Fighting for International Justice
“I don’t think of myself as someone who will be a traditional lawyer,” said Vanessa Allyn, the 2006 editor in chief of the Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution. “I don’t see myself working with clients in a courtroom. I want to use the tools and skills I’ve gained in law school and apply them to human rights work.”
Allyn said she developed a fascination with international relations early in life. “My parents taught me that the world is my oyster,” she said of the life lesson that ignited her wanderlust and interest in law. It is a career path certainly few in her hometown could have predicted.
Allyn was born in Depoe Bay, Ore., a town of 1,300 people on the Oregon coast — where fewer than 20 percent of residents go on to earn college degrees. Allyn was one of the exceptions. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Redlands in California in 1999. After graduation, she embarked on a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, which sent her to an island in Tonga in the South Pacific with 100 residents and no roads or electricity.
Allyn said the experience drastically changed her personality. “I used to be an overachiever, a planner,” she said. “Now I fly by the seat of my pants. I believe things happen for a reason and that people eventually end up where they are supposed to be.” For Allyn, that place was Willamette’s College of Law, where she has immersed herself in international law.
“I’ve taken as many classes in international law that I could,” she said. “And I started working on the international journal as early as I could.” She also set her sights on being editor in chief early in her second year. “I started taking on extra journal assignments so that I could get more experience.” That dedication paid off, and she ran unopposed for the position.
“Our journal is very unique,” she explained. “It is the only law journal that focuses on international dispute resolution. We’re also different from the other Willamette law journals in that we follow a theme for each issue.” In addition, unlike some of the other journals, Allyn’s staff receives no automatic course credit for its work. “It is truly a labor of love for us,” she said of the biannual journal. “That’s why I admire those who stay with the journal and work so hard.”
Despite the many demands of law school, Allyn has not lost sight of what brought her to law school in the first place — international human rights. Two years ago, she applied for and received a stipend from the Willamette University Public Interest Law Project that enabled her to take a summer position with the Coalition for International Justice in Washington, D.C.
“It turned into a major life experience,” she said. “I went with a small team of investigators to Darfur to help determine whether genocide was occurring there.” Allyn helped interview 1,200 refugees in camps on the border between Chad and Sudan. The information they gathered was used by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to support the government’s stance that genocide was occurring in the region.
Allyn believes her many experiences working overseas have enhanced her international law studies. “Public interest work extends far beyond the United States,” she explained. “Law school has given me a good set of tools for life — regardless of where I end up.” After graduation, she plans to move to Washington, D.C., and take the Maryland bar exam. “Washington is a place of refugees,” she said. “People go there for politics and policy. It is a meeting place, a jumping off place, so it seems like the perfect place for me.”