Seizing Opportunity: Embarking on an International Pro Bono Experience

Today’s guest blogger, Sharon Calhoun, is a fifth-year litigation associate with Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg in Chicago. She is currently on sabbatical in South Africa.

During my fourth year as a litigation associate with Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg in Chicago, I decided to seize an opportunity that few corporate attorneys will experience – to pursue a six month pro bono sabbatical in South Africa. This bold step in my career came about after I realized that I had an interest in human rights. As one can imagine, it is difficult to explore a new area of law while working full time for a law firm and I did not have an adequate outlet for exploring my new interest. Also, despite my curiosity for human rights work, I did not want to leave my law firm. A six-month sabbatical is a “happy medium” that allows me to remain with my firm while exploring my interest in public interest litigation full-time.

Just last week, I arrived in Cape Town where I will split my time in South Africa working for two organizations dedicated to advancing human rights, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC).

The South African Human Rights Commission is a national institution with a constitutional mandate for the promotion and protection of human rights. As an intern with the SAHRC, my work will span the range of activities conducted by the SAHRC under its broad constitutional mandate. I will work in the Parliamentary and International Affairs division where my assignments will include researching legislative developments in the South African Parliament that pertain to human rights and assisting in drafting comments on South Africa’s submissions to the United Nations and other treaty bodies regarding South Africa’s human rights efforts. I will also work for the SAHRC’s Legal Services division where I will research, make findings and draft legal opinions on human rights complaints.

My work for the Women’s Legal Centre will be just as exciting as my work for the SAHRC. The Women’s Legal Centre is an independent law centre with the mission of achieving equality for women in South Africa. The WLC focuses on constitutional litigation in five strategic areas: violence against women, fair access to resources in relationships, access to land/housing, access to fair labor and access to health care. As an intern, I will work side-by-side with WLC attorneys assisting in their litigation efforts.

I am excited about embarking on this new phase of my career. In addition to the awesome legal experience I will gain working with two great public interest organizations, I am certain that my six months in Cape Town will be a life-changing experience that will broaden my world view and re-energize my career. It’s a great feeling to know that I will be gaining so much while also making a difference. I’m ready for the adventure to begin!

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