Roadmap: International arbitration; China’s engagement with international law
Katherine came to HLS with a long-standing interest in international conflicts and diplomacy, and the goal of learning what a career in this space might look like. Through coursework and independent writing, she gained a deeper background in international and comparative law and benefitted from intensive involvement with a journal and in the Jessup International Moot Court competition. She also pursued her interest in China and its evolving role in the international legal order. In the process, she identified international arbitration as a field that aligned with her interests and could be pursued in a wide range of places. After HLS, Katherine joined the Washington, D.C. office of Three Crowns LLP, a global law firm specializing in international arbitration and public international law.
“I have come to value the research and writing skills that contribute to writing a great brief, and the oral argument skills that will come into play during an arbitration.”Katherine Shen ’22
Katherine was born in Wuhan, China, grew up in Beijing and Australia, studied political science and economics at the University of Chicago, and completed an MPhil in political theory at Oxford. This background led her to consider herself a “citizen of the world” and sparked her interest in international conflicts and how to resolve them.
At HLS, she began her exploration of international law by enrolling in Passion and the Law of War, one of the more than 40 1L reading groups offered each year. Led by Professor Naz Modirzadeh, the founding director of the Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC), the group discussed the role of emotion in the laws that govern violent conflicts. Professor Modirzadeh engaged Katherine as a research assistant for a PILAC project on war algorithms; she became an academic advisor and mentor throughout Katherine’s time at HLS. Katherine chose Governing Digital Technology, with Professor Jonathan Zittrain, as her 1L elective; the course included comparative perspectives on the laws governing online activities.
Katherine enrolled in the Negotiation Workshop, a 1L experiential learning course that drew on her interest in diplomacy and conflict resolution and allowed her to focus intensively on building practical skills.
Student Organizations and Journals
Katherine joined the Harvard International Law Journal as a subciter (a staff member who checks the legal citations in an article before it is published), then took on additional responsibilities as an articles editor. She also found a community, as well as practical resources for experiencing HLS as an international student, as a member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and the Coalition of International Students and International Affairs. Through these organizations, Katherine also found opportunities to meet and talk with LL.M. students, who represent more than 60 countries and jurisdictions.
Katherine undertook an internship with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.. Working with its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, she conducted research on military developments on Japanese islands and on diplomatic responses to the South China Sea arbitration between the Philippines and China.
Professor Modirzadeh introduced Katherine to Ambassador Katrina Cooper, then the Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. This summer, Katherine also worked with Ambassador Cooper to research and draft a book chapter on the hybrid law and diplomacy approach to resolving the maritime boundary dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste, in the first compulsory conciliation proceeding under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In Global Law, with Professor David Kennedy, Katherine examined law’s role in global affairs through a critical legal theory lens, and in Public International Law, with Professor Gabriella Blum, she gained a doctrinal foundation in this field. Later, she drew heavily on what she learned in these courses, both in her academic work and in the Jessup moot court competition.
Katherine continued her involvement with the Harvard International Law Journal. “Working on the journal has allowed me to stay up-to-date on current scholarship, which often explores novel issues,” she notes. In the fall, she was elected to serve as its co-editor-in-chief during her 3L year.
Moot Court Competition
Katherine joined the HLS team that competed in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition. The competition, which involves about 700 law schools from 100 countries and jurisdictions, simulates a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. This year, the case concerned a global pandemic and states ’ obligations and responses to the outbreak. It also involved questions of the court’s jurisdiction, a claim for political asylum, and a state’s responsibility for shooting down a civilian aircraft. As an oralist on the team, Katherine helped prepare oral and written pleadings in the fall and argued the respondent positions of the case in the spring.
During her 2L summer, Katherine undertook two internationally focused projects. At the World Bank Group, in the Integrity Vice Presidency, she drafted and edited statements concerning allegations of fraud and corruption committed by individuals and companies in Uzbekistan, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the contract bidding process for World Bank-funded projects. The internship offered her a chance to learn about international administrative law.
She was also a summer associate at Three Crowns LLP. She researched the enforceability of certain arbitral clauses in Chinese law in response to a client query and drafted a memorandum on the extraterritorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Katherine continued to explore the field of international arbitration. She studied International Investment Arbitration with Lecturer on Law Yas Banifatemi, a course that allowed her to find intersections between public and private international law. She also enrolled in From Nuremburg to the Hague: Law, the Individual and the Group, with Visiting Professor Philippe Sands, and was able to talk informally with Professor Sands about his career as a barrister, counsel before international tribunals, and arbitrator in investor-state disputes.
She also enrolled in Comparative Law: Why Law? Lessons from China?, with Professor William Alford. “The course was a very complex overview of China’s history, society and legal system, as well as some specific issues, such as economic development, family law and gender issues, and its autonomous regions, such as Tibet. We learned that China’s domestic system is very nuanced and complicated, and this affects its actions abroad,” she recalls.
During Winter Term, Katherine began an independent writing project, under Professor Modirzadeh’s supervision. Her paper analyzed China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the context of the investor-state dispute system and Third World Approaches to International Law, a critical school of international legal scholarship that she first encountered in her Global Law course with Professor Kennedy. “I found myself looking back at that course in working on this paper and thinking about how it could be a good case study on how China’s rise affects the international legal order,” she recalls. “I’m interested in scholarship that tries to present the complex reasons for certain actions.”
In early spring, Katherine workshopped her paper as a Salzburg Cutler Fellow. This program brings together more than 50 students from 14 U.S. law schools, and leading academics and practitioners in the fields of public and private international law, to discuss and share feedback on the Fellows’ academic projects and participate in career conversations. “Seeing what’s being written by other law students is really fascinating, because you start seeing throughlines in the topics that are emerging,” she observes, noting that papers on China and climate change were prevalent this year.
Katherine served as a teaching fellow for Professor Modirzadeh’s course on public international law. She helped prepare teaching materials, answered students’ questions, and worked on a project to refresh the syllabus for the course. She continued this project as a research assistant during her 3L year. “It was interesting to observe how a law professor shapes her students’ understanding of the law, and to see how real-life events, such as the war in Ukraine, affect how students engage with international law,” she observes.
As co-editor-in-chief of the Harvard International Law Journal, Katherine was responsible for leading a 24-member executive board that meets weekly to discuss and vote on article submissions, and for making final edits to accepted articles.
International Moot Court Competition
Again, Katherine was a member of Harvard Law’s Jessup team. After winning the national round, the team emerged as champions of the international competition.
This year, the Jessup case involved the spread of misinformation on social media platforms. “The fact pattern was based on the increasing use of social media by political leaders around the world. International law is grappling with issues, and potential ways of dealing with them, that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” she notes.
In her 1L course with Professor Zittrain, the students had examined the online environment in a public health context, so Katherine met with classmates who had taken the course and brainstormed with them about how content regulation works and whether platforms consider human rights when they set their own rules. This year, she enrolled in the Oral Arguments before International Tribunals Workshop, with Visiting Professor Peter Murray, a course designed to prepare students to participate as oralists in Jessup and the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.
Katherine joined the Washington, D.C. office of Three Crowns LLP as an associate. At the firm, she is working on a variety of arbitration matters and representing a range of clients, including private companies, States, and UN agencies. She also provides legal support pro bono, advising clients on applications to the European Court of Human Rights, including research on international human rights principles and case law.