Thomas Hildebrand realized he wanted to focus on international arbitration in summer 2020 while taking Professor Timothy Meyer’s class in the subject as a student in the Vanderbilt in Venice program. The course introduces students to public and private international laws governing trade and other economic activities, and students examine how the European Union works and learn about the Unidroit Principles for international commercial contracts, among other topics. “I don’t know if I would have realized I wanted to focus on international arbitration if I hadn’t taken that class,” Thomas said. “After that, I took every class I could taught by Professor Meyer. He’s an incredibly skilled teacher with a real talent for explaining complex concepts clearly.”
Thomas was no stranger to dealing with foreign legal regimes. He applied to law school from Hiroshima, Japan, where he lived and worked for three years before entering law school. He had also studied abroad in Hyderabad, India, while majoring in government and international relations as an undergraduate student at Wofford College. “I only applied to law schools that had strong international law programs,” he said. “I knew, whatever area of law I ended up focusing on, that I’d want to work in international law.”
For Thomas, Vanderbilt’s strong International Legal Studies Program and national career placement made it the best choice among the 10 law schools to which he applied. He entered as a Dean’s Scholar and received two supplementary scholarships that recognize outstanding academic performance—the Helen Strong Curry International Legal Studies Scholarship and the Thomas R. McCoy Scholarship for Excellence in Constitutional Law—starting his 2L year.
As a 2L, Thomas joined the staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, and he has served as the journal’s executive editor for the 2021-22 academic year. His timely note, “The Fighting’s Done, Now Pay Me: Investment Treaties, War and State Liability,” which addresses state liability following conflict, was published in November 2021. He also joined the International Law Society, serving as its president as a 3L. “I focused my extracurriculars on international law because that’s where I wanted to practice,” he said.
He also found time to join J.O.G., a running/walking club that allowed students to meet each other and socialize outdoors during the time when pandemic protocols limited indoor social activities.
Thomas received an offer from a large firm but chose to join Chaffetz Lindsey, a New York-based boutique firm specializing in international arbitration, after working there as a summer associate in 2021. “When I started law school, I thought I’d end up working for the government or the state department. I didn’t know there were private firm options that would give me an opportunity to work in international law,” he said. “That was one of the exciting things I learned when I took International Arbitration that first summer.”
As a student, Thomas appreciated Vanderbilt’s rigorous intellectual environment and its collegial culture, and he feels well-prepared to enter legal practice. “The professors here are wonderful, and they truly care about the students,” he said. “Vanderbilt is academically rigorous, but it really does have a unique, collegial environment. People are great, and I’ve never felt like there was anyone who didn’t have my back.”