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Public Interest Law Project

Katie Carson

October 10, 2011

Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps (Portland, OR)

This summer I worked as a law clerk in assisting the general counsel of Mercy Corps in Portland, Oregon. I chose Mercy Corps because it was an opportunity to gain practical experience in nonprofit management and a variety of substantive areas of the law while serving a unique public interest.

Globally, Mercy Corps works to provide humanitarian assistance and economic development to communities affected by disaster, conflict, chronic poverty and instability. To date, Mercy Corps has provided over $1.6 billion dollars to community led and market driven projects in 106 countries across the globe. Mercy Corps is constantly changing and adapting as a result of its focus on social innovation; however some of its traditional areas of focus include improving education, economic development, microfinance programs, emergency relief, hunger and poverty issues, and agricultural reform.

This wide variety of programmatic issues definitely made for an interesting summer as a law clerk and gave me a great view of what it would be like in the “real world” as in-house counsel for such a large and diverse organization. Throughout the course of the summer I focused on two central projects relating to lobbying and tax compliance. For these projects I researched relevant law and wrote legal memoranda, then turned this information into educational materials for day to day use by Mercy Corps employees. I also spent a great deal of time helping resolve unexpected legal issues as they were presented to the general counsel. For example, I arrived at work one morning with a request to research export compliance procedures for goods that needed to be ready for shipment to North Korea in less than two-weeks. Other last minute projects included contract review and resolving employment law and corporate governance issues.

I cannot imagine a better place to work as a law clerk than Mercy Corps; this would not have been possible without a PILP stipend. This summer my work gave me a unique view of life as in-house counsel for an international nonprofit organization committed to changing the world. This experience helped me garner practical legal skills while working with a group of people that literally amazed me everyday. In the end, this opportunity helped me realize how to be a more effective public interest attorney and allowed me to contribute my skills to the global community in a way that I feel proud of.

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