Justin Heifetz (MJ 2011) has been chosen by the Refugee Clinical Assistance Programme to provide free legal advice to asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
The programme, formed in conjunction with the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre (HKRAC), allows undergraduate and postgraduate law students to practice direct client services under the supervision of a qualified lawyer.
It is highly competitive to enter — six places are available and it is open to more than 1,000 students.
The goal is to aid asylum seekers in making a case to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to gain refugee status in Hong Kong.
Heifetz, who is from Boston, USA, studied for a Master of Journalism degree at the JMSC last year. He is about to embark on a two-year Juris Doctor course at the Graduate Law Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“The reason I got this job was because of my experience as a journalist and that’s pretty much how I nailed my interview,” said Heifetz.
“During the interview, they asked how I’d write country reports and do country research. I immediately thought of Doreen Weisenhaus‘ Media Law class and the work we did on her Global Media Law Project.
“Professor Weisenhaus’s course taught me how to conduct detailed legal research from the vantage point of both a journalist and a legal analyst. I had written an overview for journalists to acquaint themselves with libel and privacy law in South Korea, and the interviewers loved how it was straight to the point and not bogged down with unnecessary legalese.”
Heifetz said that at the JMSC he’d learned to put the subject at ease, a vital skill when dealing with refugees, who are often survivors of serious trauma.
“Actually, I thought back to a presentation I’d prepared for Professor Gene Mustain’s literary journalism class on Joan Didion,” he said.
“Suddenly, it hit me one of her biggest keys to success was to elicit all this information by speaking very little — only when necessary. I think forcing questions can be where a lot of journalists make mistakes.”
Heifetz’s interest in human rights and his pro bono work ethic also helped him in the interview.
“Professor Chan’s Covering China summer course was a great springboard for me to discuss how I was able to nurture my own skills and enthusiasm in following and reporting on the recent crackdowns on dissidents in Beijing,” he said.
Heifetz’s career goals entail a combination of law and journalism.
“I don’t think many people see how closely related journalism and law are,” he said.
“Ultimately, I want to gap the bridge between law and journalism. For some, it’s very black and white: we go to journalism school to be a journalist, we go to law school to be a lawyer. But for me, the subjects have become strongly interrelated.”
“I left the JMSC with a strong ethic to aid human rights and I’m continuing on to law school and the legal clinic to cultivate that ethic. I’m not sure yet if I’ll end up as a barrister or a reporter in a few years’ time, but the core values remain the same.”