Something Different: NCSC International's Intern Learning Sessions

I think one of the best parts of having an internship at NCSC International has been the program’s dedication to “learning sessions.” Xiang and I have been participating in learning sessions throughout the summer to experience and learn about legal topics in unique ways. As we enter the last week of our internship, Xiang and I have completed the three major learning sessions for the summer: a discussion on rule of law theory, a presentation on human rights and extraordinary rendition, and a book discussion on A Civil Action.

In order to help us develop a better understanding of rule of law work, our first assigned learning session was to read chapters from Advancing the Rule of Law Abroad: Next Generation Reform, a book by Rachel Kleinfeld, a well-known and highly respected international affairs scholar. The selected chapters that we read explained rule of law work. The reading was especially helpful because many meanings have become attached to “rule of law,” and Kleinfeld helped make those definitions more clear. In fact, one of Kleinfeld’s arguments was that “rule of law” applies to competing definitions, leading to people having impractical expectations of rule of law reforms depending on what definition they subscribe to. After reading and discussing Kleinfeld’s work, I felt much more assured about my knowledge of rule of law reform, both in theory and in practice. The session helped to put work of NCSC International into a more clear perspective, as I felt as though I understood the underlying principles of rule of law reform much better.

Our second learning session was a presentation on human rights and rendition in the context of the European Court of Human Rights case El-Masri v. Macedonia. The presentation was researched, developed, and presented by myself, Xiang, and the office’s undergraduate intern, with the NCSC International staff taking time out of their schedules to be our audience. The purpose of the presentation was to be exposed to a contemporary international legal issue, and the El-Masri case’s focus on extraordinary rendition and torture made a very interesting topic. Our presentation was organized around the differing perspectives of the El-Masri case between the European Court of Human Rights and the United States judicial system. My specific contributions to the presentation involved the United States’ legal justification for conducting extraordinary rendition practices as well as the result of El-Masri’s lawsuit against the United States for conducting a botched rendition against him, which ended in a case dismissal based on the state secrets privilege. Presenting a complex legal issue as part of a team was not something I had the opportunity to do often during my first year of law school, and I really enjoyed completing the learning session.

The final learning session of the summer was a book discussion on A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. A Civil Action is a nonfiction book that documents an environmental and public health case against large corporations in Woburn, Massachusetts, who were accused of polluting the drinking water with carcinogenic chemicals. The book described the high incidence of childhood leukemia in Woburn and the prolonged legal battle of Woburn families suing the corporations. The book discussion itself focused on issues surrounding strategic litigation and its goal to bring about public change, as the lawsuit in A Civil Action brought public awareness to the issues of environmental protection and corporate responsibility. After the discussion, we talked about some internationally-based strategic litigation, including projects that have been sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal grants-giving donor that NCSC International often contracts with. While NCSC International itself does not partake in strategic litigation measures, the learning session allowed us to explore that area of development work.

The learning sessions have done a great job opening my eyes to a variety of different issues that the day-to-day work at NCSC International usually does not involve. The sessions were intellectually rewarding and allowed me to directly collaborate with my fellow interns. Plus, preparing for the sessions helped to energize my days when other assignments had hit a lull. Overall, I would chalk up the learning sessions as a high point from my summer internship.