After earning her undergraduate degree in German and history at Amherst, Rachel Johnson spent almost five years studying and working in Berlin, Germany, starting with a prestigious International Parliamentary Scholarship, which allowed her to study government policy as an intern with Germany’s Green Party. Johnson, who is fluent in Spanish and German, also explored the history of Cold War cooperation between East Germany and Cuba with the German Exchange Service Independent Study Scholarship, worked as a research assistant for a history professor at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and volunteered for the U.S. Embassy.
Her time abroad led Rachel to consider law school rather than her original goal of earning a Ph.D. in history. “The experience of living in two different countries with different political and healthcare systems was really formative,” she said “I found myself increasingly interested in the legal dimensions of historical topics. I also liked the career opportunities available with a law degree.”
Johnson now plans to develop a legal practice with an international focus. She considered Vanderbilt because her aunt, Martha Johnson Trammell, is a 1971 Vanderbilt Law graduate now retired from a rewarding career as an assistant general counsel at Nissan North America. She also talked with two graduates who work in multinational law firms: former Raymonde I. Paul scholar Margaret Artz ’13, an associate at WilmerHale in New York, and Mark Strauch ’85, a partner with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Frankfurt. When she visited VLS, “I was struck by how welcoming and supportive the faculty and staff were, as well as the overall friendliness of the student body,” she recalled.
Johnson’s exposure to high-level international law-making began her second week of law school, when she accompanied Professor Michael Newton, an expert in transnational justice, to the International Humanitarian Law Dialogs at the Chautauqua Institution. “That was an incredible experience to have the second week of my 1L year—and the knowledge I’d have opportunities like that were a big factor in my decision to come to Vanderbilt.”
As a result of her experience at the Humanitarian Law Dialogs, Johnson chose to spend part of her summer 2016 working at the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, where she supported the appeals team for Radovan Karadžić, a Bosnian Serb politician and former president of Republic Srpska convicted of war crimes. As part of their work, she and another intern met Karadžić at the detention center where he is being held pending the outcome of his appeal. She received funding from Vanderbilt’s Nichols Humanitarian Fund to help defray her living expenses.
Johnson also enrolled in Vanderbilt in Venice, the law school’s summer study program in Venice, Italy, which offers four international law classes each summer. “Venice was fantastic,” she said. “It was great to take smaller classes in international topics and get to know the professors who taught in the summer program.” She is now working with Professor Kevin Stack on a project that grew out of a topic they explored in his class on European Union Law.
Johnson plans to work for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in New York during summer 2017, and she believes her summer classes in international and comparative law helped her secure the job. “Thanks to my Venice classes, I had academic knowledge that most 1Ls don’t have,” she said. “That was a big advantage.”