Antonio L. Cortes YLS ’89
Koror State Government, Republic of Palau
Beginning three years after graduating from Yale Law School, I was fortunate to spend a little over four years practicing public international law, as the General Legal Counsel for the Koror State Government, Republic of Palau.
In law school, I was somewhat interested in international matters, but not strongly so. I only took one international subject, but did volunteer to serve as a “big brother” to two LL.M. candidates, one from Chile and another, named Bud, who had served as the attorney general of a Micronesian state. Out of school, I worked for a large law firm, then a second firm, but remained somewhat restless. About 3:00 p.m. each day, I closed my office door and read the “out of area” section in the employment classifieds of the San Francisco lawyer newspapers. When Koror State Government of the Republic of Palau placed an ad there, I went to the bookstore and read what I could find about that place. Finding much that attracted me, the next day I faxed my resume as the ad instructed, along with the best cover letter I could write. I also found everything the Stanford Law School had on the law there, and looked it over.
A month or so later, I was called by Koror State’s Executive Administrator, John Gibbons, who said he was in the area and asked if I could meet him for an interview the next day at eleven. I said “yes.” I then took the rest of the day off, copied and studied the Palau Constitution, and started reading the only law review article I could find on that country. At the interview, which continued through lunch, Administrator Gibbons kept pretty quiet while the Palauan attorney who had accompanied him spoke with me of Palau, law, and such things. Then John asked the only question he had for me—did I like swimming. I said “yes.” When I left they greeted the next interviewee. When I got home, there was a message on the answering machine offering me the job.
As appropriate with a major decision affecting my prospective employer and myself, I read more deeply about the Palau, visited it, and carefully considered my personal needs, as well as those of the State, before accepting the position. I located and spoke to Bud, who gave two pieces of good advice for those about to work as a public lawyer in a foreign, third-world jurisdiction. To those I add a third of my own: (1) don’t be attached to the notion that your new employers will follow your advice; (2) decide at the outset what to do if offered a briefcase full of cash; and (3) assiduously avoid acquiring personal power in a foreign jurisdiction, or the appearance that you have acquired it. It is better to maintain a modest, service-oriented approach, publicly and in your own mind, and to let the local officials under whom you work make the policy. I followed those rules at Koror State, to my advantage. No one ever did offer me that briefcase, but thanks to Bud, I was better prepared to offer emergency guidance when one of Koror’s officials came to me with such a problem.
Representing third-world governments is interesting, at least, as well as useful and rewarding. I suspect many of the smaller of such governments could advantageously hire attorneys from the better law schools, with two to four years experience, who have a consciously-working mastery of the ethical rules. I had a very good experience with Koror State, and with hard work and a couple of contract renewals, was able to advantageously resolve some long-standing problems badly in need of resolution. For example, I successfully defended a challenge to the Koror Constitution’s constitutionality under the Palau Constitution; I obtained a final adjudication placing Palau’s famous Rock Islands under the jurisdiction of Koror State; and I forced a negotiated settlement of the Republic’s claim to Koror’s public land, by which Koror’ssole title was finally settled. I advised the three branches of the Koror Government during a governmental reorganization pursuant to an amendment to the State Constitution. I prepared legislation, and prepared and negotiated contracts between Koror State and entities in Guam, Palau, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
In my view, the process of finding a position in international public law, with one exception, is just like finding employment with a U.S. law firm. When we really want a job enough, we do what it takes to get it. We write our best cover letter, we actually study for the interview, and the rest. The one exception is our natural hesitation to seek to work, to live, and to become part of a foreign society, one where we will necessarily be less powerful, more helpless, than in our own. This hesitation is an internal obstacle. Once you decide to take the plunge, it is gone. As far as qualifications, if you are a graduate of a good law school with a few years experience, are prepared to habitually look to the ethical rules for guidance (in many situations there will be no other available guidance), and are prepared to be diligent in your duties to a small, third-world public entity, you should be able to do it much good. Those who find such a path appealing might contact governmental entities in U.S. Territories and protectorates, such as those in Micronesia, Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Spring 2001
National Prosecuting Authority, South Africa
With the assistance of two HLS public interest funding programs, I spent my 1L summer at the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), a division of South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Designed to be an elite law enforcement agency, the DSO’s mission is to investigate and prosecute three areas of crime deemed a threat to the young democracy’s national security: public and police corruption, complex economic fraud, and organized crime and racketeering. I had originally heard about the DSO while interning for the Justice Department as an undergraduate, and during my 1L year discovered that one of my professors had a connection with the agency.
I sent my application to the DSO head office in Pretoria, and my resume landed on the desk of the Deputy Director for Organized Crime Prosecution. I am certain that my expressed interest and knowledge about the DSO, combined with my professor’s recommendation, gave me the legitimacy required to be accepted as a summer law clerk. From our first phone conversation until the day I left, the Deputy Director was pleased to serve as my supervisor and mentor, treating me with nothing but respect and collegiality.
The twelve-week internship program was divided in two parts: I spent the first half of the summer in Pretoria working to develop organized crime investigatory and prosecutorial strategy. I was asked to compare U.S. case law and statutes (namely, RICO) to South Africa’s Prevention of Organized Crime Act; the office hoped I could contribute to an effort to determine possible causes — and propose possible methodological solutions — to the rampant threats of drug trafficking, precious-metal smuggling, and organized violence.
For the second six weeks, I was placed in the Western Cape (Cape Town) regional office, assisting the investigation of and preparing the case against a national-level white collar fraud investigation. Again, my supervisors in Cape Town were incredibly hospitable. The assignment was exciting; working alongside prosecutors and investigators, we collected evidence and took witness statements in an effort to convict a slippery entrepreneur of venture capital fraud.
My summer experience was priceless. Personally, it was an opportunity to go back to the country of my birth for the first time in twelve years. It was also a well-needed break from the pace and stress of 1L year. Professionally, my time with the DSO undoubtedly proved to be a positive influence. The work in Pretoria has allowed me to supplement my research and writing skills, and the time in Cape Town exposed me to various aspects of case development and investigation — the kinds of legal lessons transfer to many areas of legal work.
Although learning to drive on the wrong side of the road was rather treacherous at times and I was challenged to think and act in unconventional ways, I did not encounter insurmountable obstacles. That I didn’t have South African citizenship was an obstacle neither to employment with the DSO nor in social interactions. I did experience some language difficulty as much of white South Africa still speaks Afrikaans in business and social relations. Working knowledge of Xhosa, Zulu, and Tswana would have been helpful as well. Mostly, I’d recommend that anyone working for the DSO, or anywhere in South Africa for that matter, be familiar with the current political situation and climate as well as its social, political, and economic history. Much of the work being done in the office is cutting-edge, but there exists everywhere the remnants of the country’s complex, often sordid history. However, an open mind and an open heart will prove the most invaluable asset one will bring to his/her time there.
My experience in South Africa was instrumental in affirming my commitment to a course of study in the public interest. It also had a significant impact on choices I made in my 2L and 3L years. For instance, I was inspired to take a class on comparative constitutional law that focused on South Africa and briefly I contemplated a career in international law after graduation; although, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I would characterize my experience in South Africa as “international law.” It was practicing domestic law in another country.
Since graduating and taking the bar exam, I have worked at the Children’s Defense Fund California, in the Oakland office of this national, non-profit poverty advocacy organization. While I don’t think that my experience in South Africa played a decisive part in securing the position, having the DSO on my resume showed a commitment to public interest work that all non-profit and government employers will look favorably upon. While I gained incredible legal knowledge in South Arica, particular with regard to criminal and Constitutional law, the most important lessons I learned while at the DSO came through casual conversations with colleagues and friends. Through these one-on-one interactions, I gained unique perspective about South Africa, its people, its past, and its struggles. The country’s dynamics are as varied as its geography. So many South Africans are willing to share their histories—tales of both horror and humanity—if you only ask. I’d highly recommend for anyone going to South Africa to take some personal time and spend it with locals. Buy them a drink and ask them to share some of their life with you. I guarantee you’ll hear things you could never imagine and learn a lot about yourself in the process. Summer 2008
Department of Justice, Criminal Division – Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT)
To the untrained eye, the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) appeared a mysterious outfit in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division with a really long acronym. Yet for ten weeks during the summer of my 1L year, it offered me an opportunity to simultaneously explore two deeply embedded interests – African current affairs and the workings of the criminal justice system.
TI entered my first year of law school with passions that spanned both sides of the Atlantic. My father from Ghana, and mother from Panama, I had developed a keen interest in international affairs and African social politics. Yet having worked in the Racket’s Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prior to law school, I had also become intrigued by the role of the prosecutor within the public interest spectrum. Determined to have my cake and eat it too, I approached my 1L summer seeking a synthesis of two seemingly disparate career paths.
To my surprise, I found my opportunity within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. Unlike other offices within the Criminal Division, OPDAT specialized in international legal development and worked in conjunction with foreign justice departments to implement judicial and prosecutorial development programs across the globe. The office organized itself along regional lines and I landed an internship in the Africa Division, researching everything from Nigerian anti-corruption law to South Africa’s specialized Sexual Offences Court system.
While the office exerted most of its energy running training programs designed to assist foreign governments in prosecuting particular crimes – such as money laundering or public corruption – the obstacles it confronted extended well beyond the confines of the law. In Liberia, where there office worked in conjunction with USAID to implement a judicial development program, we faced the stark realities of a country recently ravaged by Civil War.
As result, my internship necessarily evolved into a multidisciplinary experience.I spent just as much time briefing attorneys on the current socio-political circumstances of various countries as I did on legislation or foreign judicial systems. While the office placed Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) in some countries, it also sent federal attorneys from across the U.S. to coordinate short-term training conferences. Thus, I might find myself preparing individuals with specialized prosecutorial backgrounds yet little experience in the particular countries that were their destinations.
Indeed, I viewed the non-legal component of my research as equally vital to my legal research. After all, effectively coordinating programs with foreign agencies required diplomacy and cultural understanding in addition to legal know-how.
My advice to those seeking international summer internships is to cast a wide net and if possible, consider the type of skills and interests you are hoping to explore. Working at OPDAT,I gained a macro perspective of legal challenges and initiatives throughout Africa. Yet the internship offered a very different type of learning experience than that shared by some of my peers. I spent my days researching African current affairs, political developments and legislation. Rather than hone in on a specific case, with a specific fact pattern and specific legal question, I dealt with broader, more policy oriented considerations – the challenges confronting judicial systems as opposed to individual parties.
Although it almost goes without saying, I would also advise students to seek every opportunity to connect with organizations outside the office doing related international work. With the encouragement of my supervisors, I took advantage of every chance to attend conferences on African economic development, political affairs and post-conflict diplomacy. In many ways, this attitude defines the ethos of the summer intern class. For applicants, travel and language experience will be helpful, but they are hardly the be all and end all of your eligibility. Above all, an applicant’s most valuable asset is his or her demonstrated passion for international affairs. Summer 2006
United States Trade Representative, Court of International Trade
I am currently an assistant general counsel in Washington, D.C., for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). USTR is the Executive branch office led by America’s chief trade negotiator, who is the principal trade policy adviser to the President. During my nearly three years at USTR, I have had the opportunity to work on a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement, bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, and trade policy formulation. Highlights of my time at USTR include developing and implementing legislation granting
trade preferences to countries in the Andean region, negotiating an agreement covering trade in textiles and apparel between the United States and Vietnam, appearing before the WTO Appellate Body in Geneva, and serving as the chief lawyer for the Free Trade Agreement the United States is currently negotiating with the Southern African Customs Union.
USTR is a relatively small federal agency, with about 200 permanent employees, including 25 lawyers. This makes USTR a fairly tight-knit agency, with a congenial work atmosphere and good cooperation between lawyers, economists, and policy analysts. USTR is also a hard-working agency compared to other agencies of the federal government, and a great deal of responsibility is placed on the shoulders of each employee. Most importantly, I find USTR’s staff, and in particular my colleagues in the Office of the General Counsel, with whom I work most closely, to be an incredibly smart and interesting group of people. The work at USTR is varied and challenging, and has offered me many opportunities to grow and learn personally and professionally.
Before joining USTR, I did two internships at USTR’s Office of the General Counsel and worked at the Court of International Trade in New York City for two years. My first internship at USTR was during the four weeks of the January term of my second year, and the second, for six weeks during the summer between my second and third years of law school. Prior to my first stint at USTR—the four weeks of
January 1998–I had very little practical knowledge of international trade law. My background at that point consisted of having taken law school courses on public international law and European Union law, and an undergraduate course on international political economics. I had also worked a bit on international trade theory in the course of writing a lengthy undergraduate paper, and had followed developments in international trade closely in the popular press.
Upon my return to Harvard for the spring semester of 1998, I developed more specific knowledge by taking a seminar on international trading regimes and a course on legal research that focused on foreign and comparative law sources, for which I compiled a research guide on the WTO Dispute Settlement Body. Also helpful was a course on private international litigation, which contributed to my understanding of the relationship between private and public dispute settlement. After my USTR internships, I continued to focus on international trade law and policy at school. In my third year of law school, I took courses on international trade law and administrative law, and wrote my third-year paper on a topic related to dispute settlement at the WTO.
As an intern at the USTR I was asked to perform a range of tasks. Although some tasks were not strictly legal, each proved to be a learning opportunity. For example, during January of 1998, I was asked to fill in for an assistant to the Assistant USTR for Monitoring and Enforcement, who had departed a few months earlier and had not yet been replaced. This position involved distributing, docketing and filing large numbers of accumulated and current documents—not exactly legal analysis. Nonetheless, after a very short time of doing this work, observing the paper flow, and reading briefs and procedural notices that came across my desk, I acquired a basic, but sound, understanding of the process and procedure of settling disputes under both the WTO and the NAFTA dispute settlement systems. More importantly, my willingness to be flexible and my dedication to the project paid off the following summer when I was assigned a number of very interesting legal tasks, including attending a trade negotiation, drafting sections of legal briefs for WTO disputes, and reviewing industry and interagency responses to proposed trade agreement language.
My work at Harvard and my USTR internship helped me to secure a clerkship at the Court of International Trade (CIT) with Judge Donald C. Pogue. The CIT is at the level of a federal district court, and the clerkship requires, in most cases, a two-year commitment. This period of time allows clerks to master the complicated technical statutes over which the CIT has specialized jurisdiction; that is, the antidumping and countervailing duty and customs laws of the United States. My clerkship, from September 1999 to September 2001, was extremely rewarding. Under Judge Pogue’s guidance, I developed my legal writing and analytical skills, and advanced my substantive knowledge of trade law and administrative law. Also, Judge Pogue sat by designation in other federal courts while I was his clerk. My experience working with Judge Pogue in the Fifth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals enhanced my clerkship by exposing me to different areas of law as well as to the appellate process.
Law students interested in pursuing a career in international trade law and policy should strongly consider investigating internship opportunities at USTR, other government agencies that work on trade issues (including the Department of Commerce, the International Trade Commission, and U.S. Customs), and the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, which handle trade issues in the Congress. Students should also consider a clerkship at the CIT. I have found public international law, international trade law, and administrative law to be the courses most relevant to work in this field. Generally speaking, the most interesting thing to me about international trade is that it lies at the intersection of law, politics, and economics. Thus, if you don’t have a background in political science and economics, I would consider cross registering for a couple of relevant courses during law school. Lastly, develop relationships with your professors who have connections in the field; for me, this was an invaluable resource. Summer 2004
U.S. Embassy at The Hague
Having been born and partially raised abroad, I have always been interested and involved in international issues. Consequently, from the first moment I could I tried to get involved in international work. During undergrad I arranged an internship with the U.S. Embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen, and since my BA and Masters, I have bounced from one international job to another. Prior to law school I worked in development, spending time at the World Bank, the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Though I decided to go to law school because I wished to bring law into development, in truth it is often quite difficult to integrate law into the field. The old guard of development – still very much a force in major organizations—tend to view professional degrees with some disdain, preferring advanced academic degrees. The assumption seems to be that lawyers are too narrowly focused to work in so broad a field as development. Consequently, in order to thrive (or possibly even to get into the field) having a demonstrated understanding of economics, politics and the history of the aid movement, would be very helpful.
Though this remains true, it must be noted that there is a “new guard” at many institutions who seem much less concerned with such distinctions. For example, the World Bank’s expanded rule of law programs suggests that there will be an increasing role for lawyers.
A second challenge of entering the field that should not dissuade you–but should certainly inform any decision you make–is the bias that exists against Americans, and in particular against white, male, Americans. While reports of some of this biases are exaggerated, they have a basis in reality, and are due to the existence of nationality quotas that play a role in hiring in many multi-national organizations. However, the loophole (through which I have walked many times) is that the quotas do not usually exist for “temporary” workers, and given the glacial pace of many development institutions a “temporary” job can often turn into a de facto permanent position.
Once I arrived at Law School I refined my international focus to law, took public international law as my 1L elective and spent my 1L summer working with the Legal Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, covering public international legal institutions in the city, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, and others.
I have found that international experience is critical to obtaining a position in any international organization. This experience does not have to be strictly professional; academic or practical experience in the field is often just as important. The key is describing your experience in a way that relates to the job for which you are applying. Contacts, as in any job hunt, are also important; using whatever networks you have, be they friends, family, school contacts, will ease the process greatly.
While networking is key, international job hunting also requires a good deal of creative thinking; many multilateral organizations can seem impenetrable, and thus you have to think strategically about whom one can call, the best means of making contact, etc.
Once on the job I found that the skills most important to me were the ‘usual’ legal/academic ones: good writing, oral advocacy, analysis, etc. As a law student, work on the international law journal has helped me see the “hot” areas of international legal scholarship. I would also strongly recommend trying to get something published (even if only a book review or a recent developments piece); that is a powerful addition to a resume. Fluency in another language is always a benefit; yet, while I speak French, I honestly do not know if I would have not been successful had I been monolingual. English is fast becoming the language of the international community, and even in the Paris-based OECD one finds that documents written only in French are not held in the same esteem as those written in English.
Having a healthy dose of political acumen is of particular use when working in the international sector. International organizations, especially those dealing with law, are inherently political institutions and the legal work being done is colored by, and often dictated by, political necessity. Thus, I would recommend some internships/experience focusing on international politics and/or some graduate work in international politics. Having a political basis, in addition to a legal one, is a useful combination.
The bureaucratic environment, which springs from the politics of international relations/organizations, has presented the greatest challenges to my international work. Though some institutions (like the World Bank) are better than others (like the United Nations), bureaucracy is often a serious impediment to getting good work done. It is possible to navigate bureaucracies, and learning to do so contributed to one of my most memorable experiences at the United Nations: after shepherding it for months through various bureaucratic hurdles I finally had a provocative piece on election-related economic instability in Africa published in the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey. Other memorable experiences include delivering a lecture on African economic/political prospects to a group of 100+ diplomats and academics, working in Namibia and wider Southern Africa on conflict avoidance, and holding a press conference on a new UN publication (and seeing my quotes appear in newspapers around the world!) The field of international public interest law is still forming, with some components (like international criminal law) in only nascent stages. This makes it both an exciting and frustrating area of scholarship and work. If you can stick to your goals of getting into the field, and ignore the bureaucracy and other impediments, you can not only get a job, but you may very well be able to make a lasting contribution to the field. Summer 2005
Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser
The Office of the Legal Adviser (“L”) furnishes advice on all legal policy issues, domestic and international, arising in connection with U.S. foreign policy and the activities of the Department. This includes the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy and promoting the development of international law and its institutions as a fundamental element of those policies. L is organized to provide direct legal support to the Department of State’s various bureaus, including both regional or geographic offices (those that focus on specific areas of the world) and functional offices (those that deal with specific subject matters such as economics and business, international environmental and scientific issues, or internal management).
The Legal Adviser reports directly to the Secretary of State. Four Deputy Legal Advisers collectively supervise Assistant Legal Advisers, who manage the twenty-two sections that comprise L. L employs about 150 permanent attorneys. Most are stationed in Washington, D.C. L has, however, a longstanding practice of assigning attorneys to the United Nations in New York, Geneva and The Hague and, on occasion, assigns attorneys to two other overseas posts (currently two are stationed in Baghdad). Overseas postings are always on a voluntary basis. International legal training or experience is not required. Contacts are not important in obtaining a position.
Attorneys are required to be admitted to and maintain membership in the Bar of a state, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Recent law school graduates may, however, be hired before being admitted to the Bar under a special one-time appointment limited to 14 months. Attorneys must be U.S. citizens. They must be eligible to receive a Top Secret security clearance based on a comprehensive background investigation. An advanced degree, specialized international work, technical skills, cross-cultural skills, or knowledge of other languages are not required.
Outstanding academic performance, analytical ability, writing and oral presentation skills, special honors or achievements, professional experience, publications, interest in public service, and relevant extracurricular activities are important considerations in all selections. While in law school, students may wish to focus on taking a broad range of challenging courses and taking advantage of law review and other opportunities that refine their legal writing and analytical skills. New lawyers should pursue positions that are interesting, provide solid legal training and help make them well-rounded lawyers. We would not recommend any particular organizations or activities, but generally recommend students seek challenging legal opportunities that interest them.
The Office typically selects 10-14 highly qualified second-year law students to participate in its Summer Intern Program. This provides a unique opportunity for students interested in public service and foreign affairs to become acquainted with the work of the Office as well as the Department. Summer interns are normally given the same level of work as junior attorney-advisers. They are paid at a GS 9 step one level (currently $ 41,815).
New hires are drawn from third-year law students, as well as from judicial clerks and practicing attorneys from other Federal agencies and the private sector. The Office of the Legal Adviser is one of the premier offices in the United States government and the equal of any law firm. Nowhere else can you contribute more to the workings of government and to the advancement of the common good. Nowhere else can you have greater satisfaction that you have used your career well. At the same time, this Office also ensures that domestic law requirements that pervade our foreign policy and guide the workings of the Department’s operations are understood, followed, and enforced. The U.S. Constitution defines the role of the President in the foreign policy arena and lays out his authority as Commander in Chief. Statutes and regulations guide our operating expenditures and the distribution of foreign assistance, the hiring and retirement of employees, and the letting of contracts. They also dictate who can receive foreign assistance, mandate Presidential determinations, provide for sanctions, and control how we can ask for and share information.
In order to carry out our mission, we advocate, we draft, we negotiate, and we represent. We interpret standards and requirements, we shape issues, we provide context, we place policy options within a legal framework, and we counsel. It is no wonder that L’s participation in the Department is broad and its influence pervasive. Whether as counselors or as leaders, we actively advance U.S. foreign policy interests.
In sum, the duty of the Legal Adviser and the attorneys who support the Legal Adviser is to ensure that the conduct of foreign policy, in all its varied aspects, is consistent with the rule of law. As such, the work of this Office both enhances our security and reflects the fundamental interest of the U.S. and the American people in advancing the rule of law as a basic building block of our foreign relations.
U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control
Many people plan their 1L summers a semester in advance, choosing positions that seem to build perfectly on their past experiences. I’d like to think that my summer internship experience at the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) instead illustrates that it’s possible to have an incredible experience in an international position based on an ability to quickly adapt skills and experiences to novel situations.
I had always planned to spend my 1L summer working in a federal position that pertained to international legal issues, and had accepted a national security-related position in January. I wasn’t able to start my original internship because of a security clearance backlog, and ended up discovering my position at OFAC thanks to alumni contacts and a week of frantically shopping my resume around at the end of May. After a quick series of interviews, I ended up with a position at OFAC in the Compliance Division.
OFAC administers and enforces U.S. sanctions against foreign countries, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, and targets identified as engaging in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It’s the division of the Treasury that recently listed Syrian intelligence officials and a number of foreign companies involved in facilitating the development of weapons of mass destruction as entities with whom no US person can transact. The division I worked in, Compliance, handles everything from day-to-day enquiries from banks regarding possible matches to OFAC’s list of prohibited entities to resolving contentious policy issues arising from highly complex financial transactions.
As background experience goes, admittedly few people have a strong background in the inner workings of international wire transfers or the reinsurance market, two subjects that I’ve learned quite a lot about thanks to my internship. That said, my background in international relations (M.Phil from Cambridge) and previous experiences working as a research assistant for law professors was helpful both in getting me the internship and in giving me the necessary skills to be able to quickly research, analyze, and report on fairly complicated subjects. I think the most important thing about my background has been to be able to analogize present projects to past things I’ve worked on.
Especially in a division like Compliance, which is often focused on crisis management, there is no typical day; sometimes I come into the office fully intending to work on some of my longer-term projects and end up rushing to brief my boss on how intelligence reform legislation will implicate the division or racing against press release dates to finalize guidelines for bank regulators. Challenges in the job include quickly familiarizing myself with OFAC’s twenty-one different sanctions programs, the details of why certain financial transactions or industries are particularly thorny areas for sanctions compliance, and navigating various projects involving interagency cooperation and regulatory coordination.
With this complexity has come exposure to a number of “hot topic” legal issues. My projects have touched upon issues including the conflict between U.S. Cuban sanctions and EU blocking legislation, privacy concerns that come from information sharing and the disclosure of financial information, conflicts between federal agencies’regulations, the procedural protections afforded to those placed on OFAC’s list of prohibited entities, and the general processes by which banks and regulators can monitor financial transactions to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing, and sanctions violations. My bosses entrusted me with a great deal of responsibility: I worked on a white paper regarding sanctions compliance in the global reinsurance industry, and helped negotiate a memorandum of understanding with another federal agency on a fairly sensitive subject. But even tasks that seemed more mundane—like checking OFAC’s internal lists to ensure that information on the two Syrian intelligence officers was correct prior to its public release—carried a sense of doing something meaningful, and ended up teaching me a great deal about the processes by which entities are designated by OFAC and prevented from transactions with the United States. Summer 2005
U.S. Department of State
I am a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department. I am currently in training in Arlington in preparation for my next assignment to Tallinn, Estonia. My first tour was in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, I spent one year adjudicating immigrant visas and one year as the human rights/labor officer. In Estonia I will be the assistant public affairs officer.
I became interested in international public interest work when I studied international relations as an undergraduate. Joining the Foreign Service was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t act on it until after working for two years in a law firm. In law school, I took International Law, Law of War, and a few other classes, but at that point I wasn’t thinking about the Foreign Service, so I didn’t think there was anything to my selections other than that the courses sounded interesting. I had no experience in the international public sector prior to joining the State Department, except for my undergraduate studies.
I didn’t prepare for the Foreign Service written exam like I did for, say, the bar exam. The only possible preparation is to keep up to date on foreign affairs by reading newspapers and other sources. The written exam has been compared to a trivia quiz, which is more or less accurate (though there is also a written portion of the test, which is crucial). The best way to get ready is to read the State Department written examination study guide, which gives an idea of the type of questions on the test, and to try to talk to someone who has taken it before.
More important to prepare for is the subsequent oral interview, given to those who pass the written portion. (In order to level the playing field for those who have never taken it before, the State Department has been offering a half-day course on strategies for taking the oral interview in several cities). The oral interview doesn’t test substantive knowledge and assumes no understanding of the State Department. Rather, it tests for three characteristics: personality (and working with others), judgment, and motivation. Perhaps surprisingly, motivation is what trips up many a qualified candidate. Because of the demands on Foreign Service Officers, not least of all is the requirement of working overseas for years at a time, the Department wants to ensure that new hires are not likely to drop out after one assignment or if they receive a difficult posting. A Harvard Law School graduate is not going to have trouble demonstrating the necessary qualifications to be a Foreign Service Officer. However, the examiners will be trying to determine whether the applicant took the exam on a whim or just to escape from a law firm.
At the moment, I am in training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. The atmosphere is very relaxed – like a college campus. In September I will begin intensive language training to learn Estonian.
At Post, the typical day can vary greatly. The life of a consular officer (except those that deal with American Citizen emergencies) is fairly predictable, while a political, economic, or public affairs officer’s life will have more ebb and flow.
The greatest challenge is getting reliable and timely information to pass on to Washington. It’s tough to choose my most memorable experience. Perhaps it was on Dominican Election Day in August 2004, when I was detailed as the Ambassador’s assistant. I got to see the electoral process up close, including being present at several crucial behind-the-scenes meetings that helped ensure that the losing candidate accepted the legitimate results.
Law school and law firms provide great training for the Foreign Service. Writing concisely, mastering oral advocacy, and the ability to research are all essential. No training or experience is necessary. The Foreign Service takes previous experience into account when hiring new officers, but it doesn’t have to be in international relations.
Life in the Foreign Service can be very stressful for spouses and families. Spousal issues (including spousal employment) are the top reasons that officers quit the service. However, there are tons of resources for families, including a family liaison office in Washington and community liaison offices at Posts that can help resolve most issues that arise. The Foreign Service community is large, and it is easy to make friends with families in similar circumstances. Summer 2005
U.S. Agency for International Development
My interest in international affairs began at an early age. In junior high school I took a Spanish language class, joined the Spanish Club and took my first international trip to Mexico. That experience fueled my enthusiasm for international affairs and confirmed my commitment to pursue an international career. I was accepted at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where I studied international relations with particular emphasis on Latin America. I spent the second half of my junior year studying abroad in Costa Rica and graduated the following year with a Certificate in Latin American Studies. After graduation I worked first as the Assistant Director of a college preparatory program in Santurce, Puerto Rico and then as an administrative assistant for a non-profit immigration law firm in Washington, D.C. before deciding to enroll at Georgetown’s law school.
As a student at Georgetown University’s Law Center, I enrolled in a clinic, participated in several international organizations and studied abroad. I took advantage of the opportunity to study at the University of Madrid the summer between my first and second years. While abroad, I improved my Spanish language skills and traveled throughout the region, gaining further exposure to European culture. In my second year of law school I was accepted as a student in Georgetown’s Institute for Public Representation clinic where I was able to actually practice law while being supervised by an experienced lawyer. I was a member of the International Law Society and served as an editor of the international law journal. Throughout law school I took advantage of the many opportunities to learn about international law practice. I took as many international-oriented classes as I could and sought out individuals and organizations engaged in international affairs. The law I learned in the classroom, supplemented by the hands-on practice of the clinic and the formal and informal interviews with those already practicing international law helped me determine that I eventually wanted to pursue a career in international public service.
After graduating from law school I worked as a litigation attorney in the private law firm of Rogers & Wells in Los Angeles, California. After two years I decided that I did not want to pursue a career in litigation and secured employment at the law firm of Jones, Day, and Reavis & Pogue in Dallas, Texas. There I worked as an associate in the corporate group focusing on lending, structured finance and mergers and acquisitions. I sought opportunities to engage in international work wherever possible. The training and diversity of practice areas characteristic of these firms provided me with a valuable foundation from which to pursue a public interest international career. I now use the private sector international legal training I acquired at the firms in my current position at USAID. USAID lawyers play a major role in coordinating with other donors, Congress, other U.S. government agencies and host governments to ensure successful implementation of development goals.
While there are international legal jobs at the State Department, for example, many of those positions are U.S. based. As a member of the Office of the General Counsel at USAID, I have the unique opportunity to represent the United States government overseas as a diplomat and legal advisor.
I advise other US government employees, including Mission Directors and Ambassadors, on the legal and policy aspects of US foreign assistance programs. I am familiar with the law and policy affecting appropriated foreign assistance dollars and with that knowledge, I advise other government employees, contractors, grantees and host government representatives regarding implementation of US assistance programs in health, environment, agriculture, economic reform, democracy and other sectors. I negotiate agreements with host governments and non-governmental organizations to ensure that US development assistance programs are properly designed and administered and implemented.
New attorneys at USAID are generally assigned to work in Washington, D.C. with one or more senior attorneys advising staff of one of the regional (Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and Eurasia) or program-oriented (Legislative and Public Affairs, Global Health, Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Relief) “bureaus” in the Agency. Depending on the group to which an attorney is assigned, he/she provides legal advice with respect to programs in a specific region or sector. The legal advisors also draft and interpret legislation, regulations and opinions relating to US foreign assistance programs.
While in Kenya, I was one of three U.S. lawyers responsible for providing legal advice with respect to U.S. assistance programs throughout east and southern Africa. While in Haiti I had essentially the same responsibility for US assistance programs in the Caribbean. USAID’s Office of the General Counsel also has civil service legal advisors. These lawyers are based in Washington, DC and provide similar legal advice to Washington-based assistance partners.
An example of the kind of work I did as a legal advisor in east Africa was the advice I provided to selected government officials in Uganda and Rwanda in furtherance of USAID’s commitment to transparency in government service. In furtherance of its anti-corruption campaign, the government of Uganda established a new ministry called the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity. The newly appointed Minister requested assistance from the US government in developing, among other things, a Code of Ethics and standards of conduct for its government employees. I did substantially the same thing with government officials in Rwanda who were faced with the challenges of establishing a new government in the post-genocide era.
Living overseas can be exciting and challenging. With the recent increase in terrorism, security at US Embassies and USAID missions overseas has affected our ability to live and work overseas as easily as before. Evacuations and office closings due to threats or civil unrest are more common now than they ever have been before. In the developing world one is generally exposed to more disease, car accidents and crime than in the US and the constant vigilance needed to defend against these things can take a psychological and physical toll.
I have been fortunate enough to find a job that allows me to devote myself to public service while at the same time satisfy my desire to work overseas. I encourage those students with similar interests to consider a career with USAID. Summer 2004