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UC Law school experiences lead to career in international affairs

Students enroll at the University of Cincinnati College of Law with a wide variety of career goals. For Heather Heldman, a 2014 alumna, it was the best way to serve her country.

“I’ve always been a very patriotic individual,” said Heldman, “it was really a matter of figuring where I could be most effective as a public servant.”

Portrait of Heather Heldman

Heather Heldman, Class of 2014

In college, Heldman studied abroad, took courses in counter-terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs, and learned Arabic. “I was aiming to work for the State Department, on the legal aspects of foreign policy,” said Heldman. After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Yale University, Heldman began looking for the right law school.

UC’s value was an important consideration for a student bound for the public sector, as was its strong international connections.  Heldman spoke about her career goals with Professor Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, before committing to UC.

One of the things the University of Cincinnati College of Law does so well is to nurture students who don’t necessarily want traditional legal careers

Heather Heldman

Being an Urban Morgan Fellow gave Heldman a structured way to stay engaged with current events and learn about international human rights law, while at the same time balancing the core curriculum in domestic law.

“The fellowship really opened a lot of doors for me. It broadened and enriched the curriculum in very meaningful ways,” said Heldman.

During her first summer, she traveled to the Netherlands, where she interned at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

“It was an amazing experience for me, to see the ins and outs of a post-conflict tribunal dealing with large-scale atrocities,” said Heldman, “I think it’s important to study the challenges of international justice and think about how this type of tribunal can function in the future.”

In her second year, Heldman traveled to Egypt. At the time, a new constitution was being developed after President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power. Heldman went to Cairo and worked with a non-governmental organization that was participating in the drafting process. She also had a front-row seat to the uprising and coup that unfolded in the summer of 2013.

“It was a phenomenal opportunity to be back in the Middle East, the region I have the most experience in and most wanted to work in after law school” she said. "It was very important to see the process of attempting to rebuild a legal system amidst significant political upheaval."

On to Washington

After completing her J.D., Heldman worked for the U.S. State Department, where she served as an advisor in the Office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure.

“There was a component of law—both domestic and international—as well as diplomacy, negotiation, and social work involved,” said Heldman, “I really loved being in a role that was multifaceted.”

Today, Heldman uses her legal background and international experience to advise businesses on overseas investments. “It requires understanding not just the country’s legal and regulatory framework, but also the political, social, and economic issues that are driving the dynamics on the ground.” Heldman is a partner and co-founder of Luminae Group, the only wholly female-owned consulting firm in its sector.

Heldman sees international engagement as vital to the future of not just the College of Law, but Cincinnati as a whole. “Part of staying competitive is understanding what is going on elsewhere, making sure your community is not only strong but also able to engage in meaningful and productive ways with the rest of the world,” she said. “The Urban Morgan Institute is a great asset to the school and to the city of Cincinnati.”

“I really appreciated the personal relationships I developed at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and the close-knit human rights community there,” said Heldman.

Featured photo: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash