Global Public Interest Law Fellows Provide Free Legal Services Around the World

This summer, 17 Washington University School of Law students provided valuable, free legal services and engaged in international public interest work with legal aid organizations, non-government organizations (NGOs), and international courts in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Chile, Panama, Nepal, China, Italy, and The Hague.

In their intensive, 10-week, international internships, law students provided legal assistance to low income individuals with immigration, civil rights, land rights, environmental, housing, family, and criminal matters. They assisted with dispute resolution in community courts and international commercial arbitration centers, promoted civil justice reform, conducted research and drafted legal memoranda for international courts, and studied international law and practice.

Some students interned through the law school’s Global Public Interest Law Fellows Program, while others participated through the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute’s Dagen-Legomsky International Fellows Program.

"Globalization has brought a new understanding that our justice is inextricably linked to that of others around the world. The Global Public Interest Law Fellows Program and the Dagen-Legomsky International Fellows Program are training the next generation of lawyers to meet the challenge of improving access to justice and reducing disparities within and across borders,” says Karen Tokarz, the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law & Public Service and director of the Negotiation & Dispute Resolution Program and the Civil Rights, Community Justice & Mediation Clinic.

"Our students have sought to work with legal services providers, NGOs, and courts all over the world, starting initially in South Africa and now in multiple other countries," she continues. “Whenever possible, our law school faculty have assisted students in their quest for international internships that will enhance their educational and career development, and provide free legal services to those in need."

To date, almost 200 law students have interned and studied overseas under one of these two umbrellas over the past 15 years. The Global Public Interest Law Fellows Program builds upon the African Public Interest Law & Conflict Resolution Initiative, started 14 years ago.

"I spent fall 2001 as an Israel Treiman Faculty Fellow at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal Law Clinic in Durban, South Africa, where I met several lawyers with the newly instituted Legal Aid Board of South Africa, tasked with providing representation for criminal defendants and low income individuals in civil cases,” Tokarz says. “These lawyers offered to collaborate with Washington University in an international law student internship program, which we started in Durban the following summer.”

Since that time, the law school has expanded internship placements into Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia—and, more recently, into Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Dagen-Legomsky Fellows

The Dagen-Legomsky International Fellows Program is named in part after recently retired Professor Stephen Legomsky, an internationally recognized immigration and refugee expert, and Harris Institute founding director. The fellowships have long supported students studying and working abroad, says Leila N. Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and current Harris Institute director.

“For more than a decade, the Dagen-Legomsky Program has provided amazing opportunities for law students to experience and learn international law and practice,” Sadat observes. “In recent years, students have worked on human trafficking in Thailand and immigrant and refugee rights in Northern India; assisted counsel in the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia and other international tribunals; interned with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles; and attended The Hague Academy of International Law.”

Olivia Espy at the Peace Palace, ICJ

This summer, the law school had three Dagen-Legomsky fellows: Olivia Espy, Abadir Barre, and Li Chen. Espy participated in The Hague Academy Summer program and also interned for the defense office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the formal Yugoslavia (ICTY). Barre spent the summer working on Somali development issues at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), based in Nairobi, Kenya. Chen attended Xiamen Academy of International Law.

Abadir Barre, seated at table,
second from left, works on community
development issues in Somalia

Barre says he worked on a range of projects, including Somali constitutional development, re-establishment of the Somali Bar Association, and legislative drafting. The work builds on his internship last summer with Puntland Legal Aid in northern Somalia. “Both summer positions have provided me with invaluable experiences in pursuing a career after graduation in Rule of Law reform in Somalia,” he observes.

Espy says that her time at The Hague Academy was “an incomparable experience,” both academically and personally. “During my time there, I visited the Chilean Embassy. I had the opportunity to discuss a major legal case with an ambassador, and it was an experience that still resonates.”

Another highlight, she says, was meeting Judge Tomka, former president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), who read the judgment concerning the maritime dispute between Peru and Chile before the ICJ in 2014. She also was able to meet Professor Treves, Peru’s legal counsel, and Professor Crawford, Chile’s legal counsel. “Having grown up in Chile, I followed this case with attention, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak directly with our champion,” she says.

Regarding her internship with the ICTY, Espy says she pursed the opportunity because the ICTY is “both the first, and potentially the last, court of its kind. Plus, its case law has arguably deeply influenced the development of international criminal law.” What really made the internship such a fantastic experience for Espy, though, was that she says her work “was not only substantive, but also slightly introspective. That made for a very unique experience.”

Providing Legal Services in Durban, South Africa

Professor Karen Torkarz, center, with 
summer interns in South Africa

Law students worked with three, long-time legal services partners in Durban, South Africa. Jackie Ebert, Courtney Farmer, Adrian Camino, and Adam Carroll interned for the Legal Aid Board of South Africa, which is the law school’s longest standing African partner. The law school has collaborated with the Legal Aid Board every summer since Tokarz’s first visit to South Africa in 2001. The Legal Aid Board provides free legal services on both civil and criminal matters to indigent individuals, with offices across the country. Students assist with client interviewing, legal research and drafting, community mediation, trial preparation, and appellate work.

Drew Bonkowski worked for Lawyers for Human Rights, an immigration and refugee advocacy organization, where he interviewed clients, prepared legal documents, and negotiated with government agencies. Megan Reif and Tobin Raju interned at the Legal Resource Centre, where they addressed land rights, housing rights, access to administrative justice, environmental law, contract law, disability discrimination, and pension fund issues through impact litigation.

Assisting Clients and Communities in Accra, Ghana

Internships for law students in Accra, Ghana were initiated by Sena dei Tutu, JSD ’07, an alumna from Ghana, who worked with Tokarz on her thesis while at Washington University. Tokarz visited Tutu in Accra in fall 2006, and law students have interned there every summer since.

Zachary Smith, center, receives a
certificate from the LRC staff and interns.

This summer, Zachary Smith worked for the Legal Resource Centre while Courtney Nix interned at the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Ghana) in Accra. The Legal Resource Centre collaborates with local communities to ensure human rights, social progress, and economic development, especially in the areas of civil liberties, health, employment, education, and housing. FIDA provides free legal advice and representation in court for indigent women and children, undertakes literacy programs, and advocates for legislative reform. This past summer, the students were involved in client counseling, client advocacy, community education, and dispute resolution.

Smith, who is pursuing a career in intellectual property law, is committed to volunteer work that furthers human rights causes around the world, specifically with regard to the LGBTQ community. “My time in Ghana was absolutely amazing,” he says. “Ghana is like no place that I have ever been. While poverty is present no matter where you are in the country, the people are thankful for what they have.

“Ghanaians are friendly, smart, and driven to succeed,” he continues. “Unfortunately, issues with governmental corruption sometimes prevents this from happening. While there are many problems that Ghanaians must face moving forward, there is no doubt that the people’s commitment to education and desire to prosper will bring forth the meaningful change that so many Ghanaians are seeking.”

Courtney Nix, right, and Supreme Court
Justice Margaret Welbourne

Nix had an equally rewarding experience with FIDA this summer. “My internship with FIDA afforded me the opportunity to have a lot of access to clients, which can be rare in legal internships, especially during your 1L summer,” Nix says. “I found that to be one of the most satisfying aspects of my internship because I developed a connection with most of our clients. Helping them was immensely rewarding personally and professionally.”

Seeking Environmental Justice, Fighting Corruption, and Addressing Immigration Issues in Chile, Panama, and Italy

Melanie Lee, third row, right, on an
excursion in Chile

Melanie Lee interned at Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente (FIMA) in Santiago, Chile, a nonprofit environmental law organization that works to promote environmental justice through litigation, community empowerment, and scholarly publications. Eight Washington University law students and alumni have interned at FIMA since 2010. Interns engage in broad-based environmental advocacy, conducting legal research and assisting with grant development for projects affecting the rights of indigenous communities.

Rachel Robinson worked in Panama City, Panama, for Transparency International, a global organization that seeks to address corruption and foster transparency. She followed in the footsteps of another law intern who worked there in summer 2013.

Robinson’s project was to analyze court decisions from 2014 to 2015 rendered by Panama’s Supreme Court, regarding the Transparency in Public Administration Act. “Nobody has compiled this information before,” she explains. “The raw data will be very useful in helping the foundation ascertain why the court refuses certain actions, who is requesting the information, how long it takes for actions to be resolved, and what types of information institutions try to withhold.”

Robinson also worked on an article to be published in the organization’s periodical, as well as the Official Gazette. She says she is grateful for both the substantive work the foundation provided and the language training she received.

Alberto Ghiani and Professor Karen
Tokarz at St. Peter's Square

“Not only do I understand how one Latin American country’s legal system works, but I can also read complex legal cases in Spanish and express myself at professional level when explaining them. I could not have asked for a better opportunity,” says Robinson, who is planning to enroll in a Spanish and Latin American law course this fall that will be taught in Spanish.

In other placements this summer, Alberto Ghiani interned with the fledgling Immigration Law Clinic at Roma Tre University, one of the few law school clinics in Italy, where he gained intake, research, dispute resolution, and litigation experience. He also provided assistance to the Dispute Resolution Centre Foundacion in Rome.


Providing Vital Assistance and Conducting Dispute Resolution in Nepal and China

Marla Borkson, left, assembling
community health packs for the Villages
at Metro with members of the
American Nepal Medical Foundation

Upon hearing of the earthquake in Nepal, Marla Borkson immediately made plans to volunteer. She spent eight weeks working at the America Nepal Medical Foundation, supporting Nepali trauma centers, hospitals, and doctors, including arranging for medical supplies. She also worked with Tribhuvan University’s law department and the Legal Aid and Consultancy Center, a free legal-aid service for women and children.

Marla Borkson, top row, fourth from left,
and other interns at the Consulate
in Chengdu, China

“After spending two months in Nepal,” Borkson says, “I learned an incredible amount about the world and the standards to which we hold ourselves. I have experienced more than 300 earthquakes, visited more than eight affected districts, and coordinated aid for more than 55 villages. I learned that one person advocating can make a difference, and that people can be both horrific and absolutely wonderful in the face of a crisis.”

After her internship in Nepal, Borkson traveled to Chengdu, China, where she worked for the U.S. Consulate. “I was thrilled to be able to represent the U.S. State Department abroad in China,” she says.


TaeMin, second from right, with
BAC internship liaison and other
summer interns

TaeMin Kim worked at the Beijing Arbitration Commission (BAC) in Beijing, China, (BAC), where the law school has been placing interns for the past four years. BAC facilitates the resolution of cross-border, international commercial disputes through arbitration and mediation. Interns assist with pre-hearing preparations, observe arbitrations and mediations, translate legal publications and arbitration awards, participate in moot arbitrations, and research current issues of enforcement of awards.