Summer Seminar Students Learn to Lawyer Across Borders

Lawyering Across Borders
July 17, 2019

They call Canada, China, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom home. But on Thursday evenings this summer, you’ll find the nine LL.M. and J.D. students in a seminar classroom at St. John’s Law, exploring the practicalities, opportunities, and challenges in the cross-border practice of law.

The weekly seminar sessions are part of Lawyering Across Borders, a one-credit course taught by Professor Rebecca Lowry '14. “Lawyering Across Borders is designed for students who have a paid or unpaid work placement outside their country of citizenship,” Professor Lowry explains. “It’s open to our international J.D. and LL.M. students who are working in the United States for the summer as well as our American students who have summer jobs abroad.”

The seminar and the externship or internship placement are dual course requirements. Through a seven-week curriculum covering legal ethics, international legal systems and traditions, dispute resolution, legal research and writing, and workplace expectations, among other topics, students gain insight into cross-border practice that helps them optimize the summer work experience. They also bring that experience from the field to the classroom, adding real-world context to the syllabus.

“As someone who has never worked in New York before, Lawyering Across Boarders has helped me to acquaint myself with the customs and practices of American professionals,” says Reine Pfister '20LL.M., who completed an LL.M. in Transnational Legal Practice through St. John’s partnership program with France’s Lyon Catholic University Law School and plans to take the New York Bar Exam. “I work at the United Nations, the heart of the cooperation between States, as an advisor for the Permanent Representation of my home country, Luxembourg, to the United Nations. The seminar has been a great opportunity to have an exchange with people from different backgrounds who are doing their summer internships in various domains and firms.”

Federica Marini '21 comes from a rural village near Milan, Italy and earned her undergraduate degree in the United States. She agrees that the course offers practical guidance on being a global lawyer. “Lawyering Across Borders has been instrumental in helping me succeed this summer at Shiryak, Bowman, Anderson, Gill & Kadochnikov LLP, which serves very diverse clients,” she says. “Professor Lowry encourages us to think critically about our international experiences, reminding us of the importance of taking into consideration cultural norms while practicing law internationally. She also manages to illustrate cultural expectations in the United States while having a multi-cultural perspective on ethical issues.”

With its holistic design incorporating classroom discussions and work placements, Lawyering Across Boarders qualifies students for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), the U.S. government’s temporary employment program for F-1 visa holders. The students can get paid for their summer work, earn credit for the seminar class, and gain business experience, all while preserving their opportunity to work after graduation under the broader Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. It’s a benefit that Louis-William Chisholm '20 appreciates. “The course is great for fulfilling CPT requirements, as it allows international students to graduate with a full 12-months of OPT that can be used post-graduation,” he says.

Chisholm also appreciates the many ways that Lawyering Across Borders complements his experience as a summer associate at the international law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. “With the assigned reflection exercises, I can identify things that I did well, or didn’t do well, and how I can improve,” he shares. “The reflections also facilitate deeper thinking about the areas of law I’m interested in and what sort of assignments I’d like to try more of. Finally, the class provides international context to the assignments I complete at the law firm. It’s refreshing to introduce the class to some work I’ve done and for the professor to take my experience and tease out international and cross-border issues I had not thought about.”

Making these connections between learning and practice helps students on their career paths. “Students in Lawyering Across Borders have a wonderful and unique opportunity to gain hands-on, practical training that enhances what they learn in the classroom,” says Sara Drew, the graduate career advisor at St. John’s Law. “Through their work placements they not only become more marketable candidates for post-graduate positions in the U.S. and abroad, but approach their careers with valuable insight and confidence regarding cultural and professional perspective.”

Like Drew and her students, Professor Lowry recognizes the unique benefits of Lawyering Across Borders. “One of the most rewarding parts of this course is watching students make cognitive connections that tie their experiences—past and present, inside and outside of the U.S.—with their doctrinal courses,” she says. “The depth and nuances of their observations is staggering. Having them actively reflect on the reading materials, the class discussion, and their experiences puts them in control of their own education, which leads to deeper, more synthesized, and concrete learning.”