'Inspiring Paths'

Understanding marginalization fuels MLaw alum’s work

By Jason Searle
U-M Law

At a pivotal moment in his career, MLaw grad Hardy Vieux realized that just because he was capable of rising through the ranks in private practice didn’t mean he wanted to. “I have to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose,” Vieux told students at the semiannual Inspiring Paths Lecture, held at Michigan Law earlier this fall.

Vieux is the legal director at Human Rights First, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that advocates for adherence to human rights principles and the rule of law in the U.S. and worldwide. As legal director, Vieux is responsible for leading and overseeing management of the organization’s legal initiatives, including its pro bono legal representation, amicus briefs, and legal outreach efforts. He also manages Human Rights First’s refugee representation work, which pairs lawyers at the nation’s top law firms with indigent refugees in need of counsel.

The plight of refugees is personal for Vieux, who was born to Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn, N.Y., but returned to Port-au-Prince as an infant to be raised by his grandmother. When his grandmother fell ill, he also spent time with relatives in Mexico before returning to the United States. “I have an understanding of what it means to not grow up here,” Vieux said. “I know something about being on the margins of society and how it feels to be viewed as ‘not one of us.’”

Throughout his career—in public interest work, as well as in pro bono work while in private practice—Vieux especially seeks opportunities to help children. In 2014, he worked at Save the Children International in Amman, Jordan, where he handled child protection policy issues that impact Syrian refugee children living in Jordan. Earlier in his career, he represented, on a pro bono basis, a Virginia girl convicted of murder in the stabbing death of her mother. “Being raised as I was reinforced the belief that it takes a village. So my work in child protection is influenced by that,” said Vieux.

To Vieux, who described his career as a “zig-zag” between widely varying kinds of work, a guiding principle to finding meaning in his career and life has been adaptability. In law school, Vieux said he “did everything,” not feeling strongly drawn toward any single career path. The path until law school had seemed linear, “But then I entered the real world.”

He began his career clerking on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Vieux told students that as his clerkship was ending, the judge asked him, “Did you get what you came for?” That unexpected question stuck with Vieux as he progressed in his career and helped to inspire his focus on mission-driven work.

Vieux followed his clerkship with work as a criminal appellate defense counsel in the United States Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps. He then entered private practice but maintained a robust pro bono practice that included litigation stemming from the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In 2010, the D.C. Bar recognized him as its Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year.

Vieux encouraged the students to rely on mentors and networking to help them home in on their career passions, and shared how being forced to confront whether to continue pursuing a career in private practice finally propelled him into following his passion on a full-time basis. “I had known for a while that I was ready to move on, but I hadn’t had the courage to do it,” Vieux said. “Suddenly, the decision was made for me.” He explained that it took “a lot of soul searching” to figure out his next step, but he realized his law degree provided many career options. “I hadn’t orchestrated the timing, but I suddenly saw how many good things there were to come.”

Vieux reminded the students that their Michigan Law degrees will enable them to “bend but not break” as they navigate their own careers, and he encouraged them to not get discouraged by the seemingly insurmountable global issues they might face.

“Don’t get so caught up in the injustice, in the darkness that you witness,” he said, “that you walk right past the light.”


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