Did you know there are two Sudans? Moreover, did you know that South Sudan, the world’s newest country, has been embroiled in a bitter conflict for about half its existence as a country? This year, NYU’s newly revived African Law Association (ALA) invited the US special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth, to discuss the latest developments in the country’s civil war. The program marked the first event in nearly three years for the ALA as well as an excellent opportunity for students to learn about global affairs firsthand from a high-level official.
In a student organization, you have an opportunity to craft programs that expose students to real-world practitioners in law, policy, grassroots activism, and a host of other areas. Putting together events in law school is unique, especially when compared to undergrad, in that every event is an opportunity to find out more about how the law works within your area of interest and a chance to meet people who are doing the type of job you may do in a few years. In short, everything has real-world application and is potentially a window into your own future.
Within this particular event, entitled “Human Rights, Conflict and Peace in the Sudans,” students got a chance to hear from not just Ambassador Booth, but also two high-level Department of State officials who both started out as practicing lawyers. Both Dr. Jane Stromseth, deputy to the US ambassador for global criminal justice, and Steven Feldstein, US deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, hold juris doctorates. Dr. Stromseth is a professor in international and human rights law at Georgetown University, while Mr. Feldstein began his legal career in USAID, followed by a stint as counsel in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Having both of them on the panel provided not only insight into some of the State Department’s work, but also examples of the varied paths one can take coming out of law school. All three of the panelists had just come from the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, with NYU Law serving as the only stop for public outreach while in NYC.
If there is not currently a student group on campus that focuses on the area in which you are interested, you can either revive a defunct organization or create your own. What exactly does it take to create/revive a student group on campus? Most importantly, it takes planning. It is very easy to be involved with one or even several organizations while a student at NYU Law. However, to serve as part of the leadership of one and give it direction takes focus. The school administration requires that the organization have at least three members, one of whom must be the treasurer. During the summer, the new leadership submits a detailed budget request, which is evaluated by the Student Bar Association. In the fall, the organization’s leadership joins leaders from all the other student organizations for a brief training session that explains finances, how to set up events, how to work with the administration, etc. Following this training, you are ready to begin having your events. The university also provides a lot of assistance to student groups. For example, there is “incentive funding,” which encourages groups to implement innovative programs that may not have been possible during the time when the budget was created.
For the ALA, our specific goal is to fill a long-vacant niche: programs and opportunities focused on the nexus between law and the African continent. Since the first event with Ambassador Donald Booth, the ALA has been busy creating partnership opportunities for students and local organizations, such as the Black Alliance Justice Initiative, which provides legal outreach to African immigrants. The ALA also co-sponsors events. The one with the special envoy was actually co-sponsored by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU’s central hub of activity for all things related to human rights, international affairs, and global justice. ALA, the International Arbitration Association, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, and the International Law Society all co-sponsored a panel discussion on international arbitration in the Middle East and North Africa, featuring corporate lawyers who all specialize in arbitration in the MENA region.
Running a student organization is a lot of work, but very rewarding. At the end of the day, you know that you are part of a vehicle providing opportunities for students to meet with practitioners and get real-world experience in the legal field.