Professor Paul Williams working with lawyers and judges in Benghazi
Professor Paul Williams working with
lawyers and judges in Benghazi.

Public International Law and Policy Program (PILPP)

The Public International Law & Policy Program (PILPP) offers American University students a unique opportunity to provide pro bono legal assistance that directly and immediately impacts countries all over the world. Accepted students work in small teams on issues from peace negotiations and transitional justice to governance and constitution drafting. Past and current projects support governments and parties to conflict in countries including Armenia, Bosnia, Burma, Darfur, Libya, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, South Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

The program is an innovative experiential learning opportunity, combining some of the weightiest issues in public international law with advanced skills training applicable to both private and public legal practice.

PILPP participants function both as Research Associates and enroll in a professional
development skills course taught by Professor Paul Williams. Dr. Williams is widely regarded as a leading social entrepreneur in the field of public international law. He has advised over two-dozen countries in post-conflict projects and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Public International Law & Policy Group in 2005. At American University he holds a Rebecca I. Grazier Professorship of Law and International Relations and is jointly appointed at the School of International Service. He previously served as Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and as an Attorney-Advisor at the U.S. Department of State.

PILPP Research Associates participate in a roundtable discussion regarding Yemen's transition in Washington, DC.
PILPP Research Associates participate in a roundtable discussion
regarding Yemen's transition in Washington, DC.

PILPP Projects and Student Role

PILPP involves constant active participation and skills-training both independently and through collaboration with practitioners in the field. Students work as Research Associates (RAs)—in small groups with Senior Research Associates (SRAs) and peers in the JD, JD/MA, LLM, and SIS MA programs at American—to directly support the legal needs of groups all over the world.

RAs work to provide client-ready products such as draft chapters of post-conflict constitutions, advisory memos for peace negotiations, portions of ceasefire agreements, or comparative studies for transitional justice issues. Additionally, projects will often include collaboration with pro bono teams at prominent law firms.

PILPP Research Associates have played an integral role in providing legal assistance across the world.
Students have assisted with projects including peace negotiations in:
• Armenia
• Bosnia
• Burma
• Georgia
• Kosovo
• Macedonia
• Montenegro
• South Sudan
• Sri Lanka
Constitution drafting in:
• Afghanistan
• Iraq
• Kosovo
• Libya
• Nepal
• South Sudan
• Tunisia
• Yemen
and Transitional justice in:
• Côte d’Ivoire
• Kenya
• Libya
• Syria
• Uganda

According to Students

“Professor Williams is brilliant. He makes the program experience enjoyable and motivational for aspiring legal professionals.”

“I am grateful to Professor Williams for his support and mentorship. I have had a wonderful experience as a Research Associate and learned valuable skills during our professional development seminar.”

“PILPP provides students with a lot of hands-on practical legal experience.”

“Professor Williams is a very engaging, enthusiastic, and charismatic professor who is very open to student learning and comments. He really cares about the students.”

“The obvious strength of PILPP is in the work we do. People never cease to be impressed when I tell them what we do as an organization, and what I do as a Research Associate. I think it is great that PILPP is available to AU students.”

According to Alumni

“PILPP was one of the most meaningful experiences I had at WCL. It contributed a great deal to the writing and research skills I constantly use professionally.”

“As a first year associate, the professional management skills I gained through PILPP have been incredibly useful for my work on complex litigation projects, including one that requires managing more than thirty attorneys at the firm."

“PILPP was truly life changing. I feel like I became a better lawyer, professional, and team player because of my work in the program.”

“There were too many strong points to name. The experience honed my research, writing, and analytical skills, and provided me with an opportunity to undertake really rare and important work that had a global impact.”

“The professional development sessions were very useful in developing myself as an emerging international lawyer.”

“I enjoyed my work with PILPP and gained tremendous knowledge regarding international law; it helped me grow significantly as a young professional.”

Alumni Today

Jennifer P. Harris
Jennifer Harris is a Senior Associate in the Alternative Investments Practice of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. She concentrates on finance transactions, including structured financing, secured lending, and debt restructuring. She also assists PILPG through her pro bono work.

Kristen M. Jarvis Johnson
Kristen Johnson is an Associate at Patton Boggs LLP. Her work there includes international dispute resolution, sovereign representation, and complex civil litigation. She also supports PILPG as an Advisory Council member and through pro bono work. While at PILPG, Ms. Johnson advised on peace negotiations in the Georgia-Abkhazia dispute, post-conflict state development in Iraq, and advocacy for African ethnic minorities in local conflict.

Melanie Nakagawa
Melanie Nakagawa serves as the Senior Energy/Environment Counsel on the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee where she handles energy, environment, climate change, and technology issues for Chairman John Kerry. She previously worked as an attorney in the International Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) where she was also the director of NRDC's Global Safe Water Project promoting U.S. leadership in addressing water security in developing countries.

Jennifer Ober
Jennifer N. Ober is Senior Rule of Law Advisor for the USAID Mission to Kosovo. She formerly served as Chief of Section and Senior Advisor within the Central Assembly and Political Parties section at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. Ms. Ober has served as an advisor to the Kosovo Government and Kosovo Assembly on legislative and constitutional issues. Previously, Ms. Ober worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of State in both Washington and in Zagreb, Croatia.

Bridget Rutherford
Prior to beginning work with PILPG, Bridget Rutherford worked as an Associate at Shearman & Sterling LLP. She also served as co-counsel for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army in an Abyei region border dispute with the Government of Sudan before The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Matthew T. Simpson
Matthew T. Simpson is an attorney with Torys LLP where he practices corporate and commercial law with a focus on international transactions and negotiations. Before joining Torys, Matthew worked as an International Trade and Arbitration Associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Previously he was the Accredited Principal Legal Advisor to the Darfur Delegation in negotiating a peace agreement with the Government of Sudan.

Anna Triponel
Anna Triponel has worked as Consultant to the Special Representative of the UNSG on Business and Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, as International Law Pro Bono Head and Mergers and Acquisitions Associate at Jones Day, as Legal Advisor for the World Bank, and as Coordinator of the International Network for the Promotion of the Rule of Law at the United States Institute of Peace. Anna has also served as a PILPG legal advisor in Kenya regarding constitution drafting and implementation as well as in Côte d'Ivoire on transitional justice mechanisms.

Program Requirements and Academic Components

PILPP participants work as Research Associates (RAs) for an entire academic year. This will include some commitments during the summer before the program year begins, but will largely focus on the fall and spring semesters. Summer hours count toward students' Pro Bono Pledge completion.

RAs receive academic credit through participating in PILPP. In addition, students participate in a number of professional development trainings hosted by Professor Williams and alumni.

Participating in PILPP fulfills the following academic requirements:

  • JD and JD/MA Students:
    • Six academic credits per semester
    • Upper level writing requirement
    • Professional skills requirement
  • SIS MA Students:
    • Three academic credits per semester
  • LLM Students:
    • Three academic credits per semester

Eligibility and How to Apply

The application process is competitive and includes an application with a brief research component followed by an interview after initial screening. Every year PILPP receives over 100 applications for around 33 positions. When enrolled at SIS and/or WCL, keep an eye out for PILPP announcements in the fall and early winter. Eligible applicants for PILPP must:

  • Be enrolled as law students (JD or LLM) at Washington College of Law or masters students at the School of International Service
  • Demonstrate strong writing and research skills and interest in public international law
  • Complete and submit applications during the spring application cycle, which takes place through February and March of each year prior to the program start
    • For example, the PILPP 2012-2013 program year application cycle ended in March 2012