March 12, 2013
During the summer of 2012, hundreds of Harvard Law School J.D. and graduate students benefitted from the largest pool of guaranteed funding offered by a law school for the broadest range of public interest summer work. A select group of 26 students worked in 19 countries under the aegis of the Chayes International Public Service Fellowships, dedicated to the memory of Professor Abram Chayes, who taught at Harvard Law School for more than 40 years. The program is co-administered by the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) and International Legal Studies.
Chayes Fellows typically work within the governments of developing nations, or with the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them. And they draw—before, during and after their summer placements—on the support, networking, and ongoing community offered by the Chayes program.
As in summers past, the work the Chayes Fellows undertook this summer was as wide-ranging as the places they traveled to. These five brief portraits reflect some of their experiences.
Melissa Chastang ’14
Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Johannesburg, South Africa
Until the spring of her 1L year, when she traveled to Africa with the Harvard Black Law Students Association, Melissa Chastang ’14 had never even been abroad, much less worked in an international setting. In applying for the fellowship, she spent a lot of time talking to students and staff, in OPIA and other offices. “You want to push yourself, but you should also be realistic about where you are and what you’re ready to handle,” Chastang explains; “I think these conversations really encouraged me that this was something I could do.” In the end, she found a placement—with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre in Johannesburg—that was right for her. An early assignment to write a paragraph for the NGO’s web site about a disability rights issue involving accessible currency led to researching and writing a brief in support of a partner organization interested in suing the Reserve Bank of Malawi. “It was exciting to think that someone trusted me enough to say, ‘Yes, I think we should bring this case,’” Chastang remembers.
Samantha Glover ’14
Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Samantha Glover ’14 followed her growing interests in environmental issues and Latin America to a summer working with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation) in Buenos Aires. The placement offered an opportunity to assess environmental law as a career, to give the Spanish she learned in Spain a Latin American slant, and even, unexpectedly, to do some legal research in Portuguese. Glover worked on a project relating to climate change, as part of an ongoing collaboration among environmental agencies in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City. “I didn’t know going in that I would have any experience with law outside of Argentina, so that was a pleasant surprise,” she says. “It helped me gain a better understanding of the region.”
Samuel Birnbaum ’14
United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking
Having taught English in rural China before law school, Samuel Birnbaum ’14 wanted to return to Asia, but explore a different region; he had also set his sights on working with the United Nations. Working this summer in Bangkok, Thailand, with the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, he came to realize that the legal issues surrounding trafficking are varied and complex—involving not just gender violence, but also human rights, development, immigration, and labor. “I had a chance to see how it can be difficult to make good laws work,” Birnbaum said. He reports that he is definitely interested in working more on this issue next summer, possibly in a prosecutorial role or as counsel to plaintiffs.
Sarah Wheaton ’14
St. Andrew’s Refugee Legal Aid Program
Sarah Wheaton ’14 returned to Egypt, a country she has visited several times. “I fell in love with the culture, and I knew I wanted to go back there someday,” she explains. She also knew that she wanted to provide direct service. Working with refugees, through the St. Andrew’s Refugee Legal Aid Program in Cairo, she usually met with each client four or five times. “At the first interview, people would be quite stoic, and a little mistrustful,” Wheaton explains. “But then by the end they would just be so open and resilient. Some of the women would be fully veiled, and often they would take me aside, raise their veils, and say ‘I just wanted you to see my face. I wanted you to know who I am.’” Although she wants to work, eventually, in government or at the United Nations, Wheaton hopes to first spend a couple of years in the field. “I just don’t think you can get a real, in-depth, nuanced sense of what is needed, structurally or institutionally, until you’ve heard people’s stories,” she says. “And I just loved working with refugees so much that now I could consider working with them full-time.”
Anna Gressel '14
American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative
For Anna Gressel ’14, a summer with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Morocco was also a chance to return to a place she knew well. “My time here was so very enriched by having lived in this country for a number of years,” she says. Gressel’s work focused on the potential introduction of plea bargaining into the Moroccan criminal justice system, as a means of easing the backlog of criminal cases in the country’s courts. In early July, she made a presentation, outlining the plea bargaining process in France, Germany, the U.S., and other countries, to the Director of Penal Affairs in Morocco’s Ministry of Justice and a working group of judges and prosecutors. Gressel is looking forward to following developments in Morocco: “I feel like I’m just beginning to learn about this field; I’m glad that I have two years left to really jump into it.”