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Tarr '00 Offers Five-Steps for a Successful Career in International Criminal Law

When asked about her career success-stories, Emily Tarr ’00, who now serves as an International Special Advisor in the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, reflects on “a combination of what I have done right, and some things that I should have done.” Together, these items form a five-step plan for success in the international criminal law field.

The first and most important step is to do internships: “do internships, do internships, do internships…and did I mention do internships?” Tarr says. The hands-on, field work gained through internships will give students a leg up, she states. If students find a good internship in the field, they will gain practical experience, prove to potential employers that they are serious about the field, and, most importantly, meet people who will later be colleagues. “The international criminal law community is very small,” she stresses. “You will see almost everyone that you meet at any given institution again.”

After internships, Tarr says it is important to research and publish with professors in the field, pursue an advanced degree in the field, gain applicable domestic experience, and create and maintain a network of peers and professionals in the field. “There is something behind each of the five steps that really assists in career development,” she says.

In addition to her five-step plan, Tarr encourages students interested in international criminal law to “Work hard and distinguish yourself from your peers.” Tarr has had no trouble distinguishing herself professionally: in addition to a tour of duty as a United States Marine, Tarr founded the Boston Center for International Justice (where she currently serves as President).  She is also the Chairperson of the Arbitration Tribunal established by the Dayton Peace Accord and an adjunct faculty member at the School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University System.  Indeed, describing her life as “busy” is an understatement.

Tarr, who says she obtained her current position through a combination of “patience and perseverance,” credits UMass with introducing her to the field of international criminal law and war crimes prosecutions. “If I hadn’t been at UMass, I would not have the career that I have today,” she says. Actually, Tarr remembers the specific moment she decided her livelihood would revolve around international criminal law:  in 1998 in a war crimes class with Professor Judy Holmes.  “I wanted to work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on the prosecutions involving the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY),” she remembers. With that goal in mind, Tarr pursued a law degree and an LL.M in international law in the Netherlands. With these qualifications in-hand, Tarr thought landing her dream job would be easy. However, after graduation, “the ICTY was in a hiring freeze and there was no end in sight,” she remembers. She volunteered with the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) then returned to Massachusetts to work as an Assistant District Attorney. The whole time, she kept an eye on the ICTY for jobs and continued gaining experience as a prosecutor.  

When a position finally opened and she made the transition to the Prosecutor’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she worked as a member of a team investigating war crimes committed during the conflict in the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. “These cases ranged from investigations into single murders to crimes committed within detention facilities over longer periods of time.” And her job responsibilities varied day-to-day: “One day may have been legal research and drafting, the next witness interviews, and the next building case theory with the evidence collected.”  This spontaneity continues through her current position as Special Advisor within the Prosecutor’s Office: “As no two cases are the same, something different comes up every day.” 

It’s clear that Tarr’s international experience, hard work, and advanced degrees put her in an excellent position to enter the job she longed for in Professor Holmes’ class. But dreaming big is what kept her motivated while she worked toward that goal. “Reach for the stars!,” Tarr says. “You will make it… I did!”

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