Careers in International Law with Professor Michael Newton

by Colleen Newman

Professor Michael Newton, Director of the International Legal Studies Program at Vanderbilt Law School, recently hosted a panel of Vanderbilt Law alumni who spoke about their experiences and various opportunities for careers in international law. Lexi Menisch ‘11 and Margaret Artz ‘13 brought different perspectives based on their careers in the public and private sectors. Each relied on the foundational skills they acquired in law school to recognize, analyze, and interpret international law and succeed in international arbitrations around the world while thriving in firm practice (Freshfields New York and Wilmer Hale, respectively).

One recent Vanderbilt Law grad practicing in Washington D.C. noted the following to students:

“In my general litigation and privacy practice, having an understanding of international law has proven very important. My team and I have had to advise clients on matters in Canada, Europe, and Latin America. For example, I recently had to advise a client on the different standards for comparative advertising in Europe, the UK, and the US. In researching the project, I needed to understand the roles of the EU (and its Directives), the Court of Justice of the EU, the UK Parliament, and the UK Advertising Standards Authority. The foundational understanding that I received at Vanderbilt provided me with a head start on the project and enabled me to quickly research the topic. Without such an understanding, it would be very difficult to interpret and advise on the EU General Data Protection Regulation, the EU ePrivacy Directive, and related legislation (such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights).”

The event, “Careers in International Law,” offered several takeaways:

A career in international law is never purely linear.  Law students may feel pressure to develop a fully formed understanding of their career interests and trajectory early in their education, but Professor Newton assured students that there is no linear pathway in the field of international law. “By limiting yourselves and saying ‘I have to do this, I can’t do that,’ you are shutting yourselves off from opportunities that could refine skills that provide incalculable advantages,” he said.

The Vanderbilt in Venice program offers an invaluable experience.  The alumni panel praised the program for increasing their exposure to international law. This summer, the program will offer courses in transnational litigation, international arbitration, and counterterrorism treaties, and graduates were adamant that Venice courses provided substantial value in their job search as well as intellectual preparations for externships during Law School.

There is no such thing as purely domestic law. A shared sentiment among the alumni was the interconnectedness of the world today. This overlap promotes lateral and diagonal career movement, from the public to private sector, government to government, and even within disciplines, such as litigation in other jurisdictions, transnational trade, sanctions, human rights, privacy law, international energy regulations, environmental regulation, and more.

A career in international law is never boring. Because international law encompasses various complex issues and diverse actors, the work in this field keeps one on their toes. “Clients are interesting and cases are fascinating,” said Margaret Artz. Her advice is to “Use law school to build hard skills and develop strong relationships.” All of the alumni encouraged students to develop hard skills in school so that they can have the confidence and background to tackle assignments related to international law. They have all seen colleagues shy away from tasks pertaining to international law that seemed “daunting, unknown, and scary” for which they felt Vanderbilt prepared them.

Professor Newton and the panel concluded by emphasizing the importance of the connections students make in law school. Vanderbilt facilitates the growth of each student individually – “no one here is mass produced just to be sent out into the world,” Newton said. Students should realize, in International Studies and elsewhere, that their peers are their current network and future colleagues.