Why Study Law Abroad?

Posted on Categories International Law & Diplomacy, Legal Education, Public

I have had the pleasure of attending law school abroad at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, and I am currently studying at the University of Copenhagen for one semester.  Other American law students have occasionally asked me about the benefits of studying law abroad.  Some may wonder whether I will be adequately prepared to practice in the United States, given my focus on foreign law.

My fellow law students and I will enter a legal world that is more globalized than ever before.  American clients are increasingly becoming subject to jurisdictions beyond United States borders, as corporations are diversifying their business throughout the world in response to the world-wide economic turmoil in recent years.  Now, it would not be uncommon for a business to be incorporated in Delaware, and have affiliated companies in Brazil and France.  This same company may well hold bank accounts in Switzerland, have assets in South Africa, invest in Saudi Arabia, and conduct business transactions in Japan.  As a result, lawyers may be asked to provide advice on how a French subsidiary of an American parent company would be taxed and whether any international tax conventions apply; what happens if an American financial institution enters into a contract with a Saudi lender and the contract fails to meet the strict requirements of Islamic finance law; or what if an American car dealer enters into a sales contract with a German car manufacturer and the contract fails to meet EU sales directives?  Questions such as these are becoming more and more relevant and American attorneys need to be able to provide answers to clients who wish to do business abroad. 

Although American clients become involved in cross-boarder legal issues on a daily basis, the American legal education system does not adequately equip its graduates to advise clients about crucial issues such as foreign tax laws, international shipping law, telecommunications law or international business transactions.  Granted, students at American law schools must study American law; that is obvious.  And it is equally obvious that American law schools cannot offer education in every legal system where American clients may venture.  But at the very least, law schools should provide their students with the opportunity to obtain a basic understanding of relevant laws in key jurisdictions.  Currently, the largest foreign markets are the European Union, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.  The EU member states are cooperating to develop and implement more uniform transactional and commercial laws across Europe through the implementation of harmonization directives.  The Middle East has made similar harmonization efforts with the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council and has become a major global financial center due to—among other reasons—restrictions on loan interest charges under Islamic financial law.  In Southeast Asia, the New Silk Road is becoming the center for international shipping and the transportation of goods from China to both Europe and the United States.  American law students who wish to practice transactional law would greatly benefit from obtaining a basic understanding of the commercial laws and practices in these regions.  Although American lawyers may not become licensed to practice in each of these regions, it would still do us well to obtain a basic understanding of the law in these areas so we are able to effectively communicate with foreign attorneys when our future clients inquire about doing business abroad.

In sum, I strongly encourage American law students to study abroad and learn about the legal cultures of other jurisdictions.  In addition, I believe that American law schools should provide more robust course offerings in international law, comparative law, and foreign transactional law.  Both are critical in helping students prepare to serve their future clients’ needs, if and when these needs extend beyond the borders of the United States.

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