When Claire O’Connell ’16 came to Columbia Law School, she had already had a deep interest in international relations. As an undergraduate at Occidental College in California, she studied diplomacy and world affairs; by the time she arrived in Morningside Heights, she knew she wanted to work in the field.
So, in her final year at Columbia, she applied—and was chosen—to participate in the International Court of Justice’s University Traineeship Programme, a select, nine-month clerkship for recent law graduates. The International Court of Justice—also known as the World Court—was established in 1945 as the judicial branch of the United Nations. Located in The Hague, the court’s 15 judges settle disputes between member states within the bounds of international law.
Working in the chambers of Dalveer Bhandari, a former senior judge on the Indian Supreme Court, O’Connell had the opportunity to assist on several high-profile matters, including working on rulings on provisional measures in disputes between Russia and Ukraine, and India and Pakistan.
“I saw the traineeship as an amazing opportunity to delve into many, many different areas of public international law,” said O’Connell, who will be a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell after she finishes the traineeship this month. “It’s the best training ground if this is something you’re passionate about.”
That training ground has been well trod by Columbia Law School graduates. Since the program began in 1999, a graduate of the Law School has been selected nearly every year. The program comes with a $35,000 stipend, currently funded through the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law.
Julia Sherman ’17 will be a member of the court’s newest traineeship class starting in September. Like O’Connell, Sherman came to the Law School with a strong background and interest in international and human rights law (she was a Model United Nations member in high school). During her time at Columbia, Sherman worked at Human Rights Watch and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (O’Connell also externed at the latter, known as the ICTY). Sherman said she was inspired by courses with lecturer Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project; Visiting Professor Amal Clooney; and Columbia Law School Professors Sarah H. Cleveland and Petros Mavroidis, among others.
Both O’Connell and Sherman have credited Professor Lori Fisler Damrosch as a major influence on their career paths so far. Damrosch advised Sherman on her student note, “The Right to an Interpreter under Customary International Law,” which was published in the spring 2017 issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, where Sherman served this past year as editor-in-chief.
“Professor Damrosch has been a guiding light throughout my law school experience,” Sherman said. “I tried to take as many courses as I could with her. I thought if I could do well by her standards, I might have a shot.”
Damrosch, who served in the Office of the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State before joining the Law School, has served as a liaison to the ICJ Traineeship Program since its inception. During her time at the State Department, she worked on cases before the court, including one arising out of the Iran hostage crisis and another involving the World Health Organization. She also has edited a book about the court and served as part of the U.S. group that considers nominations for ICJ judgeships.
The traineeship, which is open to J.D.s and LL.M.s, is “a kind of capstone of students’ experience at the culmination of their legal education after having intensively prepared in the field of international law,” Damrosch said. “What they are bringing to the court is a deep expertise in international law. This position will deepen their knowledge of the most important tribunal in the field.”
According to Damrosch, former Columbia Law School trainees have gone on to full-time positions at the ICJ, the International Criminal Court, the U.S. Department of State, and the United Nations, among other institutions.
O’Connell said the Law School does a great job preparing students for careers in international law. She added that it was a “pleasure and a privilege” to begin her career at the International Court of Justice.
Going to work at the court’s location in the Peace Palace each day was “awe-inspiring” given its history, she said. “This continues to be a place that people look to solve disputes in a peaceful manner.”
Posted on June 12, 2017