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Cynthia Tai



Cynthia Tai

Executive Director, Project Expedite Justice
Area of Practice: International Law
Year Graduated: 1993

Undergraduate: University of Southern California
Major: B.A. in Political Science

Summary Bio

Cynthia Tai, '93 worked for six years at the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands, where she prosecuted war crimes and crimes against humanity in hot spots like Sudan, Kenya and Central Africa. Before that, she worked as a prosecutor on the Big Island of Hawaii for over a decade. Her Bachelor of Arts degree is in political science from USC (1989) and she worked on Capitol Hill while pursuing her undergraduate degree.  

Full Profile

Although many colleagues, friends, and family would say they always knew Cynthia Tai '93 was meant to help victims of crime as an attorney, Tai says becoming a lawyer was a process of self-discovery. Tai earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Southern California in 1989 and went on to work for Hawaiian Senator Spark Matsunaga.  While she enjoyed her work there, she wanted to help people in a more immediate way. "The work I did on Capitol Hill was interesting but I wanted to enact change more immediately for people and have a skill set. Law school was the natural next step."

Tai's father had graduated from McGeorge in the 1960s and the rigorous education that he received there inspired Tai. "I watched his career for years. He was trained well and always seemed prepared for anything that came his way. Attending McGeorge was a natural decision for me."

After law school, Tai worked at a two law firms in Honolulu, Hawaii. After a few years, she moved to the Big Island for a judge clerkship and found her true passion in prosecution. "Money has never been a driver for me. I wanted to help victims. After the clerkship there was a vacancy in the prosecutor's office. I applied, got the job, and remained in it for twelve years."

Looking for a change, Tai then applied to work for the International Criminal Court. "I applied blind at the urging of a colleague who works as a career counselor for lawyers. I later learned that Americans rarely get these positions, and when they do, they usually have multiple degrees from Ivy League schools. I just knew I had rigorous training, could win, and work hard. Those ingredients led to a job offer."

Tai stayed with the International Criminal Court in The Hague for over six years prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity in hot spots like Sudan, Kenya, and Central Africa, often working 16 hour days, seven days a week. She prosecuted high level perpetrators such as Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and William Ruto, the Deputy President of Kenya.

"It was intense but rewarding work. What really struck me is how grateful some of these victims were just to be listened to. Imagine that-just feeling so grateful that someone cares enough to listen to you for a little while." More about her cases can be referenced here.

After her tenure prosecuting international crimes, Tai was called back to Hawaii to work on cases in the Prosecutor's office, however she returned to international criminal law and remains active in collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan. 

"I feel lucky to do the work that I did and I hope to always be involved to some degree with international crime. It's a puzzle. You are handed a file, which is essentially a war, and you have to figure out the details through interviews and evidence that you tirelessly pursue. In the end, you get to help people that would otherwise have no voice and no hope."

To a current law student or someone considering law school, Tai gives the following advice, "Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough. McGeorge promotes this frame of reference. I always pursued my passion once I found it, which is also key. You really have to know what makes you tick and I recommend taking some time to find that."    

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