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My Law School Story: Fady Samaan, International Law
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If you want to use the practice of law to help people—and you want to use international law in particular—you can learn a lot from Fady Samaan, New England Law Class of 2019. From his childhood in Egypt to a six-month legal internship with the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims last year, Fady has been on a unique path toward an international career that gives a voice to the voiceless.

Keep reading to learn more about his experiences, get a sneak peek at the work international lawyers do, and discover why it’s so important to get internships in law school...

Growing up in Egypt, Fady Samaan was fascinated—and troubled—by much of the political discord and corruption in his home country. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that he sustained an interest in politics and international affairs ever since. He was heavily involved in Model UN in high school and even attended a conference at The Hague. That’s where his interest in international law began, he said.

Fady eventually left Egypt to study political science at Northeastern University in Boston, where one of his cooperative education experiences took him to the United Nations Headquarters. While law school had been in the back of his mind, that interest crystalized when he heard members of the UN General Assembly speak on the rule of law and its importance to humanity.

“The rule of law is the most important thing that we have. The rule of law is what we must respect, adhere to, and protect,” Fady said, echoing the heads of state he heard speak.

After graduating from college and spending one year as a paralegal at an immigration law firm, Fady came to New England Law | Boston in the fall of 2016. Then, in the spring of his 1L year, the kind of international law opportunity he’d been looking for since high school found him...

An insider look at an ICC internship

From June 1 to December 1, 2017, Fady served as the Program/Legal Intern for the Trust Fund for Victims for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC, housed in The Hague in the Netherlands, tries war crimes and other crimes against humanity. The Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) was established to ensure people affected by such crimes receive the reparations and assistance they need to live a life of “hope, dignity, and respect.” The reparations and assistance can take many forms, from monetary awards to helping individuals overcome the physical and psychological devastations of war to rebuilding infrastructure and much more.

The work of the Trust Fund for Victims is closely tied to the ICC’s judicial proceedings. So for a law student like Fady, the internship was a perfect fit. It also gave him a chance to explore his interest in international law and the ICC more in depth.

Fady learned about the internship from his Constitutional Law professor, Dina Haynes, who approached him about possible summer positions with the ICC. With a longstanding goal of becoming an ICC prosecutor, Fady was decidedly interested and ready to work “anywhere to get [his] foot in the door.” He ultimately learned that they needed interns for the Trust Fund for Victims, and he applied. (Spoiler alert: he got the job.)

As with many legal internships, applying for the role involved sending a resume, letter of motivation, and references. The application also called for an essay, and Fady’s was informed by TFV reports he read—a fact that was not lost on his internship supervisor. She commented on that application essay his very first day on the job, saying it showed he actually took the time to read and understand their work.

So Fady joined the TFV’s busy team. His responsibilities involved a variety of things, like helping develop a new fundraising strategy for a reparations order for the Al Mahdi case, where mausoleums and other holy sites in Timbuktu were destroyed by Malian insurgents. It was only the third reparations ruling the ICC had ever issued, and the Trust Fund for Victims, responsible for carrying out the court’s orders, needed analysis specific to funding a reparations order. Fady contributed by researching various countries, investigating their ties to Mali and reasons why the country had incentives to give to the reparations order.

“I did a lot of legal work and legal analysis,” he said. “I would edit on a daily basis whatever my supervisor needed to submit,” like program reports, project closeout reports, annual reports. Lots of reports. But as Fady said, legal research may not be the most glamorous, but “it matters to someone.”

For the ICC’s Katanga case, Fady learned about the 297 victims and categorized the harms they experienced. He also drafted a progress report for the Lubanga assistance program and worked on other draft implementation plans as well.

“I gained an understanding for international tribunals that I hadn’t had previously,” Fady said, and “a lot of knowledge on how the ICC works.”

Besides the legal work. Fady fielded different requests to meet the needs of the organization and its small team. As his supervisor joked, “Don’t worry, we’ll work you to the bone.” (His response? “Good. Let’s do it.”)

The internship also honed his professional skills, making him a stronger writer, reader, and researcher. After all, you need to process information quite efficiently when you’re asked to condense 1,000+ pages—in French—down to six. Fady also had an unexpected advantage in having a U.S. education, which contributed to his becoming the de facto proofreader (another valuable experience).

But Fady insists that you don’t need to be a super-speed reader who speaks French and also has impeccable English copyediting skills to be a valuable employee in these international legal settings. “Whatever skills you have will be used, and you will pick up a bunch of other skills,” he said. Even as an intern, “they do give you meaningful work.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the internship opened his eyes to new possibilities and taught him the realities of working in an organization like the ICC. “It’s helped me understand what I want to do,” he said. In fact, it pushed him in a different direction entirely. (But more on that in a second.)

Advice for law students

Looking for your own legal internship at the ICC, Trust Fund for Victims, or a similar international law organization? Heed Fady’s advice: “The number one thing is having an open mind,” he said.

The international law community is about as unique and diverse as you might expect. “When you work in the international sector or in international workplaces in general, you don’t meet the typical employees you would meet in the U.S.” That means encountering colleagues from an array of cultural backgrounds, including different levels of shared language proficiency. Accordingly, knowing other languages gives you a distinct advantage. Fady said his Model UN experience also taught him how to dress and conduct himself at the ICC. So if you have yet to enroll in law school, pursuing similar extracurriculars might be helpful as well.

Fortunately, navigating this world as a legal intern (or lawyer, for that matter) isn’t as difficult as it seems. Just be respectful and recognize that you’re part of a collective culture—a culture that can teach you a lot and support you as you work toward your professional goals. “Be willing to listen to other people giving you advice,” Fady said. At the end of the day, you may find a new and useful insight. “You lose nothing from listening.”

He also has one evergreen piece of advice for law students and lawyers, whether they’re in the international sector or not: “You need to network,” he said. “You need to shake the hands. You need to say hello in the morning. And it takes nothing to say good morning to somebody.”

Though Fady isn’t a huge fan of blanket “networking,” he reminds students that it can—and should—be about creating genuine relationships. Also remember how small the legal community is, particularly when you get into niche areas like international law. Everyone knows each other. And that’s as true in The Hague as it is in a local firm or your law school community.

“Send a professor an email and have coffee with them,” he advises. “Take two minutes out of your day to talk to somebody.” Keep in touch with friends and colleagues over the years. Sure, the idea of networking can feel a little daunting, but “it’s worth it. You never know what could end up happening. You never know where you’ll end up.” That cup of coffee you had three years ago might lead to a lunch meeting, a job, or a whole new career path.

“I’m still incredibly humbled that Professor Haynes approached me,” he said. “I will remain eternally grateful to her and Professor [Lisa] Laplante.” Ever modest, he chalks their support up to being an attentive student in class. (Though being the type of person who invests in relationships probably helped too.)

“The most gratifying part of teaching is seeing my students go out and do good in the world,” Professor Haynes said. “I will always try to help connect a qualified student to his or her dream job. I know that my colleagues feel the same way. And Fady’s advice is exactly right: the fact that he talked to someone at our school about his dream job helped me to help him land it.” (In addition to teaching, Professor Haynes serves as the Director of the Human Rights and Immigration Law Project at New England Law | Boston. Previously, she was an international human rights lawyer, serving as Director General of the Human Rights Department for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina and as a Protection Officer with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees.)

What does the future hold?

Fady once saw himself as an ICC prosecutor. “After working hard for 30 years, that’s where I wanted to end up,” he said. Now, after seeing it firsthand, he’s not so sure.

“What I hope to do is help,” he said simply. “Whether that means being an immigration attorney, helping people file correct paperwork to move and find better lives, or it means going back to the ICC...or working in the nonprofit sector.”

Although Fady said he’s leaning toward the nonprofit world these days, like so many law students (and even working lawyers), his professional path is still unclear. “But as Professor [Lawrence] Friedman kindly said to me, ‘There’s a lot of jobs,’” he said.

“I truly believe in the Trust Fund’s mission and the work it does,” Fady said. All he knows is that he wants to do similar work in the future: “I was doing work that mattered.”

Jessica Tomer is the Web Content Manager at New England Law | Boston.

Learn more about international legal externships.