ASU’s International Rule of Law program allows attorney to see the world in a whole new light


Lauren Dickerson

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Katie Surma had accomplished a great deal before she got to Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where she also played on the soccer team, then went on to the Duquesne University School of Law, where she got her Juris Doctor.

Majoring in the history of art and architecture as an undergrad helped spark her interest in law.

“Undergrad set the stage for law school, because it informed my understanding of injustice and inequality in the world and throughout human history,” she said. “Law school was attractive to me because I saw the law as a means to rectify those inequities.”

She joined the Eckert Seamans law firm after graduating from Duquesne, but remained interested in continuing her legal education.

“I value learning and development and have had a long-standing interest in rule of law and governance,” she said. “When I saw ASU’s LLM (Master of Laws) program, I knew it would be a great fit for me.”

And from there, she joined the International Rule of Law and Security program, which took her first to Washington, D.C., for a semester of study, and then Hong Kong.

“While in D.C., there is an opportunity to extern with a number of important institutions, and I had the good fortune of working for Center for Civilians in Conflict, which is an organization working to protect civilians in conflict zones,” she said. “I got to work with some pretty extraordinary individuals there and in Hong Kong. Over the past summer, I was very lucky to work for Dennis Kwok, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council representing the legal functional constituency.”

She was inspired by the work of Kwok and his team, who she said are vigorously defending the rule of law and Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy from China.

“Working outside of the U.S. gave me a fresh perspective on our political system and changed a lot of biases and assumptions I held toward U.S. political parties,” she said. “There are certain democratic core values that transcend party and that we as a country should stand for both at home and abroad. Going forward, I hope to continue doing work that defends and promotes those values.”

While continuing to work for her law firm, she hopes to also do work that advances rule of law, democracy and human rights, with a focus on Asia and, in particular, Hong Kong. And she says she can’t speak more highly of the International Rule of Law and Security program and its leadership.

“The program is engaging and pragmatic, and provides students with opportunities to gain real-world experience,” she said.