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During her first law firm job, Amal Clooney quickly realized that corporate law was not where her future lay. Working on the case of Enron, a company accused of manipulating its books and causing massive shareholder losses, she found her interest pulled increasingly toward the pro bono clients she was working with.

Before long, she had left her prestigious job in Manhattan for a low-paid position at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. And that instinct to use her legal skills to fight for those in dire need has been her guiding principle ever since.

“I want to focus on the areas where I think I can have the greatest impact… where there is an opportunity to move the needle in the right direction, even if it is incredibly challenging,” says Clooney, an acclaimed international human rights lawyer.

Clooney spoke last night to an audience of more than 900 last night at Salem State University, stopping before heading New York City to appear at the United Nations General Assembly and to advocate for Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist facing jail in the Philippines for her critical coverage of powerful men in that country. Clooney shared her thoughts about her career so far, the state of human rights in the world today, and the importance of standing up for survivors, even amidst the chaos of war. Award-winning journalist and Salem State alumna Anne Driscoll moderated the event, which was part of the annual Salem State Series featuring notable speakers.

In the wide-ranging discussion, Clooney recalled her work advocating for Egyptian and Azerbaijani journalists, the president of the Maldives, and victims of sexual assault during the war in Darfur. One survivor from the Sudan was so determined to tell her story that she participated in a video call while she was in labor.

The work can be daunting, Clooney notes, but it essential to keep the fight going. She points to the work of Clooney Foundation for Justice, an organization she and husband George Clooney started to continue the work beyond what she can accomplish on her own.

“Peace has to be waged and justice also has to be waged,” Clooney says. “You’re not going to be able to eradicate evil, but you can fight apathy.”

In the face of work that has her deeply immersed in violence and inhumanity, Clooney says she turns to her family and friends to help preserve her mental health.

“It’s the joy of being with people I love that keeps me happy and sane,” she says, mentioning her husband, actor George Clooney, and their five-year-old twins.

When asked to offer advice to the next generation of lawyers, Clooney was optimistic about the ambition, knowledge, and passion she sees in young aspiring lawyers. She urged them not to be dissuaded from challenging goals by a fear that things won’t change.

“Don’t let any old fogeys tell you you can’t do it,” she says. “We’re counting on you. That staus quo is just what we have now it’s not the way it has to be.”