Meet the 2024 J.D. and LL.M. Postgraduate Public Interest Fellows

Columbia Law School graduates have received prestigious fellowships that enable them to launch their public interest careers and contribute to the work of public service organizations.

Exterior of Jerome L. Greene Hall featuring the sculpture Bellerophon Taming Pegasus

A significant number of Columbia Law School’s Class of 2024 are entering public interest, human rights, and government positions, and many of them have received prestigious fellowships with public service organizations for one or two years.

This year’s fellows possess a wide range of experiences working in social justice and human rights and are committed to a career in public service. They will tackle issues including voting rights, early education access, cybersecurity, reproductive coercion, and LGBTQ+ rights at organizations around the world. 

“These fellows have earned impressive fellowships which reflect their deep commitment to public service and social change and many years of dedication to pressing substantive legal and social issues. They will be working as fellows all over the United States and the globe, bringing their in-depth skills, knowledge, and experience,” says Erica Smock, assistant dean and dean for Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers. “These graduates will represent the Law School at a wide variety of organizations, and will serve as inspiration to other Columbia law students and our broader public interest community.”

Below, meet a sampling of the J.D. and LL.M. fellows, and learn what drew them to their organizations and what they hope to achieve. 

Interviews have been edited and condensed. Check back for updates as more fellows are added.

 

Sophia Berg

Sophia Berg ’24

Name of Fellowship: Kirkland & Ellis New York City Public Service Fellowship 
Organization: Sanctuary for Families
Hometown: Hibbing, Minnesota

Sophia Berg ’24 holds a bachelor of arts in psychology from Harvard College. Before attending Columbia Law, she was a Postgraduate Public Service Fellow at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. During law school, Berg was a legal intern with the Family Law Project at Sanctuary for Families; the president of the Domestic Violence Project and the Midwest Society; a student advocate for various projects; a 2L staffer on the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law; and a member of First Generation Professionals and the Columbia Law Women’s Association.  

Why Sanctuary for Families? “I have long admired the organization’s advocacy for survivors of gender-based violence and expertise in providing trauma-informed legal services. As a legal intern with their Family Law Project, I became involved with their work addressing the intersection of intimate partner violence and reproductive rights. My fellowship aims to build on this work in order to better address the needs of gender-based violence survivors.”

 Fellowship goals: “Through the fellowship, I hope to strengthen my legal advocacy for survivors of reproductive coercion while providing direct representation in family law matters. In addition, I hope to highlight for courts and policymakers the impacts that restrictions on reproductive health care access have on survivors of intimate partner violence.”

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Eric Duan ’24

Name of Fellowship: Excelsior Service Fellowship
Organization: New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), Cybersecurity Division
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Eric Duan ’24 graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in global affairs and worked in IT at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) before attending Columbia Law. While at the Law School, Duan interned for Housing Conservation Coordinators and in the housing department at Essex-Newark Legal Services. He also participated in the Domestic Violence Project’s Spring Break Pro Bono Caravan with the Texas Advocacy Project, and he was the 2L co-president of the Murder Mystery Society.

Why the New York State Department of Financial Services, Cybersecurity Division? “I’ve always been interested in cybersecurity, and I wanted to see what public interest work is like from the policy side. DFS’s cybersecurity division seems like a very exciting place to be. I want to see how a regulatory body gets input from the institutions and stakeholders it regulates and then conveys it to the legislative body and makes adjustments to its own regulations.” 

Fellowship goals: “I hope to learn how regulatory bodies work as well as about the other nonlegal teams in the cybersecurity division, like the threat intel team.”

Tricia Merlino

Tricia Merlino ’24

Name of Fellowship: Excelsior Service Fellowship
Organization: New York State Division of Human Rights
Hometown:  Atlanta, Georgia

Tricia Merlino ’24 graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in history and Hispanic literatures and cultures Before attending Columbia Law, Merlino worked as an immigration paralegal for the Daryanani Law Group and as a business immigration analyst for Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy. During law school, she interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Chicago and at the Ottinger Firm. She was also a research assistant for Professor Jeffrey A. Fagan on the Police Violence Project; an articles editor for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law; and an extern at the Action Lab, The Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Unit, and the Eastern District of New York with Judge Marcia Henry.

Why the New York State Division of Human Rights? “Working for the state government will give me a new perspective on antidiscrimination law and valuable experience advocating for marginalized people in the state. The government possesses a considerable amount of power and authority to enforce and advance the law, and New York state has one of the most robust antidiscrimination statutes in the nation. It would be a privilege to have the power of the government behind me to work on upholding these laws and to work on litigating cases aimed at creating legal precedents that are beneficial to New Yorkers.” 

Fellowship goals: “As someone who is interested in working for the public sector in the future, I hope to gain valuable insight and experience through this opportunity. I am excited to work alongside and learn from like-minded colleagues to help ensure that people who live in the state are protected under the law and secure a better future for New Yorkers.”

Linny Ng

Linny Ng ’24 LL.M.

Name of Fellowship: Mark Haas Public Interest Fellowship
Organization: The International Legal Foundation (ILF)
Hometowns:  Hong Kong, Seoul, and Toronto

Linny Ng ’24 LL.M. earned an LL.B. at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Global Professional LL.M. from the University of Toronto. Before attending Columbia Law, Ng worked as a legal consultant in both public and private sectors. Ng was inspired to change her career path to public international law by her grandmother’s revelation that she had been a “comfort woman” during World War II. While at Columbia Law, she participated in the Davis Polk Asylum Clinic, and Cohen & Gresser Pro Bono Project; published four papers; completed three research assistantships; was a judicial clerk to Justice Nancy M. Bannon of the New York Supreme Court; an editor for the Columbia Journal of Asian Law; and a board member of the Domestic Violence Project, as well as the Columbia Society of International Law.

Why The International Legal Foundation? “I first learned about The International Legal Foundation through Judge Mary McGowan Davis (ret.). Her experiences as an international fellow at the ILF’s Afghanistan office, where she collaborated with local organizations to provide and improve the quality and accessibility of direct legal aid services, were profoundly inspiring. Motivated by her impactful work, I reached out to the ILF to explore the possibility of hosting my fellowship after graduation.” 

Fellowship goals: “As a ‘third-culture kid,’ I have developed a deep appreciation for various legal systems around the world. I am eager to further explore these systems through the ILF’s global projects, utilizing the knowledge I’ve gained from my degree. My goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current international legal landscape, identifying opportunities where I can make a significant impact. Ultimately, through my fellowship, I aim to find my niche within this broad and meaningful field, where I hope to contribute positively and effectively.”

Gabriela Ornelas

Gabriela Ornelas ’24

Name of Fellowship: Herbert and Nell Singer Social Justice Fellowship
Organization: Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS)
Hometown: San Jose, California

Gabriela Ornelas ’24 earned a B.A. in sociology with honors and Chicanx-Latinx studies with honors from Pitzer College. Before attending law school, she served as a capital defense investigator for the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, conducting comprehensive life-history investigations to unearth mitigating factors for clients facing death sentences. Ornelas worked as a legal intern for the East Bay Community Law Center in the clean slate unit and for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem in the family defense practice. During her 1L year, Ornelas participated in the Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition; she attended the Bronx Defenders Spring Break Caravan in her 2L year. She worked as an articles editor and a managing articles editor for the Columbia Journal of Race and Law during her 2L and 3L years, respectively. She was also a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellow.

Why the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem? “I chose to collaborate with the family defense practice at Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem as their client-centered, multidisciplinary familial representation model deeply grounded in racial justice aligns perfectly with the goals of my fellowship project. Their lawyers excel at challenging excessive and punitive state intervention by compelling family law courtrooms to confront the tangible impact of intergenerational trauma, race-based economic deprivation, and systemic injustices that shape each family’s unique narrative.”

Fellowship goals: “By collaborating with NDS, my project can both benefit from and contribute to the defense of marginalized families, supported by an established holistic defense practice. Through the development of the familial preservation practice model and the establishment of the Family Preservation Resource Center, the goal is to provide comprehensive legal representation and support to safeguard families from the permanent severance of familial bonds, challenge termination petitions, and secure alternatives when in the best interest of the child.”

Clayton Pierce

Clayton Pierce ’24

Name of Fellowship: Equal Justice Works Fellowship
Organization: ACLU Voting Rights Project (VRP)
Hometown: Berkeley, California

Clayton Pierce ’24 earned a B.A. in political science from Colorado College. He has worked as a Voting Section extern for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; a litigation intern at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and a legal intern at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. At Columbia Law, Pierce was a notes editor for the Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems, vice president of Columbia Law Students for Voting Rights, a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellow, and a 3L senator for the Student Senate. He worked as a teaching fellow for Professor Christina D. Ponsa-Kraus and as a research assistant for Professors Olatunde C.A. Johnson and Richard Briffault.

Why the ACLU Voting Rights Project? “My experiences learning from disenfranchised voters at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and NAACP Legal Defense Fund inspired me to pursue a career in voting rights. Since its inception, the ACLU Voting Rights Project has remained at the forefront of the fight to advance marginalized communities’ access to the franchise. I am thrilled to learn from VRP’s team of stellar litigators and help them protect our clients’ fundamental rights to vote during my fellowship.”

Fellowship goals: “My fellowship project focuses on advancing voting rights for people with disabilities by challenging restrictions on voter assistance that violate federal law. I look forward to working directly with impacted voters to bring legal challenges and develop public education materials. I also hope to partner with local organizations to prevent the passage of additional harmful laws.”

Trevor Rice

Trevor Rice SIPA ’24 LAW ’24

Name of Fellowship: Global Public Service Fellowship
Organization: International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)—Amman, Jordan
Hometown: Darlington, Missouri

Trevor Rice SIPA ’24 LAW ’24 has a B.A. in social work from the University of Missouri and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Rice worked at the Jackson County Children’s Division, EG Justice, The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit, and Catholic Migration Services. While at Columbia Law, he was a Columbia Human Rights Law Review notes editor, the co-president of the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and vice president of the Columbia Law Students Human Rights Association. He also participated in the U.N., Legal Practice: Advocacy and Litigation, Immigrant Youth Advocacy, and Immigration Defense externships.

Why the International Refugee Assistance Project? “I have wanted to work with IRAP since I did pro bono work with them in my 1L year. They are doing incredible work advocating for refugees worldwide, and when I saw they had an opening in their Amman, Jordan, office, I knew I wanted to apply. I wanted to be in a place where I could work with refugees and use my Arabic.” 

Fellowship goals: “I want to use this fellowship to develop the necessary skills that will make me a successful attorney, such as brief writing, interviewing, and advocacy. I’m also excited to gain more proficiency in Arabic!”

Jarri Syed

Jarri Haider Syed ’24 LL.M.

Name of Fellowship: LL.M. Pathways Fellowship
Organization: OutRight International
Hometowns: Islamabad, Pakistan, and Sydney, Australia

Jarri Haider Syed ’24 LL.M. has an LL.B. with honours from the University of New South Wales. While earning his LL.B., Syed worked at Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT supporting the work of Australia’s first deferred sentencing program for young offenders: the Youth Kori Court. After graduating, Syed served as a Human Rights Fellow and then worked as a solicitor in the immigration law service at Legal Aid NSW. In 2022, he moved back to Pakistan and represented a transgender activist in the Federal Shariat Court while working at AJURIS, Advocates & Corporate Counsel in Islamabad. As a student at Columbia Law School, Syed participated in externships at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and at Justice Lisa Headley’s chambers in the New York Supreme Court’s Civil Term. He also worked on the direct services team at the Parole Advocacy Project.

Why OutRight International? “I chose OutRight International because of its reputation for supporting international human rights advocacy on LGBTQ+ issues. I was inspired by their mission to uplift activist voices on critical human rights issues and their support of rights movements through strategic advice, training, and crisis response.” 

Fellowship goals: “At OutRight, I will be working in the Queer Legal Futures (QLF) program. QLF aims to reshape legal systems for LGBTIQ communities worldwide. I will be working on archiving legal transformation, advocating for the abolition of the medical for gender identity determination, and supporting queer-rights focused law reform efforts in the Asia-Pacific and Africa regions.”

Fiona Thorp

Fiona Thorp ’24 LL.M.

Name of Fellowship: LL.M. Pathways Fellowship
Organization: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
Hometown: Taupō, Aotearoa New Zealand

Fiona Thorp ’24 LL.M. graduated from the University of Otago with an LL.B. and a B.A. in French and Spanish languages. She worked as a solicitor in public law litigation at Simpson Grierson with a focus on human rights and pro bono work, and as a legal and policy adviser at the New Zealand Law Commission. While at Columbia, Thorp worked as a research assistant for Professor Sarah Knuckey and Lecturer in Law Richard Dicker. She also externed with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, volunteered as a parole advocate with the Parole Advocacy Project, and acted as a director on the board of the Public Interest Law Foundation.

Why the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights? “ECCHR is at the forefront of legal efforts to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, and sexual and gender-based violence. Its international crimes and accountability team, where I will be working, takes a survivor-focused and multijurisdictional approach to pursuing accountability for violations of international criminal law. This work is incredibly inspiring.” 

Fellowship goals: “This fellowship offers an incredible opportunity to contribute to the crucial work of ECCHR. I am excited to build on my professional experience in Aotearoa New Zealand, by applying my Columbia studies in international criminal law and human rights in a globally focused role.”

YuYun Wang

Yuyun Wang ’24 LL.M.

Name of Fellowship: LL.M. Pathways Fellowship
Organization: EarthRights International 
Hometown: Taiwan

Yuyun Wang ’24 LL.M. received an LL.B. from the National Taipei University and an LL.M. from the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. She worked at the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims as a Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize Fellowship recipient; she also worked as an intern at Jones Day, a research assistant at Academia Sinica, and a project assistant at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. While at Columbia Law, she was a research assistant to Lecturer in Law Richard Dicker. She also participated in the Davis Polk Asylum Clinic and the Estonia Capstone project at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs: Media Freedom, Human Rights, and Global Outreach in a Time of Global Turbulence.

Why EarthRights International? “The organization’s mission focused on climate justice and human rights deeply resonated with me. I believe EarthRights’ innovative approach of combining community activism with strategic campaigning and legal expertise offers a powerful path toward corporate accountability. I’m particularly excited to contribute to the fight for justice in Myanmar and support EarthRights’ inspiring network of human rights defenders.” 

Fellowship goals: “During my fellowship year, I am going to work on the corporate accountability project in Myanmar, develop resources for earth rights defenders, and support communities in the Mekong region to resist environmentally destructive projects. I believe this fellowship will be a transformative learning experience, allowing me to grow as an advocate and contribute meaningfully to positive global change.”

Rose Wehrman

Rose Wehrman ’24

Name of Fellowship: Equal Justice Works Fellowship
Organization: Education Law Center (ELC)
Hometown: Kenesaw, Nebraska

Rose Wehrman ’24 graduated with a B.A. in English with business, psychology, and criminology and criminal justice minors from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Before law school, she worked as a research assistant for the Nebraska Department of Education and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and as a teacher through AmeriCorps. During law school, Wehrman interned at the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, the Juvenile Law Center, the Educational Law Center, and the Support Center for Child Advocates. She was a research assistant for Professor Josh Gupta-Kagan and Professor Elizabeth Scott; the executive submissions editor for the Journal of Law & Social Problems; a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellow; and a James Kent Scholar. She also participated in the Family Defense Clinic, the Advanced Family Defense Clinic, and the Native American Law Students Association Moot Court. Wehrman grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska and is a first-generation graduate and law student. 

Why the Education Law Center? “I chose ELC because of our shared mission of ensuring access to a quality public education for all children. Additionally, as an intern at ELC, I caught a glimpse into the organization’s culture of support and mentorship, and I felt that ELC would help me become the best lawyer and advocate I can be.”

Fellowship goals: “Through direct representation, my two-year project aims to prevent underserved children from being pushed out of early education. Through systemic advocacy and community education, my project seeks to improve access to early education and dismantle systemic barriers driving preschool suspension and expulsion in Philadelphia, as well as create a sustainable structure for addressing preschool pushout moving forward.”

Reagan Williams

Reagan Williams ’24

Name of Fellowship: Leonard H. Sandler Fellowship
Organization: Human Rights Watch
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee 

Reagan Williams ’24 earned a B.A. in international studies from American University. Prior to attending Columbia Law, she worked at the Wyss Foundation, where she helped facilitate grantmaking to organizations working to promote and protect women’s health and rights in Latin America. She spent her 1L summer as a legal intern with International Rights Advocates in Washington, D.C., and her 2L summer as a legal and policy intern for the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. She was the grants chair for the Public Interest Law Foundation; participated in the yearlong Smith Family Human Rights Clinic; spent a semester studying at the law school of the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina; and worked for a third semester in the Human Rights Clinic as an advanced clinic student. During the spring of her 3L year, Williams worked at a nonprofit organization, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers, as a student researcher. 

Why Human Rights Watch? “Human Rights Watch is well known for its rigorous research and advocacy; its work sheds light on a range of human rights abuses around the world, and its policy recommendations and targeted advocacy efforts are key strategies for combating these abuses. Human Rights Watch can also leverage its reach as a global organization to monitor, analyze, elevate, and respond to repression of grassroots advocacy. For example, Human Rights Watch has called on universities to respect human rights following the recent mass crackdowns on student protests against ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights, including at Columbia. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to apply the research and advocacy skills I’ve developed in law school to implement these methodologies.”

Fellowship goals: “My goal as a human rights lawyer is to have a range of legal and advocacy skills that I can creatively use in partnership with communities facing and fighting human rights abuses. I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep building out this toolbox through the research and advocacy work I’ll do as a fellow. Much of what I’ve learned so far has been thanks to the brilliance and generous mentorship of people here at Columbia, and I’m similarly looking forward to learning as much as I can from the staff at Human Rights Watch.”