Two 2021 graduates of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s LLM program have secured post-graduate positions advocating for the protection of human rights. The work of Hugh Fitzgibbon LLM’21 and Meri Baghdasaryan LLM’21, supported through the Law School’s LLM Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowship, concentrates on the fair administration of global trials as well as the intersections between privacy, free speech, and technology law.
Together with their JD colleagues, they make up the cohort of the Law School’s Class of 2021 Fellowship Recipients. In total, the 18 graduates are using their educations to serve the public interest in richly diverse manners across the world.
Hugh Fitzgibbon LLM’21
Following graduation, Hugh Fitzgibbon LLM’21 began his internship in the TrialWatch program of the Clooney Foundation, where he assisted the organization’s team of attorneys in researching and monitoring trials around the world in an effort to protect and uphold international standards for the fair administration of justice.
Prior to coming to the Law School, Fitzgibbon spent time volunteering with children from underrepresented backgrounds and people experiencing homelessness in his home country of Ireland. Through this work, he began to wonder about what macro-level policies could be enacted to help to alleviate the vast social inequity he saw.
“I’ve always wanted to work in human rights since doing law in my undergrad back at home. That’s why I chose to do the LLM at Penn: to really specialize and deepen my understanding of that area of law,” Fitzgibbon said. “From a legal perspective, I wanted to understand the overarching framework that exists, how we use that framework to help people in their day-to-day lives, what kind of changes we need to make to that framework, and if that framework is even functioning as it should.”
At the TrialWatch program, Fitzgibbon is tasked with compiling research to assist attorneys in ensuring that adjudicative bodies around the world are engaging in just and lawful trial practices. According to Fitzgibbon, much of the recent work has involved safeguarding the freedom of expression, especially as it relates to individuals’ rights to criticize their governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the substance of the trial, Fitzgibbon reflected on the centrality of fair trials to local, national, and international systems of justice.
“Despite being so central to a functioning society based on rule of law and respect for individual freedoms, the right to the fair trial is a right that I don’t think even one country is fully in compliance with, under international standards,” said Fitzgibbon. “This is definitely a huge undertaking for the organization, but it’s really important.”
Fitzgibbon noted that the Fellowship support helped him to kickstart a career in human rights that he is excited to pursue and offered him opportunities that he may not have been able to experience otherwise.
“I’m definitely only here because of the Fellowship: I’m only able to do this because of it, and it’s going to be very significant to me in terms of setting out on a path in my career,” Fitzgibbon said. “I would encourage anyone, if they’re interested in public interest work, to do the Fellowship if they can, because it’s such an incredible opportunity to really delve into this work. It’s obviously very hard to go straight into the public interest right after law school, for various obvious reasons, so take the support at this early stage. Just go for it.”
Meri Baghdasaryan LLM’21
Meri Baghdasaryan LLM’21 will join the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to work on cutting-edge research regarding digital privacy and freedom of speech. Prior to completing her LLM degree at the Law School at Penn, Baghdasaryan worked as a human rights lawyer in her home country of Armenia, focusing on international human rights litigation and research. She first became interested in issues at the intersection of law and technology, as she completed her first LLM degree at Central European University, where she took a course on Internet and Freedom of Expression. Through subsequent work in the Internet Governance ecosystem, she developed three interrelated specialty areas: free speech online, privacy and data protection, and youth engagement in the ecosystem.
Baghdasaryan decided to pursue an LLM degree at the Law School at Penn, with a focus on Intellectual Property and Technology Law, in order to gain more legal experience in the U.S. According to Baghdasaryan, the EFF, which is based in California, has been on the forefront of the field of digital human rights since the organization was created, which made it the ideal place for her as a Fellow. Baghdasaryan will work in EFF’s civil liberties department and focus on issues surrounding digital surveillance policy and litigation.
“It was the perfect chance for me to work with an organization that shares a lot of the values that I cherish, and the work that I’m going to do there is going to be very interesting,” Baghdasaryan said. “Civil rights at the intersection of law and technology are the present already. It’s not the future. It’s the present. With this field, and through taking these courses, you can work in many different places — not only law firms.”
Baghdasaryan chose to attend the Law School at Penn because of its wide variety of course offerings that would help her to develop a better understanding of the U.S.’s involvement in her specialty area of law.
“When I checked the courses at Penn, they seemed to be more diverse, and I had more options to get exposure to IP and technology law, which I really appreciated, because that’s why I came to the U.S. to do this degree,” Baghdasaryan said.
As a student, Baghdasaryan took courses to complete the IP and Technology Concentration and participated in the Detkin Clinic for Intellectual Property, which she credits to solidifying her interest in IP law. The practical experience she gained through the clinic, she said, helped her to understand the different approach that the U.S. takes in the privacy law field. Having previously concentrated more “on the tech side” of the work, she was pleased to find that she also enjoyed delving into the interrelated world of trademark and copyright law.
“Penn really offered me the opportunity to try different things and see where I stand in the U.S. market and see what I can do later, because this opened up many more opportunities for me,” Baghdasaryan said.