Michigan Law's first two 'virtual interns' advise UN member states in Geneva

By Jordan Poll
U-M Law

A new independent research offering at Michigan Law has had a profound impact on recently graduated LLM Shreya Bose's legal education—so much so that she recently described the program’s weeklong capstone trip to Geneva as a “life peak.”

“It has become a cornerstone of my legal education at Michigan,” said Bose, whose focus areas include international law, business and human rights, and conflict studies, specifically refugee, gender, and humanitarian law.

“Not only did I participate in the diplomacy at play between countries deliberating over resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council, but I also witnessed the practice of cultural relativism in human rights law. The entire experience has given me confidence going forward that I can be successful when navigating and negotiating these complex political and legal issues.”

As the Law School’s first “virtual interns,” Bose and 2L Kate Powers recently completed a yearlong hybrid program conceived by (MLaw alumnus) Eric Richardson,  in coordination with Professors Steven Ratner and Kristina Daugirdas. Their creation, the virtual Geneva externship, includes an online course in international human rights law during the fall term and a semester's worth of remote work that culminates in a weeklong trip to Geneva during the winter term.

“We are always on the lookout for valuable opportunities for our students to hone practical skills and gain experience working with international law and institutions,” explained Daugirdas. “This new hybrid program complements our existing Geneva externship. It’s a great option for students looking for flexibility.”

Through UNHR Geneva, an NGO founded and directed by Richardson, students are paired with small delegations from developing nations that lack the resources to have a full-time legal adviser at the UN Human Rights Council. Students then work via email and Blue Jeans, a video conferencing software, to provide legal and policy advice to their respective governments in order to facilitate their participation in the UN Human Rights Council.

Under the supervision of Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat in Geneva, and Ratner and Daugirdas, Bose and Powers served as delegates for Afghanistan and Eritrea, a small country in East Africa. Their work largely consisted of writing summaries and reports prior to UN Human Rights Council meetings or human rights treaty body sessions. It also included drafting interventions to be delivered at the UN relating to human rights practices and thematic human rights issues. While in Geneva, Bose and Powers attended meetings of the UN Human Rights Council, where they participated in the drafting and negotiation of resolutions, and reported back to the Afghanistan and Eritrea delegations.

“While I did know that the UN can be difficult to navigate and is sometimes more policy-focused than purely ‘legal,’ it was important for me to witness these aspects firsthand and judge for myself whether I could imagine doing this type of work,” said Powers, whose interests lie in public international, human rights, and humanitarian law. “As it happens, I can, and now my resume reflects that. The broad range of academic and practical learning that I gained from this externship has made me a stronger candidate in a highly competitive field.”

While considering law schools, Bose looked into the programs available in New York and Washington, D.C., that boasted unique and comprehensive experiences for students interested in pursuing international and human rights law. However, none of them offered her what Michigan Law has. “This format—unlike any fellowship I found at other top-tier institutions—made it possible for me to take advantage of all that the Law School has to offer, while also enriching and broadening my perspective by working with a sovereign member state of the UN Human Rights Council on a virtual and real-time basis,” she said. “It couldn’t have been more perfect. Even though I have worked with UN organizations from three different countries in the past, this experience took my training even further. Now, not only can I identify the needs and challenges of a developing country, but I can also propose feasible solutions."