The Equal Rights Trust provides those at the start of their career in human rights the opportunity to gain essential experience in paid internship and fellowship positions. Through these placements, we are helping to level the playing field so that those not able to support themselves financially can break into the sector and help us advance equality worldwide. In December 2015 we spoke to our Legal Research Intern, Ben Smith on his experience and thoughts on the scheme.
I studied law at Oxford University before going on to undertake an LLM (Master of Laws) at UCL which I finished in September 2015 just before joining the Equal Rights Trust. During my LLM I focused on Human Rights and Labour Law, with equality and non-discrimination being a big focus in those areas (I wrote my dissertation on the role that intersectionality has within equality law) so the Trust was a perfect fit.
As a Legal Intern with the Trust, what are your main responsibilities?
So far I’ve worked across the whole range of work carried out by the Trust, including litigation, fundraising, advocacy, and work on ongoing projects. I’ve lost track of the number of countries I’ve been involved with, I think it must be over 20 already, which is testament to the Trust’s reach and the breadth of its work. It’s been a great way to learn about a diversity of approaches to equality and non-discrimination that you just can’t get in the lecture theatre. I’ve also had the chance to be involved with the Trust’s bi-annual journal, the Equal Rights Review, which has included drafting pieces and assisting with the editorial process.
How would you describe your internship experience overall?
My internship has been an incredible experience so far because unlike a lot of other internships (so I hear) I have been given genuine responsibility from the start. I’ve learned an enormous amount about how an international human rights organisation functions on a day-to-bay basis and the practical realities of finding and applying for funding. I’ve also learned a lot about international human rights law which was never a major focus of mine academically.
Would you say the internship provides a unique experience? How so?
The internship is unique for a number of reasons, such as the fact that it is paid (which is far too rare in this field), the level of responsibility you are given and the opportunity to do real and meaningful work.
You applied for a grant offered by the Trust to fund your position. Did the grant influence your decision to apply for the position?
The internship being paid made all the difference to me. So many internships, especially in the human rights field, are unpaid, which means they’re inaccessible for most people unless you have family in London or significant independent financial means. I have neither, so it was really disappointing to devote so much of my academic life to human rights and then find that many of the opportunities to put the knowledge I’ve developed into practice weren’t open to me.
Do you think the internship will help you when seeking employment in the future? How so?
Absolutely. So many apparently “entry-level” jobs in human rights and other charities require direct experience. I think (and hope!) that the internship at the Trust will be a stepping stone to other work in the sector. Even thinking beyond human rights organisations, I’ve developed lots of transferable skills in my time as an in intern. I’ve drafted contracts for one of our projects, for instance, and drafted and advised on litigation strategies. So even if my legal career takes me away from human rights work, I know I’ll be able to use the skills I’ve developed as an intern.