Insights into global lawyering

Melbourne JD student Philippa Sutherland reflects on her time in the United States as part of the Melbourne elective ‘Global Lawyer’.

Global Lawyer 2019 students

My recent trip to the US as part of the Melbourne JD elective subject ‘Global Lawyer’ has affirmed the value of studying law in a hands-on way.

‘Global Lawyer' is taught primarily over two intensive weeks in Washington DC and New York City. Students receive an unparalleled insight into the workings of institutions such as the Pentagon, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, International Committee of the Red Cross, and top US law firms such as Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.

We spoke directly with the people behind these institutions through in-depth Q&A sessions, allowing us to examine the intersection between law, policy and politics, the means and methods of international lawyering, and the demarcation between aspiration and pragmatism.

The uniqueness of ‘Global Lawyer’ lies in the people – the 24 curious and determined students I was lucky enough to travel with and the lawyers we met. Our interlocutors challenged us to consider ourselves global citizens on our way to becoming global lawyers. Being dynamic, knowing your audience and proactively contributing to the strategic direction of an organisation stood out as key requirements for effecting change in any area of international law.

We were also privy to frank discussions about the challenges of global lawyering. We were reminded that we will not be called upon when things are black and white but must make sense of the “grey zone”. An invaluable tip was to decide who we are now – our limits and our passions – and not to lose sight of this as we forge our path forward.

It was also inspiring to learn that Australia’s legal profession is such a valuable export. Whether working as an exchange officer to the US Air Force in the Pentagon or as a delegate to the Australian Mission to the UN, Australians are building remarkable legal careers the world over. We met Melbourne Law School alumni working at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, the International Chamber of Commerce and Human Rights First, which brought home to us that a variety of personalities from all backgrounds can succeed in international law.

The trip provided ample public speaking and networking opportunities, such as putting our skills to the test in a negotiation simulation on foreign direct investment strategy at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. Our development was every bit as personal as it was professional. We met the demanding schedule with resilience and flexibility, but the true highlight was sharing it with each other. Some of the best times included taking in the views at the top of the Rockefeller Centre and watching the sunset with a lobster picnic on the banks of the Hudson River.

The subject’s existence and success are owed to Professors Bruce ‘Ossie’ Oswald CSC, Tania Voon and Andrew Mitchell, whose careers and connections allowed us the privilege of meeting some of the world’s finest lawyers. Professor Oswald’s expertise in international humanitarian and human rights law and Professor Voon and Mitchell’s focus on international trade and investment law give the subject broad appeal. Through their guidance, students with a passion for public international law can learn more about an array of often under-publicised career opportunities, while students with a commercial law bent can look to careers beyond Australia.

There is no substitute for being on the ground in the epicentre of global trade and diplomacy, hearing first-hand from lawyers at the top of their fields, and finishing off the day with a walk through Central Park and a huge slice of $1 pizza. Speaking for my class, this subject allowed us to see the real contribution we can make to the ever-globalising legal profession, broader intellectual debate about law and policy, and the law as a vehicle for global accountability in an era of rapid change

By Philippa Sutherland, JD student

Find out more about the Melbourne JD