By Lori AthertonJune 28, 2016
Chaka Laguerre's career aspiration is to advise governments and organizations on international law matters, including human rights and social justice issues. With three graduate degrees under her belt, including a JD from Michigan Law, Laguerre is well on her way to making that happen. But before that, she has one more accomplishment to add to her resume: serving as a trainee for the International Court of Justice.
Laguerre, a 2014 graduate, will begin her 10-month clerkship at the Court in September, working for Judge Giorgio Gaja of Italy. Noting that the clerkship is a "rare experience," Laguerre said she is looking forward to "learning from judges who are some of the most highly esteemed international law experts in the world and working on cases that raise intriguing and challenging questions of international law."
Laguerre learned she had been accepted as a trainee moments before she was slated to speak to high school students in Brooklyn as part of the National Association of Women Judges Color of Justice Program. "I'm proud to be one of the first trainees selected from the Caribbean," Laguerre said, "and to have had something inspiring to share with these students who came from similar backgrounds and circumstances as I did. It was a touching moment for me."
The first person in her family to graduate from college, Laguerre said her parents and grandparents experienced poverty in Jamaica, and she faced "many hardships growing up under difficult circumstances" in America. In her role as Miss Jamaica U.S. 2007, Laguerre "worked to change the difficult circumstances affecting many in Jamaica and the diaspora, including by instituting projects dedicated to rebuilding and empowering communities." Those experiences motivated Laguerre to become a lawyer and "advocate on behalf of others to help improve the conditions of their lives, or to help them improve the lives of others."
At Michigan Law, Laguerre pursued opportunities to gain experience in international law, including serving as an intern at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa; as an extern at the AIRE (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe) Centre in London; and as a trainee to the UNHCR Representative to the European Institutions in Strasbourg, thanks to the Clara Belfield and Henry Bates Overseas Fellowship she received in 2012.
Following law school, Laguerre "immersed [herself] in academia," earning an MA in legal and political theory, with the highest distinction, from University College London in 2015. Her dissertation, "Epistemic Injustice: Interactive Spaces between Silenced Testimonies and Hermeneutical Silences," was named the best dissertation in legal and political theory in 2014-2015. She recently completed an MPhil in history and the philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge, where her research focused on epistemology and power and the philosophy, ethics, and politics of science.
"I am a lawyer by hand and an academic at heart," Laguerre said. "I am interested in the epistemic authority of the law in creating knowledge and how this relates to human rights and social justice issues. These research degrees allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between law, knowledge, and authority, and allowed me to study the issues that I care about in a rigorous and deep manner."
Laguerre credits her education at Michigan Law with preparing her well for her work at the International Court of Justice, and appreciates the support and mentorship she received from faculty and staff, "especially Professors Bruno Simma, Nicholas Rine, and Nicole Appleberry, as well as Dean David Baum and Vicki Abbott. They gave me invaluable insight into law practice and the confidence to pursue my career goals, which is the most valuable thing an educator can give his or her student. I am deeply grateful to have received such support and the first-rate education that Michigan Law provided."
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