Law Alumnae Cross Paths at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

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    William & Mary Lawyers  Fahimeh Manjili J.D. ’15, at left, and Steffanie Garrett J.D. ’91 credit the Law School with helping to prepare them for their work in Phnom Penh.  
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William & Mary Law School's global footprint is quickly growing, and its tracks sometimes converge in unexpected places.

Take the case of Steffanie Garrett J.D. '91 and Fahimeh Manjili J.D. '15. Although their years at William & Mary did not overlap, and it may have seemed unlikely that their paths would cross except perhaps at a Law School reunion, Manjili and Garrett are now colleagues in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

The ECCC is the hybrid tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, set up by the United Nations in 2001 to try senior members of the Khmer Rouge and those most responsible for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979.

Garrett's path to the ECCC was rich and diverse. Immediately after graduating, she took a position as an assistant state's attorney in Chicago practicing in the criminal trial division, where she handled preliminary hearings, grand jury proceedings, misdemeanor and felony bench and jury trials, and appeals. After six years, she joined the corporate law firm in Chicago that ultimately became Holland & Knight and stayed there for 18 years, serving as a litigation partner and deputy practice group leader for Illinois litigation. In addition to corporate trial work, her areas of focus included fraud, corporate investigations and responding to government investigations.

In 2015, Garrett decided it was time to return to public service, her initial goal when applying to law school. When she learned about an opportunity to work at the ECCC, she knew immediately that the fit was perfect given her longstanding interest in international human rights issues. As an undergraduate at Smith College, she had spent her junior year abroad in Geneva, and during the summer after her 1L year she participated in the Law School's Summer Program in Madrid. While working as a state's attorney and in private practice, she had remained involved in a number of pro bono projects in the areas of the arts and human rights. The position at the ECCC would bring her career full circle.

Manjili's path leading to the ECCC was more direct. As a law student, she completed several internships focusing on international law and post-conflict reconstruction in preparation for her desired career in the field of international human rights. Through the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, she was awarded a summer internship after her 1L year in Cape Town, South Africa, with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, where she researched post-apartheid transitional justice issues. Following her 2L year, she interned at the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, where she prepared reports on issues such as the structure of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, Iran's human rights record and corruption.

While in law school, Manjili perfected her international research and writing skills by participating in two advanced Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (CLS/PCP) research projects focusing on transitional justice strategies in Africa and constitutional protections for land ownership in post-conflict settings. When a former internship supervisor told her about an opening in the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges at the ECCC, she knew immediately that the position was the perfect next step on her career path. With funding provided by the Law School's Post-Graduate Fellowship Program, she was awarded a five-month fellowship that began in September 2015.

Within the ECCC, the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges is responsible for collecting and evaluating evidence to determine whether cases will proceed to trial. Garrett's work includes cases involving sexual and gender-based violence, while Manjili is assisting the procedural team by drafting decisions and orders pertaining to the tribunal's Cases 003 and 004. Both credit the training they received at William & Mary with giving them the background and skills they needed for their current positions.

Professor Christie S. Warren, founding director of the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, said that the Law School's reputation in the field of international law and post-conflict reconstruction has grown steadily and surely over the past decades. "With funding provided by the Dean's Office, as well as from alumni and supporters who value the work our students do around the world, each summer we are able to provide up to two dozen international internships that allow students to work in developing and post-conflict countries and gain the hands-on experience that prepares them to effectively compete for prestigious international careers following graduation," she said. "Our pantheon of grads includes partners in multi-national law firms, ambassadors, United Nations legal officers, United States Foreign Service Officers and founders and members of a number of non-governmental organizations. The preparation and training we provide students is recognized and respected throughout the world."

Just ask Garrett and Manjili. Both credit their backgrounds at William & Mary with propelling them onto their rewarding career paths. As Garrett said, "I'm thrilled to be able to work with a group of talented and dedicated international lawyers and staff who are trying to make the world a better place."

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Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.