Editor's note: The following two profiles of graduating law students Hollin Dickerson and Ben Fleming, written by UT Law Communications Strategy Manager Kirston Fortune, also appeared this week in shorter versions in The University of Texas at Austin On Campus publication. Dickerson, Fleming and their 2005 classmates will graduate on Saturday, May 21.
On Campus Editor’s note: UT Austin graduates change the world every day through creative thinking, a curiosity to discover and a responsibility to explore. The student profiles in this commencement issue of On Campus illustrate a few of the special students who have shown how the university experience has transformed them into thinkers, dreamers and leaders of tomorrow.
Experience with United Nations gives law student global perspective
Last summer, Hollin Dickerson became the first law student from The University of Texas at Austin to intern for the United Nations Office of Legal Counsel in New York. Working in the office that provides legal advice to the U.N., including the Secretary-General, was a dream come true and a turning point for the energetic, 24-year-old graduate who is already proving to be an outstanding ambassador to the global community.
"It made me realize how much I love working on the international level, which is very different than the national one because you aren’t advocating for a side, you’re advocating for the U.N. and, in turn, for the world as a whole," said Dickerson. "The legal issues I’m really passionate about are human rights, international humanitarian law, and issues of international justice."
While at the U.N., Dickerson attended General Assembly sessions, coming face
to face with the international process as she watched the back-and-forth negotiations
between countries over the language of resolutions. She also researched how
to better protect civilian rights in internal armed conflicts, such as in Rwanda
or the Congo, and worked on high-profile matters related to the handover of
sovereignty to Iraq after the U.S. war and the aftermath of the International
Court of Justice’s advisory opinion declaring portions of the Israeli
Dickerson, who can speak several languages, became aware of her burgeoning interest in international affairs as a college junior studying abroad in Italy, where daily challenges constantly tested her ability to adapt to new and different situations. In thinking of challenging career options, the Fort Worth native said, "What drew me to the law were primarily the analytical thinking, breaking problems apart and researching issues."
She then discovered international law, which allowed her to combine the analytical side of the law with her love for international affairs. "One reason I love international law is the interaction between law and politics that occurs at the international level,” Dickerson said. “It is challenging because you are constantly dealing with nations who could care less about upholding their international obligations and who have instead their own agendas to further," said Dickerson, who is drawn to challenges in part, she believes, because she’s had Type I diabetes since she was five.
Dickerson, who must test her blood sugar level multiple times a day and give herself daily injections of insulin, finds diabetes a daily challenge yet emphasizes that she’s never allowed it to interfere with achieving her goals.
She’s proven this in law school, blazing her own path and demonstrating an extraordinary amount of drive, energy, and determination. She is a member of the Chancellors, a law honors society for the top 16 students in the graduating class. She is the Editor in Chief of the Texas International Law Journal, one of the most respected international law journals in the country, and has already had two of her law review articles published. Recently, she was selected to present a third paper at the Young Scholars’ conference at Yale Law School.
In addition, Dickerson was selected by UT Law professor Lawrence Sager to serve as a teaching assistant in his constitutional law class. In August, she will be the first UT student to receive a clerkship in San Francisco with Judge William Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
UT Law professor Sarah Cleveland described Hollin as the most outstanding student she’s had in eight years of teaching. "She is a remarkable legal analyst and writer with a brilliant mind," said Cleveland, who hired Hollin to help research the Supreme Court’s historical use of international law in constitutional interpretation.
Karen Engle, a UT Law professor who supervised Dickerson's U.N. internship and who has spent time working with Dickerson on the papers she has written, describes Hollin as "energetic," "bright," and "ambitious." Engle added, "Talking to her about scholarship is like talking to a colleague. Her grasp of public international law and of its nuances is remarkable."
Dickerson said her dream job would be to work with the federal government or for an international organization such as the United Nations to "promote international law and to increase its effectiveness." She has aspirations for teaching law someday, too.
"I plan to help change the world by putting myself in a position to influence others, namely those who make the policies that the rest of us live with," she said. Until then, Dickerson is focused on becoming the best lawyer she can be. "One of the lessons I learned at the U.N. was that in order to be a great lawyer at the international level, you have to be a great lawyer at the domestic level."
International exposure guides law graduate’s path to service
Law graduate Ben Fleming’s commitment to making the world a better place runs extraordinarily deep. As the son of a social worker who resettled refugees, Fleming grew up accustomed to sharing his home with Cambodians, Ethiopians, Vietnamese, Lebanese, and countless others who needed a place to stay after fleeing their native countries.
The experience, combined with his independent travels abroad, has spurred the 26-year-old student to use his legal training to help people in need who could not make it to places like his childhood home.
Fleming has combined rigorous legal coursework with the Law School’s exceptional clinical and internship opportunities to pursue the issues he is passionate about. During his first year in law school, Fleming was the only UT student awarded a competitive fellowship to intern with the Attorney General for São Paulo, Brazil, where he helped prosecute people responsible for environmental damage in poor urban communities. "The real value in the work I was doing was the effect it had on people, predominately poor and undereducated, who were being harmed by inadequate access to clean water and sanitary living conditions," said Fleming, who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
Last summer Fleming, who is also an amateur poet, worked with the Center for Justice and International Law in Washington, D.C., on hundreds of cases involving human rights abuses in the Americas. This spring in the Law School’s new Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, Fleming helped immigrant workers in the Austin area recover unpaid wages. As part of the clinic’s work, he traveled to Cambodia over spring break with UT Law professor Sarah Cleveland and another student to examine working conditions in the garment industry.
Cleveland describes Fleming as exceptionally inquisitive and thoughtful. "More than any UT law student in recent memory," she says, "Ben Fleming has been dogged in crafting an independent path for himself toward a career in international human rights and humanitarian law."
But the experience that affected Fleming most deeply, both positively and negatively, was working last fall on legal cases involving sexual violence during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He was selected, through a longstanding UT program and a global competition, to spend the semester at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, helping to investigate and prosecute the highest-ranking civilian authorities involved in the genocide.
"These weren’t run-of-the-mill international crimes; these were mass rapes and people bull-dozing churches full of parishioners," says Fleming. "Despite the disturbing violence of the crimes, by trying to find justice for the victims I felt for the first time that I was making a difference in a situation similar to those I heard about in my childhood.'
After graduation, Fleming says he’ll likely travel abroad again, perhaps back to Africa. He would ultimately like to work as a lawyer for a neutral international organization like the International Committee of the Red Cross that helps victims regardless of what side they are on.
UT Law International Programs: http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/international/
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jefferson, '88, to Speak at Sunflower Ceremony: http://www.utexas.edu/law/news/2005/042805_sunflower.html
On Campus: http://www.utexas.edu/opa/ic/oncampus/