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On the job in human rights law
Katie Wood studies Masters of International Law at University of New South Wales and is now Legal and Compliance Manager at Amnesty International.
What's your job title? How long have you worked in your current position?
I’m a Legal and Compliance Manager at Amnesty International (my title will soon change to ‘Legal and Governance Manager’). My role is akin to that of a general counsel.
What is your employer’s mission/goal?
To see that the human rights of every person in the world are protected and promoted.
What do you do on a daily basis? Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
I commissioned a report from Clayton Utz that reviewed the implementation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendations by states, territories and the Federal Government.
I also worked with a team who built a scale replica of a Guantanamo Bay cell and toured it around the country to help people understand what it would be like to be detained there. We then shipped the cell to the US ahead of the 2008 Presidential elections, and Martin Sheen, Mark Ruffalo, Mary Robinson and John Oliver all visited and recorded messages. At the time, I was employed by Amnesty International as a coordinator for the Human Rights and Security Campaign.
Nowadays, I advise colleagues and the board on legal matters - from contracts, to defamation, to IP to corporate law. It’s great to have so much variety in a role.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
Hearing about the horrific things that happen to people when their human rights are violated.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role? Please be as specific as possible.
I feel privileged to be able to work for an organisation that I believe in, and whose values I share. I also work with some incredible people - from people whose rights have been violated, to our supporters, volunteers, interns, activists, members. I’m also inspired by my colleagues.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Warrawee, Sydney.
Where were you educated and what did you study?
I went to Abbotsleigh School for Girls, then the University of Sydney to study Arts/Law. I subsequently completed a Masters of International Law at UNSW.
What attracted you to that field of study?
I have always been passionate about justice and fairness, and I wanted to continue to study French.
What personal qualities are required for success in your position?
Attention to detail is critical, as is a strategic view. You also need the ability to work with others, and the ability to take complex information and communicate it to non-lawyers.
What’s one thing it might surprise people to learn is advantageous in your job?
I get to work frequently with international colleagues.
What are the limitations or downsides of your job?
Sometimes you can feel as though the battle for human rights is uphill, but then you meet a person, hear a story or read some news that inspires you and you can keep going.
If you could give some advice to your younger self at university, what would it be?
- Pay attention to constitutional law!
- Which experience has had the greatest influence on your career so far?
- Practising law (commercial litigation) in a private firm for a number of years taught me invaluable lessons that I still use today, 16 years later.