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Class of 1998: Part 3

Elisabeth Mason: Managing Director, Robin Hood Foundation, New York

Elisabeth Mason saw firsthand the disparity between wealth and poverty while she was very young.

"My parents moved to East Harlem in the middle of the race riots in the late 1960s," she says. "I went to Dalton, an exclusive private school on the Upper East Side, and straddled two worlds. One hundred percent of my classmates went to college, many to Ivy League schools, while many of my neighborhood friends were getting pregnant at the age of 11 or 12."

Instead of starting a J.D. at age 22, Ms. Mason took a different route to law school.

As an undergraduate at Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges, she spent a semester in India studying Gandhi's approach to political change and working in a leper colony. After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Latin America as part of the Youth Development Initiative.

"I sort of got sucked into it," she says of Fundación Kukula, an agency she later founded to serve street youth in Costa Rica. "I had no support, 50 street kids, and 50 bucks in my pocket when I started."

While building and running what became a national program, Ms. Mason was appointed to the Costa Rican Presidential Commission on Youth. She soon became a consultant for the United Nations, UNICEF, and Save the Children.

Then came law school. Ms. Mason left Fundación Kukula because "I wanted to back up my experience with technical knowledge." In addition, it was her goal that the program ultimately be run by indigenous and sustainable leadership. "I thought if I didn't step away, no one would step up," she adds.

Ms. Mason entered Columbia Law School at the age of 30. Not surprisingly, she spent most of her time working on human rights issues and taking such courses as Human Rights, International Law, Recent Developments in the International Protection of Human Rights, Civil Rights Law, and Latin American Law, as well as seminars on Enforcing International Law and International Human Rights Advocacy.

She admits that her singular focus was a disadvantage when she became an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She benefited from her time at the firm, but soon joined the Robin Hood Foundation, a not-for-profit public charity fighting poverty in New York, as a managing director.

"There are only a few dozen jobs in the country at this level, and I had to jump at the opportunity," she explains. "We hope to provide $50 million this year in charitable giving. As a private player, that makes us very large."

Ms. Mason was attracted to Robin Hood because of its influence on national social policy and its creative approach to problem-solving, which often involves launching new charitable organizations and model programs.

She has even been able to support the work of Columbia Law School Adjunct Professor James O'Neal, adviser to the Human Rights Law Review.  "He runs Legal Outreach, a college bound program that has managed a 100 percent college matriculation rate from some of the worst public schools in the city," says Ms. Mason.

She also continues to serve on human rights and children's rights committees for local and national bar associations, as well as with Amnesty International.

 

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Trevor Morrison: Assistant Professor, Cornell Law School, Ithaca, N.Y.

Trevor Morrison's career thus far seems ideally suited for someone planning a life in academia.  He was a teaching assistant at Columbia, worked in the U.S. Department of Justice, practiced at a Washington, D.C. law firm, has published extensively, and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ‘59. Yet he nearly chose a different path.

After earning a degree in history from the University of British Columbia and spending a year at Sophia University in Japan, Mr. Morrison entered the Law School as a J.D./Ph.D. candidate, intending to become a Japanese legal historian with an emphasis on history, not law.

"I wanted to know enough about the law to be a good Japanese legal historian," he recalls.

That changed during his first year, however, as he found himself captivated by areas of the law he didn't even know existed before law school. Even after he decided on a career in the law, he explored a number of options.

"There was a time when I thought the only way to spend a fulfilling career was in academia," he says. "When I was able to put my legal education to work, I found there are many intellectually stimulating jobs outside of the academy that are also practically relevant." Among them were his work in the Justice Department's Office of the Solicitor General and Office of Legal Counsel, as well as a stint as an associate at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C.

"Mine was not a linear trajectory," he says, "but I've come full circle to the realization that an academic career is still right for me."

In summer 2003, he will join the faculty at Cornell Law School, where he will teach public law courses such as criminal law, constitutional law, and administrative law.  He has a particular interest in the law of habeas corpus, and may add a seminar in that area in his second year.

In both law school and his work experience, Mr. Morrison developed a strong interest in federal courts and federal jurisdiction, as well as criminal law and procedure. His interest was piqued by the Federal Courts course taught by Professor John F. Manning, and James S. Liebman's first-year course in Criminal Law.  Other courses that stood out were a seminar on Theories of Constitutional Interpretation with Professor Michael C. Dorf; and Complex and Multiparty Litigation with Professor Henry P. Monaghan, ("a sort of a Federal Courts II").

During his third year, Mr. Morrison took a Legal Theory workshop that brought in guest lecturers from other institutions and was attended by Columbia faculty and students. "That workshop enhanced my interest in law as an academic enterprise," he says.

What courses does Mr. Morrison wish he had taken but didn't? "I've worked on some interesting First Amendment cases in the past couple of years. Columbia has such a terrific First Amendment faculty, I wish I had taken an advanced course in that area," he says.

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