From the October 2009 issue of Amicus Curiae
Many law students find law school to be so painful that few can understand or relate when I say I actually enjoy the ordeal. They would probably understand even less if I told them that I enjoy it so much that I actually subjected myself to an extra semester of it voluntarily, and not for an LLM.
This is the story of my 2L summer.
I had the opportunity to work for a local law firm during my first year and through my first summer. I had a pleasant enough experience, but I learned all that I could as a law student in that context. For my next summer I decided to do something different.
Most of my time this summer was dedicated to consulting and writing projects. My work projects took me to several locations, including Calgary and B.C. While on the West Coast, I also managed to catch a federal political convention.
Some of my friends outside of law already joke that I do law school on the side. I figured I could probably pick up some legal experience this summer while I was running around. I checked out some summer law abroad programs, and registered for ABA-approved courses at UofT, Bar Ilan in Israel, and Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Mexico.
Before you get any smart ideas, keep in mind that Western doesn’t accept summer transfer credits, even though many other Canadian law schools do. I’m not saying that they should, but if they did I would have graduated before my January term even began. Yes, it was a pretty intense summer.
The trip to Israel had some personal reasons behind it, in addition to my other activities. During my last trip there about 10 years ago I stayed in (primarily Arab) East Jerusalem and the Territories. I enjoyed a rather privileged lifestyle in the primarily Jewish West Jerusalem, staying in Golan resorts overlooking the Galilee, driving through the Negev desert, floating
in the Dead Sea, and swimming on the beaches of Tel Aviv. The tensions within a very complicated country were highlighted with a visit to the assassination site of Yitzak Rabin.
My last summer destination was Mexico. After an unexpected stop in Monterrey when someone decided to have a baby mid-flight, I arrived at my destination in Guadalajara. I soaked up a lot of local culture during my stay including assorted local crafts, Mexican ballet (sans any sign of tutus), Lucha Libra wrestling, and horseback riding along Lake Chapala.
But it seems that politics and law is inescapable no matter where you go. Prime Minister Harper, President Obama, and President Calderon were in town for the North American Leaders’ Summit. Calderon was even staying a few doors down from me at my five-star hotel. One of the major issues on the agenda for them was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was becoming increasingly contentious to citizens of all countries during the current economic turbulence.
So what exactly did I study while I was running around the world? Most law abroad programs focus on international legal issues, for obvious reasons, so there were courses on the International Criminal Court, environmental law, international economics and NAFTA, cyberspace law and human rights. But I also got some specialized training in Jewish law, holocaust law, and national security issues that I probably would not get anywhere else.
Some of the faculty I studied with included world-renowned rabbis, someone who worked on the Rome Statute through an NGO, and even the infamous Kenneth Starr from the Clinton-Lewinsky case. Starr held a special session to discuss his role in Proposition 8, the same-sex bill that was shot down in California last year.
There is one key lesson unrelated to my summer courses that I would like to impart and share with others. In the summer of your second year you will typically be applying for your articling position. I was extremely fortunate that it worked out for me, but I would not recommend taking your interview call on a Tel Aviv beach, actually doing the interview on a Mexican cell phone, and skipping the law firm reception entirely to tour a Spanish cathedral.
You’ll have a hard time making an impression and competing with candidates who actually bothered to be in the country to interview in person.
And no matter how many excuses you make, or how many times you show them this article, they’re just not going to buy that someone voluntarily subjected themselves to additional law school that they won’t get credit for.