Meet Katie Shay, International Human Rights Lawyer

Recently I had the opportunity to meet international human rights lawyer Katie Shay of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.   I enjoyed learning about Katie’s path to conducting compelling work with this amazing NGO.

Could you please provide a brief summary of your professional background?

I am currently the Legal and Policy Coordinator at the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, and have worked here since I graduated from law school. I have been working in corporate accountability in some capacity since I started law school. I first worked in this area at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence suing companies that made illegal gun sales, and then I transitioned into environmental and human rights work, which I studied at Georgetown Law. Prior to law school I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Marquette University and worked in Milwaukee Public Schools as an AmeriCorps*VISTA.

While in law school, did you know that you wanted to work in the field of international human rights law?

I thought that I did—I was torn between environmental law and human rights law. During my internship at Earth Rights International where I handled corporate accountability cases and environmental protection cases, I found the work to be very compelling but I knew that I wanted to work in the policy area, and that it why ICAR is such a perfect fit.

Is there a particular case or client that you have encountered throughout your career that stands out in your mind?

In this area, all of the cases are compelling. There is one case that stands out to me, though, as the case that really spurred my career in corporate accountability. When I worked at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, I was assigned to a lawsuit concerning an illegal sale related to a mass shooting at a mall in Salt Lake City. The Brady Center represented the family of one of the victims. The surviving sister was as close in age to the victim as are my sister and I. The case really hit home, and I felt a deep personal connection to the case. This and all of the cases I’ve worked on have left the strong impression on me that there are reasonable and easy steps that businesses can take to prevent harm.

You are the Legal and Policy Coordinator at the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable. Could you please tell the readers what your job entails?

I handle a variety of substantive matters. I work on access to remedies, focusing on ensuring that when human rights have been violated the victims are able to recover through civil lawsuits at both the state and federal level. Additionally, I lead a project that is aimed at reducing the challenges that prevent prosecutors from pursuing cases against companies under existing criminal laws.

On the administrative side, I manage the ICAR’s budget and human resources functions.

Have you encountered any hurdles on your career path?

Getting a job at an NGO is a challenge. There aren’t many entry level positions available. There was a time that I wondered whether I was being foolish to follow my passion rather than pursue something a little more certain.  It worked out because I found my dream job, but there was a definite period of stress.

Is there anything on your path that you wish you had done differently?

I wish that I would have published more. I am working on my first publication now. It also think that my perspective may be richer if I had worked in a government or corporate setting, but I don’t necessarily regret not doing so.

Did you have a mentor at any time during your career?

I have had a number of mentors. I think it’s really important to know someone that you trust and can speak with for career and professional development advice.

If a new attorney was searching for a mentor, what advice would you give her for the search?

Think about who is doing the job that you would like to have and reach out to that person. Alternatively, approach someone that you trust and knows the space that you want to work in, even if they aren’t doing the exact job you would like to have.

Do you have any advice for the readers in terms of maintaining the mentoring relationship after the initial meeting?

Aim to reach out to the mentor every few months to meet for coffee or lunch. E-mails and phone calls are also good ways to check in and bounce ideas off one another.  I mentor several recent law school graduates and law students. I receive e-mails from them on a regular basis.

Do you have any final advice for newly minted female lawyers who aspire to be human rights lawyers?

Network. That’s how I found my job. Attend panel discussions, happy hours, get to know people in the field, develop relationships with people in the field. Additionally, stay relevant by blogging or writing articles. Finally, how you can advance your career by developing useful skills in addition to acquiring substantive knowledge.

Katie Shay is the Legal and Policy Coordinator at the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), leading ICAR's work on judicial remedy and criminal liability for corporate involvement in human rights violations.  This includes heading the Access to Judicial Remedy Project, a collaboration with the European Coalition for Corporate Justice and the Corporate Responsibility Coalition; the Nationwide Law School Partnership Project, in collaboration with EarthRights International; and the Commerce, Crime, and Human Rights Project, in collaboration with Amnesty International.  Katie graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as managing editor of the Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives, President of Georgetown Law’s Amnesty International chapter, and co-chair of the law school’s committee on Human Rights Fact Finding. She was also a student attorney with the Institute for Public Representation, where she worked both with indigenous communities seeking to protect their land from environmental harm and with non-profit organizations petitioning the U.S. government to impose new emissions limits on coal-fired power plants.  Katie is a co-author of Sent “Home” with Nothing:  The Deportation of Jamaicans with Mental Disabilities, a report that examines human rights implications of U.S. deportation policy. Katie has previously worked at EarthRights International; the law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal; and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She holds a B.A. from Marquette University. Outside of her work experience, Katie blogs about contemporary business and human rights issues on the Huffington Post and her work has been featured in various other publications. She serves as Vice-Chair of the ABA International Human Rights Committee, is a Thematic Specialist on Business and Human Rights for Amnesty International U.S.A, and is a member of the Stakeholder Advisory Board to the U.S. OECD National Contact Point.

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