Students reflect on summers of growth and challenge

Novella Coleman ’11: Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco

While Novella Coleman ’11 knows that her law school experience has prepared her well for her summer work at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, it’s her experience as a plaintiff, she says, that has rounded out her sense of how the law can give power to the powerless.

In 2006, Coleman and a fellow African-American teacher at the exclusive Lakeside School in Seattle filed a Title VII discrimination suit against the school, arguing that they had been the targets of racial hostility and negative treatment. Although Coleman’s claims were dismissed in district court in 2008, the experience opened her eyes to the law and inspired her to join the profession. “My lawyers committed to my objectives, not just to their budget. They gave me the opportunity for my voice to be heard, and helped me see how the legal process can provide a voice for people who are otherwise marginalized.”

This summer at the Lawyer’s Committee, with grants from Equal Justice America and the Law School’s SPIF program, Coleman has worked with people marginalized by race, poverty, and immigration status. The San Francisco office receives up to a hundred calls a day, from people seeking asylum. Coleman conducted intake interviews, assessing the strengths of people’s cases and advising whether they should be passed along for litigation by one of the law firms associated with the Lawyer’s Committee. In one instance, a case of human trafficking, Coleman worked with a woman who had been brought into the country against her will, stripped of her papers, and forced to work under abusive conditions. Coleman wrote a brief analyzing what sort of damages might be available to her. Coleman also took part in measures designed to head off civil rights violations. In May, the Lawyer’s Committee was informed that police were about to search an apartment building. The residents were not told the purpose of the search or what its scope would be. Coleman and others went to the building as legal observers, to make sure there was some accountability for how the search was performed.

When she graduates, Coleman plans to continue in the field of public interest law, most likely specializing in civil rights, where she can bring her own experience to bear. “I understand some of the legal issues while also offering a more experienced perspective in terms of what the client is going through. It’s not just an intellectual legal perspective.”

– Katie Bacon

Tor Krever ’12: Charles Taylor defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone

With a German mother, Canadian father, and Australian citizenship, Tor Krever ’12 has always had an international perspective and an interest in development.

At Harvard Law School, Krever has been able to further this life-long education by analyzing the impact of legal and political institutions on global economics. A heterodox economist, Krever was initially hesitant to enter what he believed would be an intellectually conservative place. But he says he was happy to discover “a diversity of people and views… the friends and professors I’ve met have really created an encouraging environment… for someone with more radical ideas.”

Earlier this year, Krever took an intensive seminar taught by Dean Martha Minow and Professor Alex Whiting, with Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (See related story). The seminar reviewed policies and proceedings of the ICC, highlighting different areas of the prosecutor’s work. The course was so engaging that when it was over, Krever decided he wanted a view an international criminal tribunal’s work from the perspective of a defense team.

Krever expressed this interest to Whiting who promptly connected him with colleagues working in the Hague. Soon after, Krever received an offer to work with the Charles Taylor defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law. For security reasons, the trial was moved from Sierra Leone to The Hague.

Krever, a recipient of the HLS Chayes International Public Service Fellowship, began work for the 16-member defense team in June. His daily tasks included everything from writing legal memos to interviewing witnesses to assisting counsel in court. Krever says, “I’ve been exposed to all facets of criminal litigation. … The whole experience has been very memorable and novel.”

Working at the Court gave Krever practical experience, which grounded his largely theoretical understanding of international law. As the trial unfolded, it fortified his opinions about inherent asymmetries in international criminal justice. “I realized that it is often a very political enterprise… I don’t know that it’s possible to talk about justice… without talking about the distribution of power in the international sphere,” Krever notes, “The enterprise of international criminal law is often the history of the victor’s justice.” However, he also believes that the global community is moving towards a shared definition for crimes of aggression, which may help to allay these problems.

Ultimately, Krever believes that the prosecution team has an institutional and structural advantage over the defense team; for him, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has not proven it is an apolitical institution. However, he also believes that the global community is moving towards a shared definition for crimes of aggression, which may help to allay these problems.

With a long-term interest in academic research and writing, Krever is now attending Cambridge University as a part of the joint J.D./LL.M. program. An intellectual at heart, Krever is likely to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in academia, where he can continue to critically analyze both international development and institutions like the ICC.

“I really like to sink my teeth into ideological debates,” he notes, “I love having intellectual freedom and using interdisciplinary approaches to understand international development.”

– Alli Chandra

Miranda Dugi ’12: A summer at the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Criminal Division

For Miranda Dugi ‘12, her summer as a law clerk at the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions (HRSP) Section of the Criminal Division has meant the chance to work at the cutting edge of her chosen field. The department was created just this spring when two units, the Domestic Security Section (led by Teresa McHenry ’84) and the Office of Special Investigations (led by Eli Rosenbaum ’80) merged as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen domestic law enforcement in the area of international violations of human rights. Part of HRSP’s role is to implement U.S. statutes related to human rights abuses abroad, such as torture and the use of child soldiers. “Because almost no one in the U.S. has ever used these statutes you get to be a little bit creative, so it’s an exciting time to be here,” Dugi says.

One area Dugi explored was the body of law concerning human organ trafficking, which rose to new prominence after the indictment of a New Jersey rabbi for conspiracy to broker illegal kidney sales. Because HRSP has just begun to study the issue, Dugi examined all laws relevant to human organ trafficking, from alien smuggling laws to Medicare fraud statutes. “I got to take a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional approach to applying U.S. laws to the illicit organ trade.”

With the extra work that results anytime you merge two offices, the staff at HRSP was especially eager for the arrival of this crop of summer law clerks. “They had a lot of work for us in the best way—very exciting, substantive stuff,” Dugi said. Among other tasks, she had the chance to research immigration fraud, foreign legal processes and how they may be used in U.S. proceedings, and jurisdictional issues related to conspiracy to commit torture. Dugi points out that from McHenry and Rosenbaum on down, the sense of shared mission at HRSP is palpable. “I think there may be a selection bias going on here. Everyone here is dedicated to promoting accountability and human rights—this is what they’ve been doing their whole lives—and I think that greases the wheels of teamwork.”

Dugi, who received SPIF funding and a Heyman fellowship, was drawn to the issues of accountability that define the work at HRSP after time spent in the Peace Corps in Togo and working on development programs in Haiti, Ecuador, and Honduras. When she graduates, she hopes to continue along the same lines. “This would be a dream job. The people here are passionate and motivated by their work.”

– Katie Bacon

Tom Ferriss ’11: Backstage pass to the Kagan confirmation hearings

When Thomas Ferriss ’11 accepted an offer to be a legal fellow for Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he knew he was taking a gamble. Ferriss’s hope was to work on a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but Justice John Paul Stevens had yet to announce his retirement. As it turned out, funded by the HLS Office of Public Interest Advising and a Heyman Fellowship, Ferriss spent much of the summer becoming an expert on the work of Elena Kagan, flagging issues that might draw political attention during the hearings. In the process, he combed through some 7,000 pages of documents: every merit brief, cert petition, and amicus brief filed during her tenure as solicitor general, along with all of her academic writings. He came across few surprises in his review: “There were no fireworks. She doesn’t use bombastic language or make big, far reaching claims. She’s a moderate who focuses on the case at hand,” Ferriss says.

But there were aspects of the hearings that surprised him. Ferriss had what amounted to a backstage pass, sitting behind the senators for hours at a time. While he notes that “many of the senators and most of their staff members do exhaustive research on the candidates or have a lifetime of experience in certain issues that they believe the Supreme Court needs to address,” at times the hearings skimmed along the surface of the legal issues at hand. In those cases, Ferriss was surprised by the “lack of depth and familiarity with the things that were actually being complained about.” But in a setting known more for pomp and circumstance than bantering, Kagan made deft use of humor to “defuse an otherwise adversarial situation. Tom Coburn or Arlen Specter or Chuck Grassley would be giving her a hard time, and she’d tell a joke that would crack up the room, and frequently even the person asking her questions.”

Ferriss called it a “special circumstance” to be part of the historic process. “As lawyers we think about the Supreme Court a lot and focus on it a lot. It was such a lucky thing to work on the Hill during a Supreme Court confirmation and see how the two branches come together to fill a vacancy.”

Yet it was the other part of Ferriss’s work this summer that ties in more closely with the work Ferriss would ultimately like to do. He helped draft a series of consumer bankruptcy reforms designed to benefit students and small business owners, among others. “Many bankruptcy procedures have been crafted with a focus on large companies rather than middle-class Americans, and other bankruptcy protections have been eroded altogether,” he explains. Ferriss is pursuing a PhD in statistics at Harvard along with his law degree (to his knowledge, it’s a joint degree no one else at the university has tried for). His goal is to apply social scientific tools to emerging legal and policy questions. “A lot of legal choices and policy choices at the end of the day rest on questions of fact, and those questions are really difficult to answer without using rigorous scientific methodology,” he says. Ferriss points to Professor Elizabeth Warren’s empirical research on bankruptcy law as a model. “As an academic I think I could focus my research on legal areas that will further social justice. Reforming bankruptcy laws doesn’t sound very sexy, but it can help people get out of bad situations that are the result of bad policies. {I think work like this could lead to having more fair laws on the books.”

-Katie Bacon

Esther Kang: Exploring legal work at Faegre & Benson this summer

Working at Faegre & Benson this summer, Esther Kang has had as varied and challenging an experience as a full course load at HLS. “The day to day was very intellectually stimulating and very educational,” she recalls of her summer at the Minneapolis-based firm. Throughout her time there Kang was able to take on a variety of assignments from business litigation to intellectual property, but remain in each department long enough to get a feel for each unique atmosphere and culture.

During her summers while in college, Esther had worked in several different volunteer capacities, including an eviction defense organization in San Francisco. She was pleased to see that her time in the corporate world also included public service. “They encourage all of their attorneys to work in the community. For the summer I was able to volunteer at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Center, and the conciliation court clinic. They really do believe it is their responsibility to help their community, and I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Her time at the law firm also provided many opportunities to draw upon her coursework at HLS. While researching an issue for a suit she was assigned to, remembering the economic loss doctrine from her 1L year changed her team’s entire approach to the case. “We completely switched gears, and decided to do something different,” she said.

Overall, Kang enjoyed being part of a group she believed had a strong infrastructure and could streamline many of its tasks. The summer firm experience had also provided some unexpected opportunities, “I got to do a wide variety of assignments, a lot of it involved legal research and writing, which I expected, but I was also able to observe hearings and depositions. I think it was good to just experience so many different areas of law, to help figure out what I want to do.”

– Marcel Moran