Law studies go global
Three students take road less traveled
|Rudy Mehrbani (right) and Scott Schieffer have taken advantage of the Law School’s study abroad program by studying at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany.
Photo by Dan Addison
Fifth in an ongoing series
By Mary Carlson
Law school may be no cakewalk, academically speaking, but it can have its diversions.
Just ask third-year law student Christopher Hayes. Speaking by phone from his Paris apartment this past February, he described the grueling class schedule at Sciences/Po, where he has spent much of his final year in an exchange program sponsored by the U.Va. School of Law. According to him, Sciences/Po is the “common name for the longer ‘Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris,’” one of France’s most highly regarded universities.
“It’s very rigorous,” Hayes said. “At U.Va., we’re in class a maximum of 16 hours each week. But here, it can be as much as 30 hours a week. We’re condensing two years of courses into one.” And, he added, all courses are conducted in French.
But Hayes could see a light at the end of the tunnel. In just a few days, he would board a train for Turin, Italy, to relax and take in the sights at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Internationalizing Law Studies
In addition to the Sciences/Po program, U.Va. law students can study at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany; the University of Nottingham in England; the Melbourne Law School in Australia; and the Auckland Law School in New Zealand.
The Sciences/Po program serves a total of 30 law students, including 10 from such American institutions as Columbia, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. Hayes is glad to have capped his academic career in this way. “I feel like I hit the jackpot,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the international facets of business. And the professors here are absolutely fantastic. One course is being taught by the chief justice of the French supreme court.”
When Hayes graduates, he will hold a Juris Doctor degree from U.Va. and a French law degree, which will entitle him to sit for France’s bar exam. This summer he’s set to begin work at Bracewell & Guiliani, a Houston firm with a growing global practice. “I plan to work in the energy field, which is very international in scope.”
For many U.S. colleges and universities, sending students abroad is only part of the larger push to internationalize. Another component is attracting top-quality foreign faculty and students to their campuses. At U.Va.’s law school, the main draw for international students is the LL.M. program, or the Master in Laws in the Judicial Process. Each year the program admits up to 40 foreign students, some of whom are attorneys in their native countries.
According to law professor Paul Stephan, director of the law study abroad program, the LL.M. degree “evolved 25 to 30 years ago in response to an increased demand among foreign students for a degree from an elite American law school.” In most countries, law is considered part of the undergraduate curriculum. Only the United States, Canada and — as of 2004 — Japan offer it solely as a graduate degree.
For law schools and higher education in general, admitting foreign students makes financial sense. “It’s a huge revenue source for some law schools which, unlike Virginia, admit hundreds of students to their program,” Stephan said.
Yet, despite the financial incentives, law schools have not felt the same market pressures to internationalize that currently drive the effort in the fields of business, medicine, the sciences and the arts. According to Stephan, the American legal education system is still regarded as “a model for the world.” And since the majority of U.S. lawyers focus on domestic rather than foreign law, the conventional wisdom holds that overseas study for law students doesn’t have the same cachet as it does for business, engineering and politics majors. But given what Stephan calls the “increasingly international nature of law,” change may be coming.
Scott Schieffer knew all the reasons not to go abroad: it probably wouldn’t help his law career, he’d miss out on the experience of being on Grounds for his final year, and most of all, he’d miss his friends.
But Schieffer went anyway.
“There was some skepticism here about my decision to go to Bucerius,” he said. “It wasn’t career-generated. I picked Germany because of my family heritage and the word-of-mouth reports.”
The Bucerius program is what Schieffer calls a “true exchange” program, with U.Va. students going to Germany and German law students coming here each fall. He enjoyed his experience but offered a frank assessment of its academic limitations. “The level of instruction was different from what is typical of U.Va.,” he said. “Bucerius is definitely an excellent school with quality instructors, but when you have a mix of students from around the world, many of whom do not speak English as their first language, the professors are not able to cover legal concepts with the same amount of depth.”
Even so, Schieffer said, he would highly recommend Bucerius to other students. “Absolutely they should do it. The costs incurred in money or lost opportunities here are far outweighed by what you gain in going there – the cultural education, travel experiences and friendships.”
Rudy Mehrbani, another Bucerius alumnus, also had a personal interest in going to Germany. “I learned German there, which is what I had hoped for. Instead of completing the typical third year, I decided to go.”
Mehrbani saw professional advantages in doing so. “Since Germany is becoming a larger market, I thought it would be helpful to go there,” he said. After he began applying for clerkships in the States, he found that his Bucerius stint impressed prospective bosses. “It was the first thing they asked about.” Mehrbani isn’t sure if he wants to practice law abroad, but he noted that Kirkland & Ellis, the Chicago firm where he will work in the litigation group in commercial law, has an office in Munich, Germany.
Even though Mehrbani, Schieffer and Hayes are excited about starting their new jobs, all three are glad they took routes less traveled and availed themselves of the opportunity to represent the U.Va. law school abroad.
“The education I’ve had here at U.Va. has more context now that I’ve gone abroad,” Schieffer said. “The only problem is, I want to go back.”
To read other stories in this series, go to http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/.
|School of Law
• Juris Doctor degree 376
(includes three January 2006 graduates)
• Master of Laws degree 30
• Doctor of Juridical Science 1