Culture and Curriculum

Vanderbilt in Venice exposes students to topics in international law and provides a "sneak peak" at upper-level coursework

by Grace Renshaw
Professor Newton with students on a field trip in Padua, Italy

Professor Newton with students on a field trip in Padua, Italy

As an associate with Johnston Barton Proctor & Rose in Birmingham, Alabama, during the second half of summer 2011, Talor Bearman '13 drafted a memo on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in Alabama. This was a task typically beyond the reach of a law student with only one year of classes under his belt, but Bearman had spent the first half of his summer studying international law with the Vanderbilt in Venice program. He credits the Choosing Legal Regimes course he took from Professor Erin O'Hara O'Connor with giving him the skills and insights he needed to write the memo. "It was extremely well received," he said.

During May and June 2012, 36 law students, most from Vanderbilt, will spend six weeks taking courses in Comparative Corporate Governance from corporate law expert Randall Thomas, European Union Law from administrative law professor Kevin Stack, Comparative Perspectives on Counterterrorism from program director Michael Newton, and The International Arbitral Process from a noted Italian law professor. This is the eleventh summer Vanderbilt has offered the Venice study program, and Newton, who has directed the program since 2009, emphasizes that, while its Venice location is a draw, "We run this program as an intellectual academic extension of the Vanderbilt campus, and students get a real preview of the reading, debating, writing and complex material they will be dealing with in upper-level courses."

An expert in international criminal law, Newton is a firm believer in study-abroad programs for law. "Law is increasingly global, and students studying abroad gain an immediate understanding of the influence U.S. law has internationally and of the issues and challenges corporations, countries and individuals face in dealing with various legal regimes," he said. "Students in our Venice program gain a breadth of expertise that benefits them in almost any area of law they ultimately pursue." With Newton's help, students use the Venice program as a launch pad for externships with international tribunals, non-governmental organizations, international corporations and law firms. "Almost every member of the Venice Class of 2011 went to an externship," he said. "We send students to a variety of organizations and courts in The Hague and to governmental organizations, non-profits and law firms in Germany, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Tanzania, Uganda and many other places."

Newton also touts the program as "definitely giving students a qualitative edge in terms of getting jobs." Now an associate with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer based in New York, Lexi Menish '11 recommends that any student interested in practicing international law enroll in Vanderbilt in Venice after their 1L year. Menish first became interested in pursuing a career in international law while working in China as an English teacher and private school administrator. She went from the 2009 Venice program to a six-week externship with a defense team at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. When she returned to law school and began interviewing with firms, she found the Venice coursework "made a huge difference for me. Going into interviews as a beginning 2L, I was able to say that I'd taken a course in international commercial arbitration and discuss that area of law," she recalled. "That gave me quite an advantage."

“Students go for the academic and cultural experience, the course credit, and to get a sneak preview of upper-level coursework and a boost to their resumés. But they also gain real friendships with other students and professors, and that benefits them during and after law school.” —Michael Newton

Margaret Artz '13 was offered an externship with the ICTY for summer 2011 after meeting a judge on the tribunal when he delivered a presentation at Vanderbilt. Her Venice courses in Counterterrorism and Choice of Law helped prepare her for work at the ICTY. "I still had a lot to learn when I arrived, but my Venice classes gave me the core international law background to know what questions to ask," Artz said. "I was able to take advantage of the mentorship of international lawyers and judges to make the most of my time at the ICTY." She credits another Venice course, International Commercial Arbitration, with helping her secure a position with Freshfields in Frankfurt, Germany, for summer 2012. "I had a phone interview with attorneys in their Frankfurt office, and my prior exposure to international arbitration issues and international legal experience were a big help," she said.

Because most students enroll in the program after their 1L year, the program also serves another important purpose. The course credits students earn enable them to participate in more extracurricular activities, serve an externship or even work part-time during their remaining two years of law school. "I loved returning to Vanderbilt as a 2L with eight extra credits of classes, the substance of which most 1Ls never get exposure to, and the resulting greater freedom to do an externship," said Bethany Eichler '12. Lee Holmes '12 continued to work part-time for Crownover Blevins, an intellectual property boutique firm in Nashville, during his 3L year after working there in summer 2012. "In Venice, we studied areas of law I would otherwise never have had an opportunity to study, and the credit I earned gave me the flexibility to work part-time, which really enhanced my law school experience," he said.

Copyright and intellectual property law expert Daniel Gervais, who taught in Venice in 2011, recalls being pleasantly surprised by the 15th century palace where classes are held, which features modern university classrooms with wireless access inside, but sits on the Grand Canal at the base of the Accademia Bridge. "The coursework is challenging, but the environment is relaxed," he said. "Our students work hard during the week and use the weekends to explore Europe."

Holmes and other alumni tout another advantage of the program that Venice alumni value. "Venice was also a rare opportunity to build a deeper relationship with my peers," he said. "I made my best law school friends, the friends I'll have all my life, that summer." Newton notes that most students realize this will likely be their last study-abroad experience. "Students go for the academic and cultural experience, the course credit, and to get a sneak preview of upper-level coursework and a boost to their resumés," Newton said. "But they also gain real friendships with other students and professors, and that benefits them during and after law school."

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