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International internships help broaden students' skills and horizons

  • Cambodia
    Cambodia  To inform his research during his summer 2013 internship at East-West Management Institute's Program on Rights and Justice, Atif Choudhury '15 attended a National Democratic Institute forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  
  • Switzerland
    Switzerland  During her summer 2013 internship with International Bridges to Justice, Nadia Abramson '15 visited U.N. headquarters in Geneva to attend Human Rights Council hearings.  
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The world is a classroom each summer for a growing number of William & Mary law students.

In 2014, 24 students -- the most the Law School has ever had in its international summer internship program -- will build their skills and help advance the rule of law through their work in 15 countries.

The internships were made possible through the Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post- Conflict Peacebuilding (CLS/PCP), established at the Law School in 2008. The program's founding director, Professor Christie Warren, has worked in more than 45 countries during her career and has advised on constitutional issues and processes in Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Sudan. In 2010, she served as Senior Expert in Constitutional Issues on the Mediation Support Unit Standby Team in the United Nations Department of Political Affairs.

The number of students interning abroad has steadily increased in the past three years -- nine in 2012, 18 in 2013, and this year's 24. The increase was made possible, Warren says, by the generosity of alumni and friends of the W&M Law School. John '72 and Brenda Scanelli have provided major support, including funding to hire Mary E. Rude '11 as deputy director of the CLS/PCP program. Rude, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, spent her 2L summer as an intern in Azerbaijan and served as a post-graduate fellow in South Africa following her graduation. She has primary responsibility for researching new internship opportunities and matching students with organizations in their fields of interest. Program support was also provided by Polly and Gil '69 Bartlett and by memorial gifts contributed by the family, friends and former students of Professor Charles H. Koch, Jr., who died in 2012. A leading figure in administrative law, Koch began learning and teaching about the European Union in the latter years of his career and was a strong believer in broadened global perspectives that result from international study.

Warren says international internships provide students with opportunities to serve as Citizen Lawyers while contributing to important peacebuilding work in the field. The concrete experience they gain opens doors, both domestic and international, for their future legal careers.

"It will not be possible for today's law school graduates to avoid coming across international legal issues during the span of their careers, even if they plan to practice in small communities," Warren says. "The CLS/PCP program and our international internships provide students with opportunities to learn about and work within other legal systems. These experiences set William & Mary law students apart from other graduates entering the job market." In a recent survey of law school graduates who had completed international internships, 91 percent reported that the internships had positively influenced their ability to secure jobs after graduation.

Atif Choudhury '15 interned at the East-West Management Institute's Program on Rights and Justice in Cambodia in summer 2013. His main project involved preparing materials on Cambodian election laws to educate voters about their basic rights for the July 2013 general elections. He also worked on a social media campaign to broaden awareness of issues concerning deforestation of the Prey Lang Forest in the northern region of the country.

"I had never worked on a social media campaign before, so the work was novel and at the same time rewarding. I was able to work on many legal issues during my internship, including environmental law, indigenous law, human rights law, and property rights," he says.

The opportunity to gain concrete work experience in human rights law led Nadia Abramson '15 to pursue a summer 2013 internship at International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) in Geneva. In a blog about her internship, she noted that upon arrival she was surprised to learn that IBJ's office was located a few floors below those of an international organization called World Learning. Abramson sees a sort of kismet in the organizations' proximity as she traces her interest in human rights to a World Learning summer program in Thailand in which she participated as a teenager.

Among her projects at IBJ, she conducted research on Sri Lanka's criminal justice system for the organization's on-line database of world criminal justice systems. She also was able to sit in on hearings of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations' headquarters in Geneva.

"The internship program was a great experience," Abramson says. "It helped me explore career options in international law, and, as an added bonus, I got the chance to live in Europe."

According to Warren, student interns are helping spread the word about the excellence of the legal education and training offered at William & Mary.

"Internship supervisors and those in the field who benefit from comparative legal research conducted by the CLS/PCP program report that William & Mary law students perform more effectively and have an entirely different approach to their work than students from other law schools," Warren says. "Our interns and researchers accept international law and a comparative approach to analyzing legal issues in developing and post-conflict countries as a given; they are comfortable working in other systems and never try to solve problems arising in other countries by 'selling' a purely American approach."