A Global Leader in Human Rights Career Advising

Students at Columbia Law receive individualized mentoring and guidance on specializing in and working in human rights. The Office of Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers and the Human Rights Institute share more about these offerings below.

Flowers in bloom in front of Jerome Greene Hall

Columbia Law School’s comprehensive advising options, including the new Career Advising Program at the Human Rights Institute (HRI), position students wishing to pursue careers in human rights for success. Advising resources and programming also complement the Law School’s robust human rights curricular and cocurricular options, including courses taught by leading scholars and practitioners, an active student human rights community, summer and postgraduate human rights fellowships, a special human rights program for first-year students, and a globally recognized human rights center and clinic.

“Columbia students and alumni have access to our large and diverse teams of human rights advisers,” says Sarah Knuckey, Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Professor of Human Rights and director of the Smith Family Human Rights Clinic and the Human Rights Institute. “Whether students want to work on issues of Indigenous rights, or poverty, or the climate crisis, or artificial intelligence, we have specialized advisers who can guide a tailored career path. We advise on everything, from which courses to take to where to intern over the summer, and we do job moots, and continue advising many years after graduation.”

Graduates go on to work across the globe in myriad areas of social justice: They lead grassroots NGOs, and they become researchers or litigators at international NGOs, international law academics, legal advisers in government, human rights funders, and human rights officers at the United Nations.

“Columbia Law School empowers students to pursue careers that make a difference in the world,” says Erica Smock ’95, assistant dean and dean for the Office of Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers (PI/PS Office). “Our commitment to human rights and social justice is unwavering, and we are proud to support our students in their journey to effect positive change.”

The PI/PS Office, Columbia Law’s center for public interest career advising, has full-time staff to advise students on human rights careers and offers an array of professional development programs, counseling, and community-building activities. The PI/PS Office also provides résumé and cover letter reviews and guides students to impactful summer work at public interest organizations. Kerry McLean, director of human rights and public international law, serves as the adviser for students and alumni interested in careers in human rights. An international human rights lawyer, she has worked for local and international organizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe, has engaged in a significant amount of U.N. advocacy, and is actively engaged in the movement to integrate international human rights standards into domestic social justice advocacy. 

HRI, which launched the human rights career advising program this year, focuses on human rights research and advocacy and also hosts events that often include students. The institute’s staff of human rights advocates work on issues such as corporate accountability, economic inequality, fair trials, and armed conflict. As part of the new advising program, these leading advocates provide personalized mentoring and advice to students covering all aspects of human rights work and assist students throughout their journey—from helping them plan aspects of their J.D. or LL.M. pathways, including advice on choosing courses and summer internships and applying to fellowships, to postgraduate endeavors.

“HRI’s one-on-one individualized career mentorship and advising helps to ensure that students interested in human rights careers receive personalized guidance tailored to their backgrounds, values, motivations, interests, and skills,” says Bassam Khawaja ’15. After graduating from Columbia Law, Khawaja worked for Human Rights Watch and as a senior adviser to the U.N.’s independent expert on poverty. He recently returned to his alma mater to teach in the Smith Family Human Rights Clinic and has helped build the new advising program. “The support I received at the Law School was instrumental in shaping my career path and enabling me to do meaningful social justice work,” he says. “I am thrilled to be able to pass this support on to new students.” 

Learn more about the resources and programming offered by the PI/PS Office and HRI, including career advising programs, which are open to all Columbia Law students and alumni.