The Human Rights Clinic works around the world on diverse issues including accountability for sexual violence, investigations of war crimes, counterterrorism, workers’ rights, and the rights to health, water, and education.
“For more than 45 years, clinics have been an important part of the Columbia Law experience,” said Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft. “By building upon this rich tradition of clinical education, we hope to help develop young lawyers who will advance human rights and social justice around the world.”
“The gift is a major step towards realizing our vision of making Columbia’s clinics accessible to all students,” said Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. Columbia also has leading clinics in areas such as mediation, immigrants’ rights, environmental law, and mass incarceration. “The gift also complements our commitment to offer students extensive global opportunities, such as participation in international moots, summer human rights internships, international postgraduate fellowships, U.N. externships, and international clerkships.”
The Human Rights Clinic is directed by Sarah Knuckey, clinical professor of law and faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute. She is an international human rights lawyer who has carried out fact-finding investigations and reported on human rights and armed conflict violations around the world. Under Knuckey’s leadership and with active mentoring by professors and supervisors, students in the Human Rights Clinic learn how to be effective advocates by working on real projects with NGOs and communities.
Knuckey praised the “great generosity of the Smiths,” saying it will “allow Columbia to broaden and deepen our human rights and educational impacts. The gift means we can increase the size and range of our expert team of clinical supervisors, and thus offer our intensive training to more students every year,” she said. “Increased resources provide greater capacity for innovation, skills and regional diversity, and enable deeper partnerships with and support to NGOs and communities around the world.”
When Smith and Surace-Smith attended the Law School in the early 1980s, both clinical education and human rights law were relatively young fields. “We studied human rights more theoretically, and we never really imagined that at a practical level we could make a difference as students,” said Surace-Smith, who is vice president and general counsel of NanoString, a publicly traded biotech company. “Now, the opportunities for students to have real-world impact is greater, and it’s pretty amazing to us. We want to support even more of that work.”
Recently, students in the Human Rights Clinic traveled to Europe to conduct advocacy to counter U.S. counterterrorism abuses, delivered a statement on arms control before the U.N. General Assembly, worked with civil society from the Central African Republic to brief the UN Secretary-General on the need for improved peacekeeping in the country, strategized with public health and Yemeni civil society advocates to plan a new interdisciplinary right-to-health project, and advised on laws for a new hybrid war crimes court.
Smith and Surace-Smith, who were married while they were law students, have been longtime supporters of Columbia Law. Surace-Smith serves as co-chair of the Annual Fund. In 2004, the couple established the Smith Family Opportunity Scholarship.
They are co-chairs of The Campaign for Columbia Law, a $300 million fundraising drive that kicked off on October 16. “We’re very enthusiastic about Dean Lester’s vision for the school,” said Smith. “We’re big believers in that vision. And like all big ideas, it definitely will take resources to bring it to life and make it a reality.”
As a keynote speaker at a Law School celebration of clinics in 2015, Smith described his own clinic experience as invaluable. It fostered a lifelong concern for human rights and particularly rights of immigrants, including his co-founding of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nationwide pro bono program that has trained more than 6,000 lawyers to represent unaccompanied children in U.S. immigration courts.
“In our careers, we have certainly benefited from those who were ahead of us who lent us a helping hand,” said Smith. “We each have an opportunity to do the same and have a meaningful impact on somebody else’s life.”
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