Fellowship Spotlight: Délany Sisirucá

July 26, 2022

The Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program places associates at legal services or nonprofit organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities.

Délany Sisirucá, a current Fellow at the Clooney Foundation for Justice, shares some of her thoughts about the experience thus far.

Why did you choose to join Cleary initially?

I wanted a law firm with a global presence and international dimension to the vast majority of their work, as well as one with a commitment to the lockstep payment model. I was impressed by Cleary’s commitment to pro bono work and excellent communication with and prioritization of summer associates.

What drew you to the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program?

During my summer associateship, I heard several then-fellows talk about their experiences. I was immediately drawn to the opportunity to engage in targeted work in my fields of interest: international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

How did you get paired with the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ)?

I had several calls and email exchanges with Cleary Director of Pro Bono – U.S. Katherine Hughes, during which I was able to share my interest in international human rights law and international humanitarian law. I knew I wanted to be involved in the human rights space in a litigation-oriented role, rather than in an advocacy role. CFJ specifically works on litigation-facing investigations and files cases before both domestic and international courts, making it a good fit for the skills I wanted to develop within the human rights space.

Can you provide an overview of the type of work you are doing at CFJ?

I work exclusively on bringing cases related to the human rights situation in my home country of Venezuela. Specifically, I have contributed to drafting a submission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court related to their Venezuelan investigation, providing the Court with assistance in identifying alleged perpetrators of Rome Statute violations. I am also working on bringing a case under universal jurisdiction for the Venezuelan judiciary’s failure to properly investigate perpetrators in cases of extrajudicial killings of antigovernment protesters.

What has surprised you most about the fellowship?

I was surprised by the amount of independence I was given and how quickly I was integrated into the organization, especially since I was only going to be with the organization for a year. The fellowship has truly felt like the first year at any job with growing responsibilities and participation in social gatherings over time.

What kinds of challenges have you faced during your fellowship?

The hardest part of a fellowship like this one––and perhaps any pro bono work that is victim facing––is making relationships with victims and their families and then needing to communicate realistic expectations to them. In particular, in the world of international criminal law, cases against perpetrators of crimes against humanity can take years, if not decades, to come to a conclusion. Even then, there is no guarantee that cases will come out the way we hope. The stakes feel so much higher when victims of human rights abuses have seen their perpetrators enjoy impunity for years.

What skills have your learned at CFJ that have served you well?

CFJ has taught me a lot about adaptability and creativity. I have learned to be creative in the approaches that we apply to seeking remedy for victims of human rights violations. CFJ engages in strategic litigation in so many different ways, including in domestic court cases in different countries, international court cases around the world, communications campaigns, and more. It is simply impossible to be an expert on every single thing that CFJ does. Instead, you need to be an expert in adapting and learning quickly.

What advice do you have for a First Year Cleary Associate who may want to pursue a similar path? 

I highly encourage any first-year Cleary associate who might be interested in international criminal law or international human rights law to look into applying for the fellowship program. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity early in my career to specialize in such a difficult area of law to break into. I know that wherever my career takes me from this point on, I will always have expertise in the kind of work that I did at CFJ, so that I can be a pro bono and public international law resource at Cleary.

What are you looking forward to most upon your arrival at Cleary?

I am really excited to bring back pro bono work from CFJ, show what I have been working on, and share my enthusiasm for an organization that I have grown to care about so much. I am also eager to translate my new skills to do all kinds of things and learn on my feet in the fast-paced environment of litigation at a large firm.

Learn more about the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program here.