HLS Students Venture Outside Cambridge for Winter Term with a Difference


Outside a Shari’a Court in Mogadishu
Security escort picking up Nik at the airfield

While some second and third year students passed the winter term in typical fashion, racking up credits in the plethora of courses and clinicals offered at the law school in the three week long session, others opted to expand their horizons. Whether the choice is the product of altruistic or professional motivations or the product of a determination not to spend any more time enduring a Cambridge winter than absolutely necessary, Winter 2006 saw Harvard students all over the globe.

Vikram Thomas, 2L, spent the Winter Term in India doing research on legal outsourcing. “I highly recommend going away next year,” he enthuses. “I had a great time.” He and classmate, Shaun Mathew, spent a week each in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. The pair’s research expedition was sponsored by Professor David Wilkins through the law school’s Winter Writing Program. Thomas’s research on the outsourcing of legal services to India included interviews with corporate attorneys, government officials, and business people who had started outsourcing firms to cater to demand from US firms.

At the end of a hard day’s work in Mumbai, which boasts a “famously good nightlife”, the pair had no dearth of entertainment options. Thomas’s hostess in Mumbai, a family friend, is a well-connected friend-which meant that “we got to hang out with celebrities,” reports Thomas. “On the whole,” he remarks, “the time spent in India was a lot of fun and a change of pace.” Because most of the organizational work was completed prior to the January term, the experience was smooth sailing. “It was nice to be out of Cambridge for the winter term,” Thomas says.

Yaneris Rosa, 2L spent Winter Session with the Ghana Winter Project on what was her second trip to Ghana. HLS Professor Lucie White launched the Project in Winter 2000- 2001 and directs it. Professor White accompanies a team of student interns to Ghana to work on a Right to Health initiative each Winter Term as part of the course, “Making Rights Real.” Team members typically include law students, urban planning students, graduate students in development policy, and Harvard School of Public Health students from Professor Stephen Marks’ winter course on field experience in health and human rights. The project is conducted in partnership with the University of Ghana-Legon’s Law and Public Health faculties and the Ghana Legal Resources Centre, one of Ghana’s leading economic and social rights advocacy organizations.

The internship took Yani and her classmates “mostly to underprivileged areas of Accra and to Bolgatanga,” a rural town known as the crafts centre of northern Ghana and home of the so-called “Bolga hats.” Yani worked alongside human rights non-governmental organizations, compiling reports and action plans for a public health project to implement a National Health Insurance Scheme in the communities. “There were a number issues affecting implementation of the Scheme,” Yani said. “People could not afford the fees or were unfamiliar with the scheme.” When not toiling diligently in the field, Yani says, “We did the usual stuff; we went to the beach, went to the clubs.” Yani described nightlife in Accra as being very similar to her New York stomping grounds.

Lindsay Lutz, 2L, spent her winter in Philadelphia at the Federal Defenders Association of Philadelphia’s Capital Habeas Unit. She was accompanied by classmate Jess Brand, who Lindsay says “planned everything.” The externship was part of a death penalty clinical through which some ten students spent winter term in different cities conducting research for death penalty appeals. Lindsay cites as particularly memorable an opportunity they had to accompany attorneys on client visits with two death row inmates.

The trip was the Indiana native’s first visit to Philadelphia. “It was fun to explore a new city for three weeks,” Lindsay says. She “would definitely recommend” the program: “It’s something I could see myself doing, eventually.” She adds that, “Spending January term away from campus was a great way to get a break from a classroom setting and to get a feeling for an area of law that I didn’t know much about beforehand.”

Nikolaus Grubeck, one intrepid LLM student, had a lifetime’s worth of excitement over Winter Term. Nik split his term between Ethiopia, conducting research under the aegis of the Human Rights Program, and Somalia, where he was researching his LLM thesis. Nik, a veteran student of conflict resolution in war-torn states, traveled to Ethiopia with two other students and one supervisor, clinical advocacy fellow Bonnie Docherty.

There, they conducted investigations of alleged human rights abuses occurring in an area very different culturally from the rest of Ethiopia. Investigating reports of intertribal conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings, torture, and sexual abuses, the students interviewed witnesses and took testimony in conditions that may be euphemistically described as tense, in part because of the nature of information that they collected from witnesses. “It’s strange,” says Nik, “because you create a barrier between your work and yourself.”

Nik spent the second part of Winter Term in Somalia on an independent study researching his LLM thesis entitled “Methods of Dispute Resolution Operating in Failed States: the Case of Somalia.” The aim of the study is to try to find out what methods of dispute resolution exist in a state without governmental structure. Nik frames his project as follows: “Given fifteen years of uninterrupted anarchy, the absence of judicial mechanisms, no government to speak of and no monopoly on violence, how do you resolve dispute without resorting to murder?” He notes the repeated failure that has ensued from attempts to impose a stable government on the region. As Nik explains, “There’s some form of order and structure in the chaos. If you want to create a stable new government, you need to take account of the players that are already there.” Doing otherwise is a prescription for further conflict.

Somalia was an intense experience. The hours, from 7am in the morning until late at night, made for a grueling schedule. In addition, there was the pressure of constant vigilance and insecurity because of the potential for violence. “The father of one of my translators was beheaded while I was there. He’d been a military officer in the old regime,” recounts Nik. Though the nature of his work is sometimes depressing, Nik is happy with the opportunities he has had to do such work while at Harvard. He praises the resources Harvard offers over Oxford, where he studied previously. While Oxford was extremely supportive in terms of academics and logistics, it was no match for Harvard’s wealth: in addition to a Reginald F. Lewis Fellowship, Nik was supported by the Program on Negotiation and Islamic Legal Studies Program, ILSP. ILSP also provided Nik with letters of introduction and support in English and Arabic and assisted in research preparations.

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