special programs

Winter Term 2013: Snapshots from Students

At left:  Samiron Ray '14, Emily Balter '13, Derek Galey JD/MUP '14, and Katalin Dobias LL.M. '13. At right:: Stephen Lam '13. Not pictured: Caroline Rasmussen '13.

Unlike the much-longer fall and spring semesters, Harvard Law School’s winter term lasts for just three short weeks. But this compressed schedule doesn’t stop HLS students from accomplishing a lot in a short time, even when they travel to a far-flung place. In January 2013, 100 HLS students traveled to 37 countries to conduct independent clinical work or research or to participate in a faculty-led course. Many of them traveled with the support of HLS’ Winter Term International Travel Grants program.

These six students were among a select group of eleven who were selected as Cravath International Fellows.

Emily Balter ’13:  United Kingdom

As an undergraduate, Emily studied art history at Princeton; at HLS, she has developed an interest in the ways that law and morality intersect. Her winter term project — to research and write a paper assessing the role and place of morality in the restitution of art looted during the Holocaust — took her to London. Her research focused on the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a government entity that was formed to consider, in an extra-judicial setting, restitution claims concerning artworks hung in Britain’s national museums. “Once the Panel has made its recommendation, the tension between moral and legal obligations is in stark relief,” Emily noted. During her time in London, she interviewed British attorneys representing Holocaust survivors and their heirs, as well as counsel representing British museums and representatives from major auction houses. “The moral questions that come before the Panel are so nuanced and often difficult to answer — much more so that I had expected before beginning this project,” Emily explained. Her paper also looks at the moral judgments that were made in establishing the Spoliation Panel and others like it in Europe, and at whether the moral questions identified and considered by the Panel should become part of U.S. law and factored into judicial decision-making.

Katalin Dobias LL.M. ’13:  Israel

During her LL.M. year at HLS, Kati greatly valued her work with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Rights Clinic. Her winter term independent clinical with the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University brought her to Israel at a critical time:  Kati explained that Israel has only recently become a country of destination for refugees, and the country is in the process of developing its laws, policies and indeed its positions on refugee rights. More urgently, her first client, a HIV-positive South Sudanese man with three young children, was facing immediate deportation. The Clinic’s efforts were successful, resulting in a temporary residence permit for the family on humanitarian grounds. “The strategy for an eight-month case is very different from what happens when someone is facing a two-week order,” Kati said. “It was great that I could make a contribution in two weeks.” Her work in Israel involved both direct client service (drafting affidavits, researching country conditions and precedents, and preparing clients for hearings) and policy research (helping with a position paper that advocates for the development of a Convention Against Torture procedure in Israel). Kati recognized the challenges of translating classroom and clinical work into the field: “I had to learn to walk a very fine line respecting religious, cultural and political sensitivities in order to be able to help our clients,” she remembered. Still, her winter term in Tel Aviv has “greatly reaffirmed [her] commitment” to working with refugees after graduation:  “That’s why I came to Harvard, and that’s why I’m a lawyer.”

Derek Galey, Joint Program in Law and Urban Planning ’14:  Estonia

Just a week before Derek arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, the city implemented a new program eliminating fares on public transportation for city residents. For Derek — who came to Harvard to study urban planning, then became interested in how legal institutions affect how cities develop — this was a local experiment with global significance. “An idea like this helps people get around and save money, but it also challenges the traditional ways that the law thinks about how cities should be governed,” he explained, involving issues ranging from fiscal structures and shifts in urban population to politically marginalized communities. By traveling to Tallinn, Derek was able to do archival research with medieval documents that helped to explain Estonia’s long tradition of local autonomy, then visit City Hall to interview the deputy mayor and director of transportation. Equally important, “I could wait at a bus stop, ask people for change (because I still had to pay), and see who was using the bus,” Derek remembered; “It’s a popular policy, voted in by a referendum, but there was also a lot of cynicism, a sense of disillusionment with the politics behind it.” His winter term project has given him a “rich vein of material” for his academic work and an appetite for more international travel:  “I want to go to places where there’s something to learn from.”

Stephen Lam ’13:  China and Hong Kong

Stephen’s winter term writing project has focused on understanding the legal and regulatory impact that efforts to transform the Chinese Renminbi into an international currency will have on the development of Chinese capital markets and on the future development of China as a financial actor. By traveling to Beijing and Hong Kong in January, he was able to interview experts — including law firm partners, financial economists, journalists and ratings officials — and refine his research thesis. There was a clear benefit in “being able to sit down with practitioners in the field and talk about what is going on,” Stephen noted; “there’s only so much you can get from secondary sources, especially in a subject area like this, where there is so much change.” His project grew out of a long-standing interest in East Asian and Chinese legal studies, reflected in the courses, independent research, and Chayes International Public Service Fellowship he has undertaken during the last three years. Stephen grew up speaking Cantonese, but the four semesters of advanced Mandarin that he took through cross-registration allowed him to delve more deeply into the cultural and social aspects of his research, as well as the legal ones. “The resources available to internationally focused students are one of the things that attracted me to HLS,” he explained.

Caroline Rasmussen ’13:  Laos, Myanmar and Thailand

During her 1L summer, Caroline Rasmussen interned with a Thai law firm, where she helped negotiate the concession agreement for a hydropower project in Laos. This experience, and her post-graduation plans to work in the project finance group of a leading international law firm, fueled an interest in comparing the legal frameworks around hydropower in Laos and Myanmar. “Twenty years ago, the Lao government stated that it intended to become the ‘battery of Southeast Asia’ through hydropower exports,” Caroline explained. She found, however, that in spite of strengthened legal requirements, “recent hydropower projects in Laos have had a very mixed environmental record.” Caroline is also assessing the lessons that Myanmar — a country with significantly greater hydropower generation potential, and only recently open to foreign investment — can learn from the success and failures of Laos’ environmental laws and policies. Her winter term travel allowed her to continue her research and, specifically, to obtain necessary documents and conduct confidential interviews with stakeholders on the ground. “Everyone on any side of the issue is very passionate about it,” Rasmussen noted. “I wouldn’t have gotten that color if I had been trying to do things remotely.”

Samiron Ray ’14:  Chile

A growing interest in start-ups, incubators and entrepreneurship took Samiron to Santiago to look closely at Start-Up Chile, a program created by the Chilean government that provides grants to entrepreneurs from around the world willing to relocate to Santiago and grow their businesses there. “Although Chile is a fast-growing economy and has a stable political system, it has not been traditionally thought of as an entrepreneurial country,” Samiron said; “the government takes no equity stake in the ventures, but instead hopes that the presence of hundreds of entrepreneurs in Chile will help establish its own version of Silicon Valley.” During his trip, Samiron interviewed program staff, attended Start-Up Chile social events and functions. and met with  entrepreneurs participating in the program and with lawyers and investors working with them. By talking with “the people in the trenches,” he was able to look at the financial and business concerns facing the entrepreneurs, ranging from personal liability to employment issues, and explore the ways in which government infrastructures and legal institutions might hinder or support business growth. “I am fascinated by the intersection of law, entrepreneurship, and economic development,” Samiron explained, an interest that he has also explored in working with Harvard’s Innovation Lab and the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic. 

Last modified: October 09, 2014

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