Meet the SJI Team

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Click on the profile of any staff member below for more information, including bios and instructions on how to make an advising appointment.

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Our Staff

Dean Eric Smock

Erica Smock has been the dean for Social Justice Initiatives and public service lawyering at Columbia Law School since 2017. 

Prior to joining Columbia, Dean Smock had a distinguished public interest career focused primarily on women’s rights advocacy. Most recently, she served as the senior director for Judicial Strategy & Lawyers Network at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City, where she led strategic campaigns around the center’s domestic litigation, including the successful U.S. Supreme Court abortion case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016).

After graduating from Columbia in 1995, Dean Smock clerked for the Hon. Anita B. Brody, U.S. District Court, E.D. PA, and Hon. Leonard I. Garth, U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. After spending one year as an associate at O’Melveny & Myers (where she engaged in pro bono work on women’s rights and domestic violence), she worked as a staff attorney at Legal Aid Services of Oregon and as regional staff attorney at the Northwest Women's Law Center (now Legal Voice) in Seattle. Dean Smock then became legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she directed the national state legislative program and engaged in advocacy on reproductive rights issues. After working at SJI for a number of years, she returned to the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2014 to its newly formed judicial strategy team.

In addition, Dean Smock has spent time as a short-term volunteer attorney focusing on human rights and women's rights in Kenya and South Africa and with the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Arizona. She has served as a consultant to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation on access to justice issues. Currently she serves as vice chair of the American Bar Association's Rights of Women Committee in the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section and is a member of both the Center for Reproductive Rights Lawyers Network Advisory Committee and the Social Justice Legal Foundation's Advisory Board. Additionally, she serves on the Columbia Law School Anti-Racist Steering Committee (2020-21).

Dean Smock graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree with honors in political science.

Dean Smock's 2020-2021 Year in Review

"A New Leader at Social Justice Initiatives"

To make an appointment with Dean Smock, please do so via email.

Marka Belinfanti

Marka Belinfanti is the assistant director of pro bono and summer programs, where she oversees the administration of Columbia's pro bono and summer funding programs, including Columbia Summer Funding (CSF).

Prior to joining the Office of Social Justice Initiatives, Marka Belinfanti was the assistant director of the Office of Judicial Clerkships at Columbia Law School.  She counseled J.D. students and alumni regarding state and federal clerkships.  In that role, she also implemented a broad range of professional development programs to support candidates as they navigated the clerkship application process. 

Marka graduated from Fordham University School of Law and earned her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.  Following law school, Marka served as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, where she defended low-income tenants in eviction proceedings and partnered with community-based organizations to provide direct legal services in underserved neighborhoods. After Legal Aid, Marka worked at various New York law firms specializing in consumer and class action litigation. Prior to joining Columbia, Marka advised students at Fordham Law on all aspects of the legal career and professional development process, focusing on opportunities with the judiciary, government agencies, and law firms. Before that, at the University of Richmond School of Law, she served as the director of career development for public sector careers.

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To make an appointment with Marka, please do so via Symplicity.

Joel Headshot

Area of counseling expertise: (1Ls), 2Ls, 3Ls, Postgraduate Fellowships, Public Interest Lawyering, Constitutional Law, Intersectional Practice

Joel previously worked as an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, where he focused on innovative legal strategies, thought leadership, and intersectional coalition building to advance reproductive rights in the courts, including leading the amicus brief strategy at the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Before joining the Center for Reproductive Rights, Joel was an associate at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, where he worked on a wide range of civil litigation and pro bono matters. He authored U.S. Supreme Court amicus briefs supporting reproductive rights and voting rights. He also developed the argument in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court defending the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell, which was referenced by several justices during oral arguments.

Joel also serves as co-chair of the American Constitution Society’s New York Lawyer Chapter, where he has published reports and organized programming on a variety of legal and policy issues, including healthcare, COVID-19, and child poverty. He has also written about law, policy, and politics for online outlets. He has also served as a legal and policy advisor to candidates for public office, including President Biden’s 2020 campaign, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Kathryn Garcia’s 2021 campaign for New York City mayor.

Joel has also been an adjunct lecturer in Columbia’s Legal Practice Workshop since 2019.

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To make an appointment with Joel, please do so via email.

Solmaz Firoz

Area of counseling expertise: 1Ls, LL.M.s and Public Defense

Solmaz Firoz is an experienced attorney who joined Social Justice Initiatives in the fall of 2021. Before joining SJI, Solmaz was a professor of legal writing and practice skills at New York University School of Law and University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As a practitioner before that, she was most recently an appellate attorney at the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, where she represented indigent clients challenging their state convictions and sentences. In addition to public defense, Solmaz has worked in a variety of other areas, including educational advocacy, human rights, and civil rights. She also volunteers with boards and organizations that focus on mass incarceration, food insecurity, and families in need. 

Solmaz received her B.A. from Columbia College and her J.D. from New York University School of Law. After graduating law school, she was a litigation associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP in New York City, where she worked on a wide range of pro bono matters, and she was a law clerk for the Honorable Faith S. Hochberg (ret.) in the District of New Jersey.

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To make an appointment with Solmaz, please do so via Symplicity.

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Area of counseling expertise: Government

Before joining Social Justice Initiatives, Alex worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, practicing civil litigation focused on both affirmative and defensive matters, including investigating government fraud, affirmative civil rights enforcement, and defending Freedom of Information Act suits. In that role, Alex developed comprehensive litigation skills by independently managing a docket from case inception through appeal.  

Prior to his position at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Alex clerked for the Honorable Nina Gershon in the Eastern District of New York and the Honorable James L. Cott in the Southern District of New York. Prior to being a clerk, Alex was a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where he worked on a diverse array of civil litigation and pro bono matters. While at Paul, Weiss, Alex drafted amicus briefs submitted to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals. Additionally, Alex engaged in direct representation of pro bono clients, including individuals seeking asylum in the United States. During the 2018 election, Alex, along with other Paul, Weiss associates, volunteered to do voter protection work in Native American communities in Montana.  

Alex received his B.A. from New York University and his J.D. from Columbia Law School. He is admitted to practice in New York.

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Tuesdays: Room 805
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To make an appointment with Alex, please do so via Symplicity or email.

Kerry McLean

Area of counseling expertise: Human Rights & Public International Law

Kerry McLean is an international human rights lawyer and social justice activist. Over the past 17 years, Kerry has lived in Africa, Europe, and Asia, working with local and international organizations on human rights and international development.  

She has engaged in significant U.N. advocacy, including litigation with treaty-monitoring bodies, writing shadow reports concerning compliance with CERD, CEDAW, and CAT, Human Rights Council advocacy, coordinating civil society organizations for UPR reports, and working with U.N. Special Procedures mandate holders. Kerry has worked on litigation at the European Court of Human Rights and has done advocacy at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She has provided training and delivered lectures on international human rights in the United States and other parts of the world. 

Kerry has served as an election observer in Cambodia, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Abkhazia. She has also served as a trial observer in Turkey for trials involving persecuted lawyers and human rights defenders, and she organizes solidarity activities for Turkey with multiple organizations. She is a member of the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara, an international advocacy coalition that supports the fight of the Saharawi people for independence and self-determination.

Kerry serves as the vice chair for rule of law for the ABA SIL International Human Rights Committee, Women's Interest Network, and Africa Committee. She is a former national board member of the National Lawyers Guild and currently chairs its Africa Subcommittee. She is the recipient of the guild's 2021 Debra Evenson Venceremos International Award for her work "extending justice beyond borders."

Kerry is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where she received the Jenny Runkles Award for devotion to public interest and was a two-time recipient of the Bates Fellowship for overseas work. She is admitted to practice in New York.

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To make an appointment with Kerry, please do so via email.

Tory HS

Area of counseling expertise: 1Ls, 3Ls, Graduates, LL.M.s, Financing a Public Interest Career, Civil Rights Law Firms, Transitioning Between Sectors

Tory Messina is an attorney with over seven years of experience counseling law students and alumni on how to achieve their public interest and government career goals. Prior to joining SJI, Tory worked at Lawyers Alliance for New York as the pro bono manager, helping to connect attorneys with opportunities to assist nonprofits with transactional pro bono legal work. Tory previously worked at University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she is an alumnae, as the associate director of public interest and government counseling, helping students and alumni with a broad range of career interests including civil legal services, impact and advocacy organizations, local, state and federal government, public defenders, and alternatives to traditional practice. She also has expertise in Columbia's Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) and private civil rights law firms.

Prior to her work at University of Pennsylvania Law School, Tory coordinated New York and national pro bono and legal services projects at Pro Bono Net. Tory also has worked at a private law firm and managed a small business. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in history. She is admitted to practice in New York.

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To make an appointment with Tory, please do so via Symplicity or email.

Devi Patel, smiling with an ivy-covered wall behind her

Devi Patel is the director of the Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows Program at Columbia Law School. She supports PI/PS Fellows through individual advising and a robust curriculum of programs, resources, and initiatives.

Devi is an attorney with experience providing civil legal aid services to low-income New Yorkers. She began her career as a staff attorney and Poverty Justice Solutions Fellow at Sanctuary for Families. She focused on protecting and advancing the rights of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors who faced challenges that threatened their economic stability. She represented clients in a wide variety of cases and provided legal advice to hundreds of New Yorkers through the New York City Family Justice Centers, an initiative of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic and Gender-Based Violence. Devi went on to join Legal Information for Families Today as the pro bono programs manager, where she oversaw the development of a statewide pro bono program established to increase access to justice for New Yorkers navigating the complex Family Court process. She trained and supervised pro bono attorneys and managed partnerships with the judiciary, legal services organizations, law firms, and law schools.

During law school, Devi worked for Safe Horizon’s Domestic Violence Law Project, Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, and Safe Passage Project. She is a graduate of New York Law School, where she was a Carbonell Fellow in Law and Policy and recipient of the Alexander D. Forger Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession for her commitment to serving the public interest. Devi serves on Social Justice Initiatives' Racial Justice Subcommittee and the New York City Bar’s Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee. She has developed and presented CLE programs, conference presentations, and law school seminars on cultural competency in the legal profession. She is admitted to practice in New York.

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To make an appointment with Devi, please do so via Symplicity or email.

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Chaula Shukla is the assistant director of 1L professional development advising at Columbia Law School. Prior to joining the Social Justice Initiatives and Office of Career Services teams, Chaula was an assistant director in the Office of Career Services at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where she counseled J.D. and LL.M. students and alumni on career and professional development. At Cardozo, Chaula focused on public interest programming and initiatives and was responsible for comanaging the alumni-student mentor program. Chaula received her master's in social work at New York University's Silver School of Social Work and her J.D. from Albany Law School. She has a B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany in English and Women's Studies. As a social worker, Chaula counseled clients with substance abuse and mental health issues in inpatient hospital and outpatient clinic settings. After graduating from law school, Chaula served as both a Barry A. Gold '70 Health Law Fellow and a health law staff attorney in the Health Law Clinic at the Justice Center at Albany Law School. Chaula provided direct representation to clients with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses and supervised second- and third-year law students. Chaula has represented clients at disability hearings with the Social Security Administration and New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and in family court. She also assisted clients with executing advance directives. In the summer of 2019, she was an adjunct professor in the externship program at Albany Law School. Chaula also provided civil legal services to low-income clients as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, with a focus on public benefits, economic justice, and reentry. Chaula is admitted to practice in New York State. She is an active member of the New York City Bar Association's Career Advancement and Management Committee.

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To make an appointment with Chaula, please do so via Symplicity or email.

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CB Headshot

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Rebecca Hinde

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Iliana Ortega

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