In a remote area of Australia’s Northern Territory, Elizabeth O’Shea ’16 LL.M. dedicated a large portion of her practice in 2014 to an Aboriginal community trying to prevent the Commonwealth from turning land the residents owned into a nuclear waste site.
As a senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, the law firm representing the indigenous community, O’Shea was moved by the group’s persistence to stop the government from using the area where they lived as a storage space for the country’s radioactive waste. After a great deal of advocacy and hard work in conjunction with community members, the government agreed in 2014 to drop the plan to use the site for nuclear waste. That experience, O’Shea says, demonstrated how her work can collaborate with and assist social movements. It influenced her to attend Columbia Law School, where she earned a Human Rights LL.M. Fellowship that will allow her to strengthen her skills in an effort to help others.
“You see glimpses of what a fair and just world would look like,” O’Shea says, of working with underrepresented communities. “It’s inspiring to watch people who, when given the opportunity, are able to articulate really easily and in a forthright manner what justice means to them.”
As part of the Law School’s LL.M. program, O’Shea has conducted human rights reporting as a Human Rights Clinic student. She has also learned new research methods that will help her better serve clients going forward.
“Columbia Law School puts a lot of effort into cultivating human rights lawyers who are genuinely cross-disciplinary,” she says. “That is very important to being a successful practitioner.”
O’Shea hopes to utilize her enhanced legal skills to better serve underprivileged communities in Australia when she returns to Maurice Blackburn after graduation.
“There’s no place that you are more likely to have an impact on social justice than in your home country,” she says. “And it’s really important to work at how you can best contribute to a fairer society.”