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Six Rising Stars Complete First Class of Diversity Fellows

By Amy Walldorf

In August, the ABA Section of International Law’s first Diversity Fellowship Program will complete its first class of fellows. The hard work of the six accomplished young lawyers will continue on in several leadership positions in the Section and special projects.

The competitive and demanding Diversity Fellowship Program was launched in 2015 as a two-year pilot program to develop strong leaders and provide opportunities for people of different backgrounds to become more involved in the Section. The program reinforces the ABA’s Goal III, to “promote full and equal participation in our association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons” and to “eliminate bias in the legal profession and justice system.” Applicants included lawyers of different races, different ethnic backgrounds, lawyers with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) lawyers, and female lawyers.

Accepted fellows were integrated into several committees and mentored by several Section leaders throughout the program. The fellows also attended Section meetings and events to reinforce their understanding of Section operations and to participate in panel presentations and networking opportunities available at each event.

The involvement of these individuals within the Section benefits the individuals by providing them with leadership opportunities and allowing them to work closely with mentors who are experienced and accomplished in their field. The program creates a pipeline of talented diverse lawyers that will help the Section reach its long-term strategic goals. The fellows also set long- and short-term goals, which were periodically updated and meticulously recorded. All of the fellows successfully reached or exceeded the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the program.

The program has been overwhelmingly successful, thanks in no small part to the dedication of the fellows themselves. Each of the fellows grew and reached milestones both personally and professionally. All of them remain unwaveringly dedicated to the Section of International Law and hold the Diversity Fellowship Program in the highest of regard. This inaugural class of diversity fellows will continue to be involved in many exciting and interesting projects in the Section.

Jimena Conde

Jimena Conde already had an outstanding career in international law working in government when she joined the fellowship program. Jimena enjoyed that the program gave her the opportunity to step outside what she referred to as her “9 to 5 bubble” and experience firsthand the many facets of international law by interacting with members of the Section’s 64 committees. She believes the fellowship program was an opportunity that will strengthen her understanding and perception of international law, undoubtedly affecting her approach to the law classes that she teaches. The fellowship program also allowed Jimena to connect with lawyers who she otherwise may have never met. Jimena is foreign trained and finds it more difficult to meet people practicing international law back home. It has been refreshing for her to have the opportunity to interact with a large group of lawyers focused on international law. She recalled attending several panels at the recent Section meeting in Washington, D.C., and being impressed by the diversity of attendees and panelists. When she was in school, fewer people were interested in encouraging diversity in international law. The efforts of organizations like the Section of International Law to galvanize diversification have inspired her. In Jimena’s opinion, the true value of varying the voices that contribute to international law is the discussion of issues of international reality being led by the people directly affected by those issues.

While she has been encouraged by the expansion of diversity in international law even in the years since she was in law school, Jimena believes that there is still more room for growth. She will, along with the other diversity fellows, undoubtedly play a role in the variegation, growth, and development of international law for years to come by continuing the hard work and positive impact she has been a part of within the Section. In her two years as a diversity fellow, Jimena was particularly proud of the success she experienced developing The Clarion: The IHRC Journal of Human Rights, a publication that provides a space for Section members to voice their opinions and contribute to discussion. She developed The Clarion with her International Human Rights Committee (IHRC) co-chair, Luke Wilson, and with the help of Stephanie Williams. She recalled the rewarding, though often challenging, endeavor of encouraging people to write articles and participate in the development of The Clarion, a process that still requires a great deal of effort.

Jimena looks forward to staying involved within the Section not only by nurturing The Clarion as it progresses, but also by continuing to serve as the co-chair of the IHRC and promoting its goals. Currently, the IHRC is focused on legislation to fight human trafficking and shape refugee laws, two areas that Jimena is passionate about. Jimena is incredibly grateful for the knowledge gained and experiences to be had during her fellowship. In her own words, “To be part of the Section’s Diversity Fellowship Program has been an extraordinarily gratifying experience, for it has helped me to connect with lawyers from all over the world, broaden my perceptions on how International Law is practiced in different legal cultures and acquire a broader vision of the intricacies of the present international realities.’’

Joyce Williams

Joyce Williams distinctly remembers the attitude that surrounded international law when she was in law school. It was regarded as a field reserved only for the elites and, in many ways, an unattainable and unrealistic career path. Joyce feels that the task of opening the field of international law to people with differing cultures, beliefs, and experiences has been poorly handled in the past. Historically, the field has been populated by a slew of lawyers with relatively homogenous backgrounds, an environment that, for many lawyers, not worth the effort to break into if you did not fit the proverbial mold. In light of this reputation, Joyce has been particularly encouraged by the positive impact of the Diversity Fellowship Program and its initiative to expand the scope of somewhat divergent lawyers practicing international law.

Joyce asserts that having lawyers with a wider range of backgrounds increases the ability for any issue to be perceived with deeper understanding. She believes if there are ethnic or situational similarities between lawyer and client, they will comprehend each other more deeply, allowing their relationship to go beyond the practice of law. This empathy maximizes the opportunity for the lawyer to help the client procure a positive outcome. Joyce enjoyed the opportunity to speak at multiple law schools and high schools about the importance of diversity within the field of international law, lectures that proved extremely inspiring for those lucky enough to attend.

Joyce hopes to stay active with the Young Lawyer’s Interest Network (YIN), through which she will doubtless continue to embolden young minds and promote a dialogue about getting young people interested in international law and the importance of diversity. Aside from impacting students, Joyce has done a masterful job serving in a leadership role for the International Trade Committee, a role she was asked to fill almost immediately after joining the committee. She has been successful enough to win an award for her work in the position, which she humbly attributes to the excellent leadership and mentorship within the committee and the Section as a whole. In addition to her outstanding merit as a leader, she is hoping to soon publish a book with her co-chair. The mentors that guided Joyce in the International Trade Committee make up a significant part of the network that she has built within the Section. Joyce believes that without the Diversity Fellowship she would not have been given access to a large network of lawyers that will prove invaluable as she continues to develop her already impressive career. Joyce has appreciated the productivity of the program and looks forward to continuing its positive impact. Joyce feels that she has grown and benefitted significantly from her experiences during her two-year tenure as a fellow, a service that she reciprocated in all she has contributed to the Section. In her own words, “The Diversity Fellowship gave me a platform to engage people of all backgrounds in solution-oriented conversations about diversity in legal education and practice. I look forwarding to continuing this engagement on a comprehensive platform”

Kabir Duggal

It may be hard to believe, given his communicative and extroverted nature, but at one point Kabir Duggal found the size of the Section somewhat daunting. He did not know where to start or who to reach out to in order to get connected and involved. The Diversity Fellowship centered Kabir within the ABA and surrounded him with people who were invested in his growth. He admits that it would have been possible to find a path into the ABA without the fellowship program, but Kabir is appreciative of the simplicity the program brought to the process. According to Kabir, “The ABA Section of International Law’s Diversity Fellowship is a great program because it helps integrate you within the Section, helps you meet fantastic people, helps prepare you for leadership positions, and above all helps promote a great cause of diversity.” He created relationships of both a professional and personal nature while serving as a fellow and mentioned his appreciation of the many people in the Section who will answer his e-mails at all hours of the night and are dedicated to his success.

Kabir believes that he has an obligation to give back to the fellowship program, and he has done so by encouraging young lawyers to apply, a mentorship opportunity he has relished. In addition to promoting and supporting the Diversity Fellowship program, Kabir hopes to increase his contributions to the Section in the future by continuing to serve in leadership positions within his committee and eventually serving in a more senior capacity. He does not see the end of the fellowship as the terminus of his work with the Section, but the beginning. He attributes much of his maturity and preparation for responsibility to the Diversity Fellowship program, noting that this outcome was one of the program’s primary goals. Kabir recalls with pride many professional experiences and opportunities during his two-year term as a diversity fellow. In preparation for The 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero, Kabir worked with the International Arbitration Committee to create a special newsletter and organize a highly successful teleconference in under a week’s time.

Kabir claims that the fellowship allowed him to develop a more comprehensive understanding of international law and its immense range. He practices in international dispute but recalls attending a panel at one of the Section’s meetings this past year on human rights issues of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, an area of international law that he did not know much about. In Kabir’s opinion, it is imperative to include people from diverse backgrounds in international law. He feels that law should adopt diversity requirements that mimic those used by companies and universities. According to Kabir, the world we live in is diverse, and mirroring that diversity within the field of international law by incorporating a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and views will broaden the reality and experiences being taken into account, ultimately improving the system.

Ireneo Reus

Ireneo Reus had many impressive and enviable accomplishments while serving as a diversity fellow. He is particularly proud to have had the privilege of organizing and moderating two programs at the Section’s fall 2016 and spring 2017 meetings. Ireneo considered it a tremendous honor to coordinate the programs and credits the Diversity Fellowship Program with providing the strong platform that allowed him to recruit highly qualified and diverse speakers. The Diversity Committee served as the primary sponsor for both of Ireneo’s programs. In addition to the professional experiences Ireneo gained from the program, he expanded his understanding of international law and fostered a lasting relationships with lawyers in his field. The connections Ireneo has made to other lawyers will undoubtedly prove invaluable in his career and have already been one of many factors inspiring Ireneo to continue growing his international law practice and client base.

Ireneo appreciates the experiences that were a part of his involvement in the fellowship program and is a strong proponent of increasing diversity in the justice system. Ireneo believes the varied population of his home state, California, is a strength of the state that, if leveraged, can eliminate bias and increase efficiency in the judicial system. If reflected in members of the state’s attorney and judiciary communities, he believes the multiplicity of the multiracial community in California will strengthen the legal system. Ireneo achieved great success and took significant strides toward reaching his specific goals as a fellow and plans to continue to astound everyone following his career.

Ireneo recounted his time as a fellow, saying, “The fellowship has allowed me to take a step toward my goal of creating a closer connection between the Section of International Law and the NAPABA. There is still a lot of work to be done to reach this goal, and I look forward to coordinating with the Section to reaching it.” In addition to his efforts to improving relations between NAPABA and the Section of International Law, Ireneo will serve as a leader within the Section. He looks forward to continuing to promote diversity and inclusion in law by serving as one of the deputies for the 2017–2018 year under Lisa Ryan, the Section’s incoming vice chair. He will certainly leave a lasting and influential impression on the landscape of international law.

Star Lopez

Star Lopez was first exposed to international law in the public sector, vetting with the U.S. State Department, which shaped her opinion of international law. Until the fellowship, Star viewed international law through the narrow lens of national security issues. Through the guidance of the fellowship program, Star was introduced to the broad spectrum of international law applications, which impacted the way she views international law today. As she puts it, “Today, international law permeates all elements of the legal practice. Understanding this knowledge base is instrumental to providing thorough legal advice. The ABA Section of International Law consists of a well-rounded cohort, including professionals whose practices span the gamut of law, from tax to trade to national security.”

Armed with the expertise of the strong network of established lawyers she built while serving as a fellow, Star found an avenue of international law that she could apply in her next career move. Star elected to move into the private sector and was delighted to find that she could use her passion for international law to allow her to connect to and work with international clients interested in doing business within the United States.

Star is particularly grateful for the aid of the Diversity Fellowship Program as she navigates the transition from a military to civilian focus and lifestyle and for the array of accomplished, wise lawyers she has had the privilege of observing and soliciting advice from. Her career moves have already been influenced by advice she received in her roles within the Section, and she certainly plans to maintain the professional relationships that supported her. Star is also pleased to have had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the Section’s recent conference in New York City and to be a contributing author for the Year in Review, a prestigious annual journal that serves as a survey of law from around the world. Acting as a contributing author for the Year in Review is a highly esteemed recognition, which shows great merit. Star certainly proved herself worthy of the honor during her time as a fellow and beyond. In the future, Star will continue to serve as the chair of the local Bar in Orange County. Though her ability to accept leadership roles within the Section are limited by her geographic location, Star looks forward to maintaining the personal and professional relationships she has developed over the past two years and values immensely.

Paula Henin

Paula Henin was already certain that she wanted to practice international law years before she became a participant in the Diversity Fellowship Program. However, she feels that the fellowship allowed her to expand her knowledge of international law and to connect with countless experts in the field, an experience she believes would not have been possible without the Fellowship Program. She is proud not only to have been a member of the inaugural class of diversity fellows, but to be involved within the American Bar Association as a whole and to contribute to its impactful work.

She has been impressed and inspired by each of her peers within the fellowship, a sentiment that was, no doubt, mutual. Paula had the honor of serving alongside eight other lawyers to contribute to and edit the International Courts Committee’s submission to the 2016 Year in Review and moderating a panel at the 2017 spring meeting in Washington, D.C., on climate change arbitration. Both of these experiences were particularly meaningful to Paula and she takes great pride in having served the Section these ways.

Paula was equally motivated by the leadership roles she occupied within several committees, including the International Arbitration Committee, the Publications Year in Review of the International Courts Committee, and the United Nations and International Organizations Committee. She remarked on the welcoming and friendly spirit of each of the committees and felt as though they were truly committed to supporting her and helping her succeed within her role. Serving alongside the other leaders of these committees allowed her to develop her own leadership skills, and she is positive that the lasting relationships she formed in these committees will continue to have a positive impact on her career in the future. She feels she has learned a great deal from the chairs and vice chairs of each of these committees and has also developed more of an understanding of how she would like to pursue her passions in international law. She said, “My time as International Courts Committee vice-chair for publications and the Year-in-Review furthered my desire to be involved in developing publications for the Section and working collaboratively with professionals across different areas of specialization within international law.” The Section will look forward to her contributions to its publications and within its committees and to seeing how she will continue to build upon her already remarkable career achievements.

For questions about the Diversity Fellowship Program or other diversity activities within the ABA Section of International Law, please contact Diversity Officer Mark Wojcik or Director of Membership Angela Benson.

Amy Walldorf

Amy Walldorf is an intern with the ABA Section of International Law and extends a special thanks to Diversity Officer Mark Wojcik for his support of the Diversity Fellowship program and his contributions to this article.