Skadden Fellow to help refugees

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

While working as a development aid worker in Uganda, Julie Kornfeld realized the people with the most meaningful impact on the community were those with specific skill sets, such as engineers, architects, doctors, and lawyers.

"It was this realization that pushed me to apply to law school," says Kornfeld, who will graduate from the University of Michigan Law School in May.

Kornfeld, who is spending her final MLaw semester with Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, was recently honored as a Skadden Fellowship recipient. After graduation, she will represent human trafficking survivors at the International Refugee Assistance Project in New York, an organization she has been involved with for three years in varying capacities: as a an employment verification coordinator, a summer legal associate, and a legal supervisor for the University of Michigan chapter.

In her new position as a Skadden Fellow, she will be providing direct representation to foreign national human trafficking survivors, focusing on access to public benefits and civil remedies.

"I enjoy being able to use my legal toolkit to save people thousands of miles away, who are living in the most dangerous situations, and to use that toolkit to obtain for them a new life free from persecution," she says. "I feel privileged to be able to graduate and work for my dream organization, in my dream role as an attorney, serving refugees and human trafficking survivors, populations that are grossly under-represented."

A Philadelphia native who moved to West Bloomfield in second grade, Kornfeld earned her undergrad degree, magna cum laude, in social policy, political science and global health, from Northwestern University.

While an undergrad, she served as Executive Co-director of the Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights. Her internships included RefugeeOne and Heartland Alliance, both in Chicago, and she was an undergraduate research Fellow; UNHCR Rapporteur, for the Northwestern University Center for Forced Migration Studies. But she says her most formative undergrad experience included studying abroad at Uganda's Makerere University - it was there she solidified her interest in refugees and East Africa and it was this experience that drove her to live in Uganda post graduation.

As a Princeton in Africa Fellow, she spent a year as a program associate with the Lutheran World Federation in Uganda. Her crowning achievements included developing a three-year multi-million-dollar project to help families affected by the Nodding Disease, a disease that afflicted hundreds of children in northern Uganda; and leading a team to conduct an emergency response after conflict in the Congo caused an influx of Congolese refugees on the Uganda-Congolese border.

In her free time, she returned to the Katwe Youth Development Association, an organization she became close with during her study abroad years. There she organized skill-building games for the orphaned and street children, and founded and managed a school sponsorship program that funded the schooling of the children. She also took the opportunity to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and coach youth soccer.

When Kornfeld returned from Uganda in 2012, she spent 10 months as a Resource Development Operations Associate for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York.

"This allowed me the opportunity to work for the world's largest Jewish humanitarian aid organization and see how the headquarters of this type of organization operates," she says.

Four months at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in 2014 expanded her experience in post-conflict settings to include Southeast Asia, and helped her gain familiarity in international criminal law, through research on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and antiquities trafficking.

"These were areas of international human rights law I was less familiar with before going to Cambodia," she says. "I also learned how to drive a stick shift on a 1960s Jeep and loved eating everything and anything!"

Last summer she worked as a Caribbean Protection legal intern at USA for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in Washington D.C., where she drafted refugee status determinations and appeal decisions on asylum claims, conducted interviews with asylum seekers, and wrote advisory opinions to Caribbean governments advocating for asylum recognition in support of asylees who were wrongly denied status by Caribbean governments.

The work gave her an inside view to the refugee status determination process.

"Thanks to my experience at UNHCR I now have a comprehensive understanding of how the refugee protection system works, which makes me a better advocate for my clients," she says.

The only lawyer in her family, Kornfeld whose interests include travel, running, hiking, climbing, soccer, and Frisbee notes that values instilled in her as a young girl drove her to law school. With parents who were extremely active in community, serving as president of the Homeowners Association, president of Temple, head room parent, and more, she knew her chosen profession would have to be one that provided social good to the community.

"In the most naive sense, I knew I wanted a profession that could save people's lives," she says. "I was originally attracted to the field of medicine but I quickly realized after my first quarter as a pre-med student that there were many more professions that would give me the skill set to change people's lives.

"I switched majors to social policy and through an externship at Heartland Alliance, discovered my passion for helping people who had escaped the unimaginable refugees. Without my parents instilling these values in me and without their unwavering support throughout my education, there is no way I would be where I am today."

She has enjoyed the supportive community of U-M Law School.

"Everyone always says that one of Michigan's greatest strengthen is its collegiality and I couldn't agree more," she says.

"This environment has allowed me to feel comfortable and confident in pursuing the path less traveled public interest law through my amazing peers, professors, and law school staff."

Published: Mon, Feb 29, 2016

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