that will take down the entire animal agriculture system, but we can find small avenues and chip away at structures and norms through careful reading of the law and creative legal strategies. This notion builds on what I learned in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic last semester, too – animal law is by necessity a creative field, because the laws were not written to protect animals in any way. I enjoy this kind of research and creative thinking.” – Elizabeth Melampy, Animal Outlook, Washington D.C.
“As the week draws to a close, I feel that the placement is off to a great start. The ICC proved itself extremely efficient in settling us in, and our supervisor has done a great job of balancing expectations of productivity with encouragement to utilize the unique resources currently available to us here in the Hague. I think that I have also improved my teamwork by working collaboratively at length each day. Simultaneously, I am exercising my legal and policy analysis in editing a report that combines both. I am glad to be here.” – Matthew Farrell, International Criminal Court, Netherlands
“There are a couple of things I have noticed much more prominently now that I am physically in chambers… Judges have families, they deal with day-to-day issues, and they have a life outside of the courthouse… I will be sure to consider this in my future writing and argument to the courts.” – Brian Kulp, U.S. Court for the District of Columbia
“This week has reaffirmed that I do want to work on local policy issues, because even seemingly minor agency procedure can have large impacts on individuals and communities.” – Jessica Katzen, Legal Aid Society of New York – Law Reform Unit, New York City
“I appreciate the thoughtful, creative, and rigorous approach the team takes to considering legal questions and making decisions about the types of cases they dedicate their resources to. Each member of the team has different experiences in immigration and human rights work, and it has been really informative to listen to discussions about the implications of taking on a specific case as well as legal strategies in the ongoing litigation. The team is incredibly collaborative in these discussions, and each team member’s different perspective and experience allows them to challenge the team to think about questions from a variety of perspectives. By the end of my J Term internship, I hope to contribute to these discussions more. While I do not have the experience of many other team members, I hope to challenge myself to think deeply about the questions the team confronts and contribute in team discussions.” – Sarah Libowsky, RAICES, San Antonio, TX
During the second week at their placements, students are feeling energized by the experience of practical work in areas they are passionate about. This week brings the opportunity to delve deeper into their projects and to continue immersing themselves in the legal issues their organization works with, while also building community at the organization itself. After two weeks of hard work, students pause in their reflections to recognize their own growth as lawyers.
“For the first time I’m thinking about the advantages of starting one’s own organization to create the work environment that one deems as ideal, and how admirable and difficult it is to not only articulate but also practice the very values that the organization wants to promote in society. It makes me think about what one might be able to gain if one compromises money, stability, and a little bit of efficiency.” – Ayoung Kim, Advocates for Public Interest Law, Seoul, South Korea
“Learning about the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and its work in academic classes is important and has been helpful, but experiencing the work first-hand as a member of the organization’s team is quite different and very engaging. When working here, one feels as though they are part of a larger mission that transcends geographic boundaries… One can sense that BIS employees (myself included) are excited to arrive to work every day and to take on the challenges that face the global financial system. The work matters, and it is refreshing to feel as though you are having an impact.” – Caroline Shinkle, Bank for International Settlements, Basel, Switzerland
“I am finishing up my second week interning with Chief Judge Garcia’s chambers. I finished drafting my first assignment and the judge’s order is now online. It is very exciting to see something I participated in on WestLaw!” – Dustin Fire, Western District of Texas – Judicial Chambers of Orlando Garcia
“This week I worked with the elder law team. I had never been particularly attracted to working with the elderly—I have friends who work in nursing homes, and I hadn’t fully understood that choice. But I get it now. The clients have been, more than anything, kind. After I called an elderly man an alarming number of times, trying frustratingly to get ahold of his eviction notice, the man thanked me for all the calls—”You showed me a lot of love,” he said. The highs were higher and the lows were lower this week, and I think that goes to both the kindness and the helplessness of these elderly clients. It’s hard not to be emotionally invested—there’s something especially jarring about a 70-year-old woman with cancer getting harassed by a collections agency, or an 80-year-old deaf man being evicted. When people reach a certain age, can’t we all just agree stop chasing them for their debts? To let them be?” – Sara Carter, Legal Services Alabama – Birmingham
“Writing about the law for an audience of non-lawyers is hard, especially in a workplace where you want to make sure you’re giving people every piece of information that they need to achieve a goal that you fully support. You have to recognize that if you want them to achieve that goal, you must balance giving them the information they need with the risk of burying them under so many pages of legalese that they can’t get through it all… I didn’t perfect any of those skills this week, but I got some valuable practice. Taking time to critique my own work is helping me to see my strengths and weaknesses, and it’s motivating me to keep working to be better.” – Amanda Odasz, Rise, Washington D.C.
“I’ve found that I really like the adviser role, and that having the opportunity to help clients and advocate for the respect of law and international law in particular, is rewarding. It’s exciting to work on critical issues and I think the trade off in voice that comes with an adviser role may be worth it to have a hand in such high-level and impactful work.” – Samantha Lint, US Department of State
By the end of their third and final week at their independent clinical sites, students are proud of the meaningful work they have accomplished and sad to say goodbye to their new colleagues. Even in such a condensed amount of time, students form close bonds with their supervisors and complete projects that will benefit the organizations and individuals they work with. Students feel a renewed sense of purpose and motivation at the end of their independent clinical, and they bring their new experience and lessons learned back to HLS with them.
“Overall, this has been an incredible trip and an even more incredible opportunity. It already felt surreal to even be in the building on the first day, and yet we will close out the week meeting the President of the Assembly of States Parties to discuss the project. Everyone we have talked to has been generous with their time and encouraging to the project (even those who were ultimately critical). I am beyond grateful to have been able to spend January term here, and am coming out of this experience hoping to continue with the project itself and this field of law.” – Celeste Kmiotek, International Criminal Court
“I am disappointed, outraged, and heartbroken to see what is going on at the border. But I’m also motivated. Without the work of thousands of volunteer legal advocates on the ground, even more people would be completely shut out of the courts. After law school, I intend to return to Tijuana to work full time with people stuck in the terrible limbo where targeted violence prevents them from going home and policies rooted in racism and xenophobia prevent them from accessing the protections of the law.” – Ginger Cline, Al Otro Lado, Tijuana, Mexico
“The genuine enjoyment and satisfaction I felt from my work for the past month, coupled with the experience of working with an attorney who shared so much in common with me in terms of interests and goals and had successfully found a job to put his skills and aptitude to great use, has provided me with reassurance that I’m on the right path.” – Bryce Burgwyn, Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Palau, Koror, Palau
“This was an extraordinary career opportunity for me, for which I am very appreciative. As someone who plans to go into this field, I gained so much exposure to the process of litigating on behalf of immigrants’ rights. I worked side-by-side with extremely sharp attorneys, all of whom were kind, open, trusted me with critical assignments, and provided useful feedback. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this small, dedicated team, fighting for a cause I believe in. I know this experience will open doors for me so that I can make the greatest possible impact in the future.” – Madeline Kane, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, NYC, New York
If you are interested in pursuing an independent clinical project, you can find more information on the OCP website or by setting up an advising appointment with someone in the OCP office.