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A number of HLS alumni have started nonprofits straight out of law school or soon thereafter, and examples of their work are given below.
Craig Altemose ’10
Craig Altemose is Executive Director of the Better Future Project. Previously, he was the Coordinator of Students for a Just and Stable Future (MA's state network) and a member of Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club. He has previously served as the Co-Chair of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, worked with Energy Action as an intern and a fellow, and served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Student Coalition. He helped plan PowerShift 2007, and was the Lead Organizer of the Massachusetts Power Shift conference in April, 2008.
Altemose holds a joint MPP / JD degree from the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School.
Janet Benshoof '72
Benshoof (pronounced "Benshawf") is founder and president of the Global Justice Center, whose mission is to work with women leaders on the strategic and timely legal enforcement of international equality guarantees.
She is an internationally recognized human rights lawyer who has established landmark legal precedents on women's reproductive and equality rights, the right to free expression, freedom of religion, and gender crimes in transitional justice law. She has litigated in courts in over 40 states and in the U.S. Supreme Court. As president of the Global Justice Center, she is currently developing new legal tools to implement gender equality, focusing on transitional democracies and enforcing criminal accountability during conflict. She has been selected by the National Law Journal as one of the "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America", and is the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of her singular contributions to advancing women's legal rights.
Benshoof graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota and then paid her way through HLS with money she had earned during summers at an A&W root beer stand. She covered room and board by working as a cook for the dean of the Harvard Divinity School. Benshoof knew she didn't want to be a corporate lawyer, and she was always interested in rights and the idea of justice.
As director of the American Civil Liberties Reproductive Freedom Project, for 15 years she spearheaded national litigation focusing on shaping Supreme Court jurisprudence on gender equality and reproductive choice. In 1992, she founded the first international human rights organization specializing in reproductive choice and equality, now the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). In the organization's first ten years, under her leadership, CRR obtained consultative status to the UN, established legal projects in over 40 countries and won major class action constitutional cases in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Benshoof lectures at law schools and universities globally and has taught human rights law at Bard College and Harvard Law School. She is an international law advisor to several Burmese exile groups and is currently working on a project to refer the military in Burma to the International Criminal Court. Since 2005, she has conducted three human rights law trainings in Iraq, including a historic three-day training on gender rights and international law for Iraqi women leaders and the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal. This training resulted in the first legal decision by a high court in the Middle East according women rights under international law. In the precedential Anfal decision the Iraqi High Tribunal adopted the gender crimes standards of the International Criminal Court and held the officials directing the genocide guilty of rape as an element of genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture. Benshoof is also advising women from Burma, Kudistan, and Iraq on constitution drafting.
Benshoof has published numerous articles in the Harvard Law Review, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, and the Law Ka Nat, a Journal of The Burma Lawyers' Council, among other respected publications. She has appeared on the BBC, CBS evening news, Good Morning America, ABC Evening News, Nightline, and the McNeil / Lehrer News Hour. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and served on its Burma Task Force.
John Bonifaz '92
Bonifaz is the legal director of Voter Action, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to ensure election integrity in the United States through legal advocacy, research, and public education. Prior to joining Voter Action, he worked for more than a dozen years with the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI), an organization he founded in 1994. NVRI served as a prominent legal and public education center dedicated to protecting the right of all citizens to vote and to participate in the electoral process on an equal and meaningful basis.
From 1994-2004, Bonifaz served as NVRI’s executive director and from 2004-2006 as NVRI’s general counsel. In January 2007, NVRI became formally affiliated with Demos, a New York-based public policy research and advocacy group, and he served as a senior legal fellow at Demos in its Democracy Program until May 2007, when he joined Voter Action. From 1992-1993, Bonifaz served as the staff attorney for the Washington D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, a leading research authority on the influence of private money in federal elections. He cowrote, with Jamin Raskin articles in the Yale Law & Policy Review and the Columbia Law Review, which set forth the constitutional basis for NVRI’s affirmative litigation work.
Bonifaz received a J.D. from HLS and a B.A. from Brown University in 1987. In 1999, in recognition of his ground-breaking work with the National Voting Rights Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded him with a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. From a 1996 Boston Globe article, it states that Bonifaz grew up in an activist family in Pa. His father was a chemical engineer but also organized local farm workers. He went to Brown University, "but it was not until Harvard Law School, after being exposed to the work of western Massachusetts activist Randy Kehler, that he became passionate about the role of campaign finance in democracy. 'It was a revelation to me,' said Bonifaz."
Laurel Firestone '04
Laurel Firestone co-founded and co-directs the Community Water Center (CWC), a nonprofit environmental justice organization located in Visalia, Ca. The CWC helps disadvantaged communities gain access to clean and affordable water. She previously served as the director of the Rural Poverty Water Project at the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment in Delano, Ca, under a 2004-06 Equal Justice Works Fellowship. In 2009, Firestone wrote the comprehensive "Guide to Community Drinking Water Advocacy," and in 2010 she and co-founder Susana De Anda were awarded the Carla Bard Advocacy Award from the Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform (POWER), given to one water advocate in Ca. each year. She currently serves on the Tulare County Water Commission.
During law school, Firestone pursued a variety of projects combining human rights and environmental law, from working with trash pickers in the major cities of Brazil to advising indigenous groups in the Amazon who sought to protect their traditional knowledge and genetic resources. She was active in the Harvard Environmental Law Society's Environmental Working Group, a member of the Steering Committee of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and article and submissions editor on the Harvard Environmental Law Review. She was also a 2002 Chayes International Public Service Fellow.
Before attending HLS, Firestone worked with IMAZON, a small Brazilian environmental research NGO located in Belém, Pará, on the mouth of the Amazon. Her work there focused on the use of satellite imagery and GIS to monitor forest degradation, and the role of this technology in forestry law enforcement.
Firestone holds a B.A. magna cum laude in Environmental Studies from Brown University (2000).
Read more about Laurel here: Community Water Center
Jennifer Gordon '92
As a Harvard undergraduate, Gordon worked at Centro Presente, a Cambridge agency for Central American refugees, where she ran a program to educate Boston-area immigrants and employers about the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That experience helped her decide to start a workers' organization and led to her decision to pursue a law degree.
At HLS, Gordon did clinical work and helped organize a lawsuit against Boston banks for mortgage discrimination. While still a student, she began to form what would become The Workplace Project, based out of Hempstead, N.Y. The Workplace Project organizes immigrant workers, mostly from Central and South America. She served as executive director of the Workplace Project from 1993 to 1998, and in 1999, she won a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Award for her work. From 1998-2000, Gordon served as the J. Skelly Wright Fellow and visiting faculty lecturer at Yale Law School, and from 2000-2003, with support from the MacArthur award and from an Open Society Institute Fellowship, she wrote the book "Suburban Sweatshops: The Fight for Immigrant Rights", published in 2005.
In 2003, Gordon joined the law faculty at Fordham University as an associate professor of law. She has written numerous articles on immigrants, politics, and labor unions, including "We Make the Road by Walking: Immigrant Workers and the Struggle for Social Change," published in the 1995 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
Gordon earned an AB magna cum laude in 1987 from Radcliffe, where she majored in Latin American Studies and earned the Fay Prize, awarded to the most outstanding Radcliffe Senior.
Penda Hair '78
After graduating from HLS, Penda Hair clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Wilfred Feinberg, and later for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun '32. She later served as a Washington staff lawyer and office director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1982 until 1999, when she co-founded the Advancement Project with Molly Munger '74 and her husband Stephen English '75, a resource and bridge organization for people working to solve public policy problems across lines of race, ethnicity and culture.
An aggressive racial justice advocate with 20 years of civil rights experience, she has a stellar record of victories both in and out of court. Hair is a leader in the national struggle to protect affirmative action and developed crucial Fair Housing Act amendments, argued major civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and won the most extensive redistricting remedy ever imposed in a litigated voting rights suit. She wrote the Rockefeller Foundation's report on innovative civil rights strategies, "Louder Than Words: Lawyers, Communities, and the Struggle for Justice "(2001). In 1998, The American Lawyer magazine named her one of the top public interest attorneys under age 45.
“For every second that you are not working on your project, people’s lives are worse than they could be,” Bethany Henderson, founder and executive director of City Hall Fellows said. Belief in the potential of young people to contribute led Henderson to create a nonprofit that trains college graduates to make major changes through a variety of government agencies in three US cities.
Henderson generated the idea for City Hall Fellows from her experience participating in The Urban Fellows Program in New York before starting law school. As a Harvard Law School alumna, only 18 months from becoming a partner at Quinn Emmanuel, she decided to pursue the venture. Revisiting that critical turning point, Henderson recalls “A good friend of mine and my husband both in the same week said to me essentially put up or shut up.” Houston and San Francisco lent initial encouragement, together with support from Echoing Green, which launched the proposal into a reality.
In the five years since the program began, City Hall Fellows has sent 61 fellows to three cities where they have collectively dedicated over 81,000 hours to tackling social problems. Tracking the fellows’ progress-- more than half have remained in local public service--is rewarding for Henderson. As more intelligent and passionate young adults pursue local government work, others take the lead. Henderson observes that “City Hall Fellows is about leverage and it’s about relying on the snowball effect. Smart people go where smart people are.”
Henderson advises entrepreneurs to fully research their proposal before beginning a venture. “Really know your market before you jump in. Know your competition. Know who else is working in this space. If no one is working in this space, figure out why before you go in.”
Despite the challenges that come with the initial years of social entrepreneurship, Henderson is proud of the organization’s growth. In measuring its success, Henderson believes that City Hall Fellows will achieve its goals when the program becomes unnecessary. “My ultimate vision is not that a hundred years from now everybody knows about City Hall Fellows,” she said. “I hope we’re totally obsolete because young people are starting to turn to government as a place to spend most of their careers.”
Betsy Krebs '87
Krebs and Paul Pitcoff are co-founders of Youth Advocacy Center, whose core mission is to teach young adults in foster care, and those at risk of being placed in foster care, to advocate for themselves and take control of their lives. Krebs was born in New York City and attended racially and economically integrated public schools from kindergarten through her collegiate years at SUNY, Albany. She became a lawyer so she could work on issues of social justice, particularly related to children.
From 1988-1992, Krebs worked for Lawyers for Children, representing the interests of over 1,000 children and winning many cases in family court. She was passionate about the work, but found she was more interested advocating for teens because they were “poised for the next step in life.” To understand their situations, she accompanied caseworkers to her clients’ homes. She saw that with no family advocate, no one was looking out for their long term interests. The professionals charged with protecting the teens often left them in poverty. Outraged that the government had taken custody of these youth and then let them languish until releasing them without a high school diploma or a way to support themselves, she felt society had “to do better for them than if they’d been left with their families.”
Working in family court Krebs met Paul Pitcoff, an attorney and filmmaker who was professor emeritus at Adelphi University, where he founded the department of communications. Together with some foster care teens as partners, they founded the Youth Advocacy Center in 1992, where they continue to collaborate today. While building this organization, of which she is now the executive director, Krebs married and started a family. Over 10 years, YAC accomplished many successful projects, all inspired by and in collaboration with foster care teens. These projects included, working with teens to produce a video presenting teens’ views on the child welfare system, publishing booklets and pamphlets about teens’ rights, creating a legal rights helpline for foster care teens and organizing teens to work on policy advocacy and community organizing. Despite YAC’s many accomplishments, it was clear that too many teens were still leaving foster care without a plan for the future. Krebs sought solutions with greater likelihood of changing the way that foster care teens prepare for adulthood.
With support from an Open Society Institute fellowship, YAC published a report in 2000 on how self-advocacy could change the foster care experience and help teens chart their own futures. This became the blueprint for Getting Beyond the System, a curriculum she developed to help foster kids advocate for their futures. The curriculum is used in the HLS 10-week pilot seminar "Getting Beyond the System," and is taught by an HLS student. The pilot was set up with the help of Lauren Profeta ’09, who had a clinical placement at the YAC.
Jessica Neuwirth '85
Neuwirth has worked in the international human rights movement since graduating from HLS. She is currently the director of the New York office for the United Nation's High Commissioner of Human Rights, based at the UN headquarters. In 1992, she co-founded Equality Now, an international human rights organization, to work toward an end to all forms of violence and discrimination against women. From 1985 to 1990, she worked for Amnesty International in various capacities, serving as a tour producer for Human Rights Now, an international concert tour in 1988 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Neuwirth subsequently worked in international finance, specializing in sovereign debt restructuring for developing countries as an associate at the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She worked for the United Nations, serving for several years in the Office of Legal Affairs, and as an expert consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on issues of sexual violence including Akayesu, a landmark decision recognizing rape as a form of genocide, and in the Media Case, a decision holding Rwandan media executives accountable for the role of the media in the 1994 genocide. Equality Now, which focused initially on the rape of Bosnian women as a weapon of war, has also lobbied governments and helped enact legislation against female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and domestic violence.
In spring 2005, as a guest lecturer, she taught a seminar on international women’s rights at HLS.Neuwirth has attended each Celebration of HLS women graduates and was a panelist at the Celebration of Public Interest, held in March 2008. The panel was "Social Entrepreneurs," and featured Neuwirth, Janet Benshoof '72, Betsy Krebs '87 and Earl Phalen '93, and was moderated by Alan Khazei '87. She holds a B.A. (1982) from Yale University.
Adam Stofsky ’04
Adam Stofsky discovered the power of new media advocacy when working in Nigeria on a massive forced eviction case, which had been stalled in court for fourteen years. He produced a documentary, advised by local lawyers, which allowed the evictees to tell their story and advance their case. Adam continued to develop his new media advocacy ideas at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, where he used new media to secure positive results for Katrina victims, employment discrimination plaintiffs, and minority voters.
Stofsky is a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School.
Read more about Adam here: Echoing Green
Susan Vickers '95
Volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center while a student at Harvard Law School, Vickers recognized that there were civil legal rights of victims that were not being addressed, in the areas of privacy, immigration, education, housing, employment, disability, safety and financial compensation. In 1997 she founded the Victim Rights Law Center, where she served as executive director until 2007. She then co-founded, with Susan Estrich, JD '77 CounterQuo, which seeks, per its website, to "develop a blueprint for challenging the way that our culture responds to sexual violence -- and a system of accountability for those who will be charged with executing such a plan." She currently consults on matters related to the legal rights of sexual assault victims.
The Victim Rights Law Center advised over 540 sexual assault victims in 2007 on a myriad range of their civil and criminal legal rights. Vickers has presented both domestically and internationally on the subject of the legal needs of rape victims; she has appeared in numerous media outlets on the subject, ranging from CNN to USA Today; she also served as the editor-in-chief of "Beyond the Criminal Justice System: Using the Law to Help Restore the Lives of Sexual Assault Victims: A Practical Guide for Attorneys and Advocates " (2007, available for download at www.victimrights.org) and as author of other legal and popular publications.
Vickers has won several awards for her legal work on behalf of sexual assault victims, including the Kaufman Public Interest Award from Harvard Law School, the 2007 National Award for Outstanding Response to and Prevention of Sexual Violence by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and the 2007 Community Advocate Award by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. Vickers is a graduate of Duke University (1998) and Harvard Law School.
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