A taste of life as a global lawyer

Rajesh Gounder recently travelled to the United States for Global Lawyer, a two-week study intensive that gives Melbourne JD students unparalleled insight into the US and international legal spheres. He shares his story with MLS.

Cassandra Hamill, Maddison Smith, Rajesh Gounder and Taylor Mitas in New York. Image: supplied.

The appeal of spending two weeks in Washington DC and New York is self-evident. When combined with the opportunity to visit internationally renowned institutions and engage with esteemed individuals, the decision to apply to undertake the Global Lawyer elective subject in the Melbourne JD was easy.

This subject explores the role of lawyers working in the field of international law in both the private and public spheres. At the centre of this subject is the interplay of various institutions in shaping the international legal landscape and the impact of politics and policy on the work they do. It is a subject unlike any I have undertaken and is incontestably one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my time at Melbourne Law School.

During our time in the US, we met with numerous lawyers and related professionals, visiting many influential entities that work through and impact international law. These included the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and several leading law firms.

Many of our interlocutors were at the pinnacle of their respective fields. They spoke to us with honesty and clarity about their work and experiences, offering a nuanced understanding of the challenges they face as global lawyers and insight into the systemic issues that arise from the nature of international law. Many also shared their personal stories of how they got to where they are and provided us with professional guidance and advice. Many of these people were truly inspirational, not only because of the work they do, but also because of how they got there.

A definite highlight of Global Lawyer was spending a day at the Pentagon, engaging with various military lawyers. This day represented an exceptional opportunity to gain a different perspective on the role of an international lawyer working for a state. This exposure, when juxtaposed with lawyers working in NGOs, provided a deep understanding of how a lawyer’s role is shaped by the institution they work for.

The conversations about the various topics did not end after each dedicated session. It was surprising to me how much discussion continued amongst us about points raised in formal meetings. That is a testament to the ability of this subject to engage us, unlike any other subject. We learned not only from the experts we met but also from each other.

The social aspects of this subject were equally important to the whole experience. Knowing that we were avoiding the peak of winter in Melbourne ensured that we made the most of every opportunity to enjoy the sun. We spent several hours on rooftops relishing the warm weather and spectacular views.

Some of my personal highlights were eating lobster along the Hudson River and simply strolling through the streets of New York, knowing that we were in perhaps the most influential place in the world. Being able to share these experiences with my fellow students was special. I went into the subject with a few acquaintances and left with many lasting friendships.

We all had different expectations going into Global Lawyer, and without a doubt everyone took something away from it. For some it solidified their career aspirations; for others it provoked a re-evaluation of their career trajectory. But we all acquired a much deeper and nuanced understanding of what it means to be a global lawyer working in an increasingly globalised world. Very few subjects have the ability to make such an impact in such a short time.

By Rajesh Gounder, JD Student

Find out more about the Melbourne JD