Over the summer, I interned in Vienna, Austria as part of McGeorge School of Law’s Salzburg Graduate Study Abroad Program. It was the first time I traveled alone and the furthest I have ever been away from home. I went in feeling unsure about the benefits I’d be taking away from the experience. Although I was intrigued by international law, I was nervous the experience would not meet my expectations. By the time I left Austria, I found that international law was both professionally and personally satisfying.
My internship provided several benefits in furthering my legal education. For one, working in an international legal setting exposed me to a different legal system with sometimes contrasting perspectives from the U.S. This broadened my understanding of how law operates on a global scale and gave me a more comprehensive view of legal issues. I was fortunate enough to attend a few court appearances, both in criminal and civil court. Although I could not understand what was being said in court, observing the procedural aspects of Austrian courts was very beneficial, as I could compare them to U.S. courts.
Probably the most practical benefit was my improvement in legal research. Much of my time at the firm involved conducting extensive legal research and drafting documents. This forced me to become more adept with Westlaw and LexisNexis. It also forced me to be more adaptable with my research when the information or case law I found in those databases was insufficient.
This program also allows students to connect with McGeorge School of Law alumni and make outside connections. Both the senior partner at my firm and my landlord were McGeorge School of Law alumni, and great people. The senior partner at my firm, Christoph Jeannée, was courteous enough to introduce me to new contacts outside the legal profession. As a senior member of the Beethoven chapter of Business Networking International (BNI), Jeannée introduced me to new contacts involved in all types of professions. Forming international connections with non-legal professionals can be beneficial in the long run because you have your hand in more professional spheres you typically would not be in.
Probably the most challenging aspect of this experience was the language barrier. While the associates at my firm were certainly accommodating and spoke to me in English all the time, it could be frustrating not being able to understand them in mail meetings or at lunch. Of course, that is a natural consequence of an international legal setting. Ironically, my illiteracy in German forced me to become more literate in legal databases. Considering Austrians tend to keep more to themselves, the fact the people at my firm went out of their way to acknowledge me reassured me that it is possible to connect with people (especially clients) in an international legal setting.
I do think it is important to be proficient in multiple languages for an international law career, so I decided to (slowly) learn German after the summer ended. Proficiency in multiple languages can be a significant asset in the legal field, especially for international transactions and negotiations. Additionally, understanding cultural norms and communication styles of a country’s population can be crucial when dealing with international clients or working on cross-border cases.
Perhaps the most important aspect of my internship though was my chance for personal growth. Because I had never traveled alone in my life, living 6,000 miles away from my family for 2+ months was anxiety-inducing to say the least. Undeniably though, it enhanced my problem-solving skills, independence, and self-confidence. I also learned to navigate unfamiliar situations and overcome cultural barriers.
This is a great program for any McGeorge School of Law student even mildly interested in an international legal career. Because international law encompasses many topics, this experience was only a first step towards an international law career.
By Joseph Murphy, a second-year student at McGeorge School of Law.