Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 37, Number 2

Worldly Pursuits

Vanderbilt's flourishing International Legal Studies Program allows students to gain a global perspective on the practice of law.

by Grace Renshaw
An image of a glass world.

Back in 1966, at a time when few American law schools boasted faculty specializing in international law, Vanderbilt hired a young professor, Harold G. Maier, to start a new program in Transnational Legal Studies. Professor Maier described the unusual manner of his recruitment in a 1989 Vanderbilt Lawyer article. "I had been hired in a rather strange chain of events," he wrote. "Somehow, Vanderbilt had gotten my name from the University of Michigan Law School, where I had earned my master's degree and had written to Munich where I was doing research under a Ford Foundation grant to ask if I were interested in teaching. I indicated some general interest, but wrote that I planned to enter practice and couldn't come to Vanderbilt for an interview before early June. I considered the matter closed. Two weeks later, I received another letter from Acting Dean Paul Hartman offering me a position because of what he termed 'an emergency situation in international studies at Vanderbilt.'"

The emergency, Professor Maier would soon discover, was that Vanderbilt didn't have an international legal studies program. He accepted the teaching job simply because Vanderbilt offered a better salary than anyone else, the princely sum of $10,500 a year. "I had offers from a New York-based corporation at $9,500 per year and from a large Wall Street firm for $8,500 a year," Maier wrote. "Not caring to live in New York City, I was undecided between offers at two corporate firms in Cincinnati and Cleveland, each at $7,500 per year. Vanderbilt's offer was a Godsend. So I went into law teaching for the money. Two years later, a major Wall Street firm jumped its starting salaries by $5,000 and the others followed suit. Nineteen sixty-seven was the last year that Wall Street entry-level salaries were below those for beginning law teachers. But it didn't matter. The day I walked out of my first law class, I knew I was hooked."

Professor Maier joined a faculty of 13 members and 325 students. The law school had recently moved into in a brand new building which, having been planned and built during the Cold War, had, according to Maier, "an unfinished basement designed as a civil defense bomb shelter in case of nuclear attack." One of his first steps, in 1967, was to help students found the Journal of Transnational Law, one of the earliest student-run scholarly journals on this topic.

Within five years, Professor Maier had developed a international law program that offered 10 courses taught by six faculty members. Jonathan I. Charney, whose distinguished career was cut short by his death in 2002, became Vanderbilt's second full-time international law faculty member in 1972 and remains the only law school faculty member to receive Vanderbilt's prestigious Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor Award, which recognizes scholarly contributions to understanding problems of contemporary society. Allaire Urban Karzon, who taught international tax law, became the law school's first female tenured faculty member in 1983. And Igor Kavass, a trade expert who served both as professor of law and director of the law school's library, moved the offices of the International Association of Law Libraries to Vanderbilt in 1977, when he became the organization's president. By the time Professor Maier retired from the David Daniel Allen Chair almost 40 years later, he had built a solid foundation for the strong International Legal Studies Program Vanderbilt Law School boasts today.

Laurence R. Helfer, who came to Vanderbilt in 2004 and became director of the International Legal Studies Program in 2005, recalls that one of the lures of joining Vanderbilt's faculty was the fact that analysis of legal issues that transcend America's borders had been an important part of Vanderbilt's intellectual life and curriculum for more than four decades. "Professors Maier and Charney were highly regarded scholars and teachers who made major contributions to the development of international law and foreign relations law," Professor Helfer says. "I knew that a law school with faculty members of their caliber would be a terrific place to teach students about the many ways in which international legal issues are becoming increasingly relevant to the practice of law in the United States." Another draw for Helfer was the commitment made by then-Dean Kent Syverud, which has been fully supported by Dean Edward L. Rubin, to expand the International Legal Studies Program and to increase the number of Vanderbilt's international law faculty, which had been depleted by Professor Charney's death and Professor Maier's retirement. "Law practice is increasingly global," Dean Rubin says. "It's essential that our students gain substantive exposure to international law, because almost immediately after they graduate, they are more likely than ever before to find themselves dealing with cases that have international aspects. In the past three years, we have deliberately set out to expand the range of international law courses and experiential learning opportunities we offer our students by recruiting faculty with diverse areas of expertise."

Professor Helfer has authored more than 50 publications relating to his wide-ranging research interests in human rights, international litigation and dispute settlement, treaty design, and international intellectual property law. As director of the International Legal Studies Program, he has enhanced Vanderbilt's international law profile in many ways. He organizes a series of roundtables for visiting scholars to present their works in progress; he assists the Journal of Transnational Law in organizing a biennial symposium on cutting-edge legal topics; he manages a distinguished lecture series honoring Professor Charney (recent lecturers include U.S. State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger and Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin); and he oversees summer internships for Vanderbilt law students at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva and the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

In addition to Professor Helfer, four new faculty members have joined Vanderbilt's International Legal Studies Program over the past four years.

Christopher Brummer, who came to Vanderbilt as an assistant professor after practicing in New York and London with Cravath Swaine & Moore, teaches international business transactions and international investment law. This fall, he became the first Academic Fellow in the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of International Affairs, where he has had the unique opportunity of working with the agency during a global economic crisis. "My research involves assessing how securities regulators coordinate with one another to formulate policy with regards to cross-border securities transactions," he explains. "In the U.S., the oia is the focal point of such activity, so this is an especially interesting time to be a research fellow in this office."

Ingrid Brunk Wuerth, whose work focuses on foreign relations law, international law in domestic courts, and comparative constitutional law, previously served on the law faculty at the University of Cincinnati and spent summer and fall of 2007 as a Fulbright Scholar at the Free University in Berlin before taking residence at Vanderbilt last spring. Professor Wuerth, whose innovative scholarship has been published in leading law journals and cited by the U.S. Supreme Court, credits her stay in Germany for the opportunity to re-think the way comparative constitutional law is taught in this country and to begin work on a new casebook. "The International Legal Studies Program is a wonderful environment for students and faculty alike," she says. "My colleagues are not only the leading scholars and practitioners in their fields, but they also welcome real intellectual challenges and exchanges."

Daniel Gervais, one of the world's leading experts in international intellectual property law, came to Vanderbilt in 2008 after serving as the Acting Dean of the Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa, Canada. In addition to enriching Vanderbilt's international course offerings, Professor Gervais heads the law school's Technology & Entertainment Law Program. With a background that includes stints at the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization, Professor Gervais, who holds degrees from universities in Canada, France and Switzerland, and speaks fluent French (along with Spanish and "some German and Dutch"), brings to the program not only experience practicing and teaching intellectual property law in foreign countries, but also the perspective of a non-U.S. practitioner who understands the impact of American law around the globe.

In 2005, Professor Helfer was instrumental in recruiting Michael Newton, who joined Vanderbilt from West Point as Professor of the Practice of Law. Professor Newton established Vanderbilt's first international law clinic, the International Law Practice Lab. During his first year at Vanderbilt, Newton, an expert in conduct of hostilities and international criminal law, served as International Law Advisor to the Iraqi tribunal that tried Saddam Hussein, "Chemical" Ali and others accused of war crimes from 2004-05. He and fellow advisor Michael Scharf wrote a book about the trial and their experiences as advisors to the tribunal, Enemy of the People, which was released in September by St. Martin's Press. [See article] At Vanderbilt, Newton's International Law Practice Lab is popular with students because of the substantive projects Newton garners for them to work on, which address everything from human rights policy to war crimes to treaty negotiations. "We learned practical lawyering skills while working for the biggest of real-world clients," recalls Jason Hutchison, '07. Hutchison departed this fall for his first Foreign Service posting as Vice Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. "Work with the Foreign Service is exactly what I've been aiming for since my freshman year of college," says Hutchison, who spent a semester of his 2L year interning at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos.

Newton, who develops summer and semester internship opportunities for students in addition to his teaching responsibilities, points proudly to Charlie Trumbull, '06, who clerked for Judge Philippe Kirsch, president of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, before starting work for the U.S. State Department, and Sara Murphy, '06, who served as an intern in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague during her 3L year, as well as to 2L Drue Preissman, who was invited by the State Department to join its Student Career Experience Program after working for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor as an intern last summer. Other graduates have garnered positions with foreign firms and ngos based on the contacts and experience they gained in the program.

Professor Helfer notes that, as the study and practice of law become increasingly global phenomena, faculty in other areas are getting involved in the International Legal Studies Program. Erin O'Hara, an expert on choice of law, enjoys having foreign J.D. and LL.M. students in her classes because "they bring a comparative perspective to classroom discussions and add a fresh perspective to the way we view our legal institutions." Randall Thomas, who directs the Law & Business Program, also directs Vanderbilt's Summer in Venice program, which offers a variety of courses with an international focus. And visiting professors-including James Bacchus, former chairman of the wto Appellate Body who now heads D.C. law firm Greenberg Traurig's international trade law practice; Dr. Thomas Fetzer, a law professor at Germany's University of Mannheim who earned his LL.M. at Vanderbilt in 2003; and corporate law expert Jennifer Hill of the University of Sydney-enrich the currulum with courses on international trade law and dispute settlement, European antitrust law, and comparative corporate governance.

Professors Helfer and Newton point to the growing number of students securing internships, clerkships and jobs after graduation as a measure of Vanderbilt's success in building its International Legal Studies Program. Three 2008 graduates-Mavanee Anderson, Don Jeon and Laura Thompson-went to law firms in the United Kingdom, Seoul and Tokyo, respectively, and Casey Kuhlman is working for the Public International Law & Policy Group in support of an autonomous regional government in Africa. Two other graduates, Ali Mohamed, '08, and Payton Cooke, '07, are teaching law in Ethiopia. "Vanderbilt has always been known as a national law school," says Dean Rubin, "but we now have a program with international reach."