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Studying abroad: Tips for law students looking to go international


As undergrads, how many of us wanted to or in fact took a study abroad course for the experience? The classes may not have mattered as much as where we were going and what that place had to offer. However, at the graduate school level and in law school in particular, we have to be more careful in the classes we choose and the opportunities we take as there is that driving question – will this help us get a job?

For students who never plan to work outside of the United States, deciding to go or not go on a study abroad trip might have more to do with the excursion than anything else. For students interested in working abroad, with transnational corporations, or in any other international capacity, deciding on a study abroad program becomes much more crucial to their career path. [Author note – I am one of the latter].

Most schools only offer a handful of study abroad programs. If you are like me and looking for programs to help propel you into international work, then the classes you choose and the places you go can make all of the difference. If you want to work in the EU, but your school only has a trip to Mexico, then it won’t be worth it for you to spend the money for that experience necessarily. What I’ve found some students don’t think about is this – who said that you have to study abroad through your own school?

This is not a paid advertisement for the ABA, but they actually have a list of every abroad program offered from their accredited law schools organized by continent and country. When I met with my career counselor and mentioned my hesitance with my own school’s abroad locations, this is the first place she sent me. Everything from costs, requirements, classes, housing, and duration are summed up nicely to give students more abroad opportunities. And while you are scrolling through, looking for the programs in the areas you want that might help your career the most, you might notice that some couple with actual internship opportunities that extend your time abroad.

If you had the bug to work abroad but weren’t sure if it would be a good fit for you, then seeing short internship opportunities abroad through university programs would be a great way for you to try it out while gaining valuable experience that would catch the eye of any employer on a resume. But when you are looking at the cost of the trip, you might be like me a decided you would rather spend the money for a full-internship or work opportunity than to obtain class credit you might not need.

Deciding to work abroad for a summer, separate from a university program, is a daunting decision to make. It can be a risk with a substantial reward, or it can be a risk for an experience you’re not sure you really want. Most law students look to go abroad in their first summer because the second summer is when we are told to really buckle down and look for job opportunities for post-graduation. However, there are plenty students who are interested in working abroad upon graduation, whether it be through international firms, the government, or the ABA’s own Rule-of-Law-Initiative Fellowships. For those people, looking for abroad work in the second summer might be worth the risk.

But where do you go to find these opportunities? It’s not like the ABA has a directory of international firm opportunities, right? (hint – they do). This site simply enables students to contact international law firms. If you are like me and want something a little more structured, there is something else you can do.

Through online searches, you can find internship programs. Some sites you can put the industry and locations in that interest you and they will send your email out to programs who will in turn contact you. If you aren’t afraid of spamming for the sake of finding the right programs, then I recommend this route. You will end up vetting 20-some programs, but the process will help you narrow in your own mind what you are looking for in an abroad internship as well as give you a clearer idea what you should expect from an internship program, such as housing arrangements and mentoring programs.

At this point, if you haven’t sat down with your career counselors, academic advisors, and international programs professors to talk about the risks and benefits of pursuing a full summer abroad, you’re behind the game. While it is possible to spend a full summer working abroad, this is not a decision you should decide lightly. Your academic advisors will help assess your career goals and be a voice of reason in determining which companies, firms, or industries could help you reach your goal. Your career counselors will be able to use their contacts to ensure that the program you are looking into is reputable and can help you in the ways that it says. And the international programs professors will be able to tell you more about the regions and what it is like becoming part of cultural work exchange program.

When looking for a job abroad, it is best to start the research steps early so as to give yourself more than enough time to sit and talk to advisors and family, multiple times, to ensure you are making the best decision for yourself. Most intern facilitation programs require an interview before they allow you into the program and a deposit to start building your international job profile and seek out opportunities on your behalf. This can start as early as August, but international interviews won’t be taking place until January/February typically for even first-round applicants. My point in saying this is to let you know that, while there are steps that need to be taken to show you are serious about working abroad, you are not locked in to the program and would be more than welcome to pursue opportunities domestically at the same time, giving yourself more options.

There’s an entire world of job opportunities out there simply waiting to be taken advantage of. Don’t think that where you live or go to school restricts your job pool to that region. If you have the drive to go abroad, then there are plenty of ways to make it happen – I’m proof of that. As for the actual experience of working abroad, I’ll save that article for when I come back.

Emily Cramer Emily Cramer is a 2L student at the West Virginia University College of Law. She has a BA in Public Relations from Duquesne Univeristy and has an interest in corporate regulatory law. Her first summer she received the Janet D. Steiger Fellowship through the ABA’s Section of Antitrust Law and worked for the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection.