Brooke J. Oppenheimer (Class of 2006)
I had a specific reason to enter law school: to gain the experience necessary to advocate effectively for the rights of African children. I chose New England School of Law for a specific reason as well; New England School of Law had strong international law and social development programs. This is what I was looking for in a law school.
After undergrad, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps where I served as a math/science teacher for two years in The Gambia. Much of my extra-curricular work involved developing educational policies, anti-corporal punishment schemes, and other tools to protect the needs of children. Though this experience was truly rewarding for me, I felt that I could not effectively protect the rights of children without the ability to advocate for the rights of children before courts of law. Consequently, I decided that a law degree would be my best tool.
After my first year of law school, I interned at Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in Kampala, Uganda. I was responsible for researching police and prison conditions, suspect's access to justice, and torture by government entities. Though I successfully completed this work, I started focusing on the rights of children in detention and child abuse victims. I became seriously frustrated by the numbers of children who were being unlawfully detained. So, I decided to ask some questions. I interviewed a child who had been detained for over a year but had never been to court. With this information, I started asking questions at the Office of the Prosecutors, the police, and the courts. Within weeks, I was able to secure the release of this child because there was no criminal file pending against this child; he merely was being detained without mandate. This success made me realize that these children are in desperate need of legal representation. So, I talked with some Ugandan lawyers and social workers. This talk led to the idea that we should start an organization that provides these services. But nothing was concrete. I wasn?t sure how to start such an organization or run one for that matter.
I came back that summer and met with Professor Elizabeth Spahn, a professor who has become such an inspiration and so supportive of all my endeavors. I was telling her about my summer and about this crazy idea to start a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to children. At this time, starting an organization seemed like one of those crazy ideas that I sometimes had?. Professor Spahn gave me the support, both emotionally and academically, to start such an organization. I know that I would not have had the courage to do such a crazy and difficult thing without her continuous support. Professor Spahn also connected me to other New England School of Law professors and students who were key to the commencement of this organization such as Professor Sarah Salter who provided advise on how to obtain our tax exempt status, Professor Colin Smith who assisted with business management advise, and Alim Adatia, a fellow student (who I did not know at the time) who had lived and worked in the DRC--- Alim is now the Chairman of the Board and the Vice President of the organization. Many cannot believe that I started a nonprofit organization in Uganda. I didn?t start a nonprofit organization: the New England School of Law community started this organization.
Now, this organization, Advocates for the African Child (AAC) is being successfully run in Uganda. Not only has it assisted over 40 children with legal representation, it has also provided internships to law students. Presently, we have one intern from New England School of Law who is here with us. The experience allows her to experience legal issues in a developing country, as well typical court representation.
While at NESL, I also interned with the Mass. Office of the Attorney General through the Government Lawyer Clinic. I worked closely with the phenomenal lawyers suing large companies who were engaging in consumer fraud. Though I knew that I wanted to move to Africa, this experience really taught me technical legal writing and advocacy while still allowing me to protect the interests of individuals?in this case, consumers. I enjoyed this clinic experience so much that I continued working there for the following semester.
Besides the vast array of public interest clinics that New England School of Law provides, there are also public interest opportunities available outside of the U.S that are supported by NESL. I had the opportunity to intern with a defence team at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia where I was assisting in the defence of two Kosovar Albanians. Working on a defense team at one of the most recognized and supported tribunal in the world was a dream come true. This internship gave me the opportunity to meet world renowned individuals in the international criminal law arena. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to continue to work for this defence team, even though I am physically situated in Uganda. Experiences like these are the reason why my three years were so phenomenal. For me, New England School of Law made this all happen. New England School of Law also opportunities to work with prisoners, children, and other groups but I myself did not engage in these opportunities; something that I regret now for the opportunities were phenomenal.
When I was a first year law student, I also worked with Shelter Legal Services where I was able to represent an indigent woman in a housing dispute. It was a great opportunity for me, especially as a first year student. I enrolled in the War Crimes Project where I wrote a report which was used by Amnesty International on the Compliance of Afghanistan's law to the Torture Convention. My third year, I was a member of CILP's student advisory board.
I had the chance to attend a law school in Texas for free, but I chose to go to New England School of Law because of its excellent opportunities in international law and juvenile justice. I do not regret my decision at all for my experience at New England School of Law was beyond my expectations. If it weren?t for the support of New England School of Law faculty and for the amazing opportunities in the public service arena, I would not be where I am today. Engaging in public service work while in law school really makes the experience that much better and worthwhile.