As part of the Global Lawyering Initiative, Notre Dame law students increasingly have the opportunity to gain work experience abroad during their legal education. These opportunities include a growing Honor Scholars Program, opportunities to gain cultural literacy through studying law abroad in various locations around the world, and the London Law Program. For over fifty years, the Law School’s London Legal Program has provided Notre Dame law students with the opportunity to study in London and externally with UK lawyers, non-governmental organizations, London offices of US law firms and government agencies, including the US Embassy. These experiences prepare students for international practice in the USA or for the exercise of international law abroad after graduation. In a virtual series of events in the spring semester of 2021, moderated by the faculty, the Law School’s International and Graduate Programs Office gathered alumni from around the world to answer students’ questions about how best to prepare for an international legal career can. These alumni shared their insights into the benefits and challenges of exercising law abroad and gave students advice on how to shape their legal education for international legal practice and cross-border legal issues.
Common law legal training can be the best asset
As another type of attorney trained in the common law system, Notre Dame law students may be particularly well placed to succeed abroad. Pablo Berckholtz, ’98 JD NDLS and a partner of Baker Mackenzie in Lima, Peru who spoke on the Perspectives on Multinational Law Firms panel, noted that common law is taking over legal practice in many countries. Some of the reasons for this are historical, given its links with the British Commonwealth. Another reason is the importance of US markets and US companies overseas, as well as the transactional work that can expand the rules from common law jurisdictions. In his capital market practice Kevin Connolly, ’01 JD NDLS and Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, leads the listing of many foreign companies on the London Stock Exchange and other major stock exchanges around the world. Connolly also works in emerging markets and provided practical insights into his practice while discussing international capital markets.
Although the differences between civil law and common law systems, especially in litigation, are still very large, training in the adversarial system of common law provides students with important litigation skills that can be translated despite these differences. Michael Stepak, ’88 JD NDLS and partner at Winston and Strawn in London, whose practice focuses on international arbitration and litigation, explained how the litigation skills developed at Notre Dame gave him a distinct advantage in litigation in London despite the comparative differences local jurisdictions and in arbitration. Sometimes courses outside of international law can be most useful. Many alumni mentioned Accounting for Lawyers, and Tom Thesing, ’89 BA ND and partner at Sidley Austin in London, emphasized the usefulness of tax law and finance.
The New York bar may be a gateway to international legal practice, but first and foremost, consider the importance of your American lawyer expertise
As students know, gaining admission to the bar is a critical factor in being successful in the legal profession. Licensing in two or more jurisdictions inside and outside the United States can provide an interest in local nuances of legal practice and an understanding of how the practice differs between jurisdictions. At the same time, it can be beneficial to be an American lawyer overseas who only has a US license. Licensing in New York indicates expertise in a US jurisdiction that is of great importance to many companies with overseas operations and people living abroad. This is especially true for tax law as Chris McLemore ’07 JD NDLS, partner at Butler Snow in London, and Jaime McLemore ’07 JD NDLS and partner at WithersWorldwide in London attended their panel on tax law between common law jurisdictions. The main purpose of the dual qualification may be to just expand your areas of activity. If attorneys are working under the supervision of a local attorney, under the rules of foreign legal counsel in their respective jurisdiction, or with a local attorney, a foreign license may not be required. Notre Dame attorney Will Cushing, Corporate and M&A Associate at A&L Goodbody in Ireland and ’09 BS ’10 MA ND, shared how his practice puts him in a unique role shaped by his US knowledge is like a quarterback on an international legal team. Identify cross-border issues that matter to US companies and their businesses. Students should also keep in mind that some US states have reciprocity with foreign jurisdictions, making it easier for students to forego an exam and double-qualify without having to take an exam. Working as an in-house advisor to US companies overseas, focused on case management and training local talent to take on the business of a company, can also expand the reach of a lawyer. Forging those connections and supporting the careers of locally trained lawyers from non-US jurisdictions can be one of the most rewarding aspects of working abroad as shared by Brendan Gardiner, ’00 JD NDLS and Chief Litigation & Regulatory Counsel at Archer Daniels Midland Company .
Local connections and cultural competence are key
Languages and local networks signal the obligation to be in a foreign jurisdiction and indicate cultural competence. During the Inhouse Counsel Abroad Xiaokui panel
Katie Shan, ’93 JD NDLS and Associate General Counsel at Caterpillar and Joe Spiegler, ’94 JD NDLS and Chief Compliance Officer & Global Head of Litigation at Kite Pharma, embodied comparative legal dialogue by talking about their different but complementary experiences in China languages. Culture shock can come naturally, especially if you’ve gotten used to working in a jurisdiction, whether that jurisdiction is in the US or overseas. The writing and communication skills you develop in law school can help bridge the gap between civil law and hybrid jurisdictions based on legal law and common law systems based on precedent. Openness, flexibility and the development of cultural competence are the keys to success. Studying law abroad, even if you are not fluent in any language other than English, can help you build that competence and soft skills that often make all the difference in negotiating and successfully representing your client.
Cultural competence and success as a lawyer are also based on the training you receive at the beginning of your career. Many law firms today are global, but early training with a US law firm is important in building the skills required to succeed in a law firm abroad. As Ashok Lalwani, ’89 JD NDLS and a principal at Baker MacKenzie in Singapore advised, choose your first company carefully as it is often the most formative. In combination with adequate training as a young lawyer, you will make cultural sensitivity, language skills and local cultural awareness an attractive representative of your law firm when you are posted abroad and lead to a significant global legal profession.
Be creative, open-minded, and appreciate the Notre Dame network abroad
While some US firms overseas have summer programs such as Winston & Strawn, and local firms may offer internships, such as A&L Goodbody in Dublin, Ireland, planning your international legal practice and career abroad requires creativity. Part of that creativity involves networking. Some alumni have established their international legal practices in their law firms’ US offices and are then sent to US law firms abroad based on their language skills, cultural competence and expertise. Other alumni have found employment immediately upon graduation by reaching out to other Notre Dame attorneys without introduction or translating an external internship opportunity in the London Legal Program into a postgraduate position. With that in mind, emigrated communities of Americans as immigrants can also be crucial as a support network, shared Anastasia Tonello, ’98 JD NDLS and Counsel at Ulmer, who served as an immigration attorney in London for over a decade. It is also important to keep an eye on the development of the markets. Michael Haworth, ’99 JD NDLS and partner at DLA Piper in New York, spent twelve years in Japan and Hong Kong. While flexibility and a willingness to be abroad can open doors in emerging hot markets, companies and businesses look for more specific qualifications over time, including extensive experience in cross-border practices, language skills, and a long-term commitment to be abroad. As Brendan Gardiner advised, be open as you assess where opportunities are available and where you can add significant value and where you are needed. Being a different type of advocate for the world takes creativity and courage and is certainly worth the journey.