Celebrated human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin participated in a conversation titled “Doing the Right Thing” on March 11, sharing their perspectives on leadership, success, and making a positive difference in the world.
Scores of UCLA students attended the invitation-only webinar, which was part of the “UCLA Leaders of Tomorrow” series of events, presented by the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Host, and the creator of the series, Eric Esrailian moderated the discussion. He serves on the Geffen School faculty, is a dynamic and impactful film producer and member of the greater UCLA community, and spearheaded the effort to create the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law in 2017.
Clooney and Mnookin both described how their respective career trajectories – Clooney as a corporate attorney who turned to human rights work, and Mnookin as a scholar of forensic evidence who emerged as a law school dean – began with an interest in, as Clooney put it, “the process of coming to the truth.” For Mnookin, that meant studying the use of evidence including DNA and fingerprints in the justice system, while Clooney sought out “criminal cases where I was really invested in the outcome.”
Now an attorney at the British law firm of Doughty Street Chambers and co-founder and co-president with her husband, actor and activist George Clooney, of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, Clooney has worked on a wide array of globally renowned and pivotal matters. She discussed her efforts to gain recognition for the Armenian genocide and carry out justice for atrocities against the Rohynga in Myanmar and the Yazidi at the hands of ISIS.
In choosing which cases to take on, Clooney said that she considers how she can represent her clients in a way that also serves a broader community, “Where are the gravest abuses occurring, and where do I think I can actually make a difference?”
Mnookin also talked about how she seeks to make a difference at UCLA Law. This includes her work in founding the law school’s Achievement Fellowship Program that offers scholarships to diverse students who have overcome substantial burdens on their journeys to law school, and the promotion of faculty and institutes focused on the vital issues of the day – the environment, critical race studies, law and technology, criminal justice, immigration, and more.
Mnookin shared the impetus behind founding the Promise Institute with Esrailian and fostering the work of its growing staff of experts in the hub of human rights and the law on the West Coast. “The chance to create something that could have a set of foci that included everything from human rights and racial justice to thinking about technology in the human rights context to thinking about, How do we create students who are graduating, ready to go out into the world and make a difference? … It has just been a really incredible opportunity,” she said.
She and Clooney agreed that seizing opportunity and turning it into meaningful impact is a central motivation. Mnookin noted that, as dean of UCLA Law, she works to leverage possibility in many areas of the law. “I have the incredible good luck and good fortune of getting to see these seeds begin to bloom and blossom,” she said. “I get to see that these gardens are being tended by inspirational people who are working to make a difference.”
Clooney shares that drive to help. “There’s some people who watch the news and don’t just sort of bury their heads in their hand,” she said. “They think, What am I going to do about this?”