Although University of Richmond School of Law's London Clinical Placement Program (CPP) is just in its second year of operation, sixteen law students who participated in the program have had the opportunity to study international law while gaining practical experience through internships in London law firms, legal aid offices, and Parliament.
Professor Margaret Bacigal realized UR law students had a growing interest in international work experience. Under her direction, in 2011 the School of Law began to "provide interested students an opportunity to integrate legal theory with practice in a global setting." The London CPP is a five-week work program that is combined with the school's Cambridge Summer Program, an established study abroad program that allows law students to live and take classes at Cambridge's Emmanuel College.
Bacigal explained, "With the law school's increased emphasis on international education, this program is a natural fit. It affords students the unique opportunity to examine the English common law upon which our own system is based, to experience the practice of law in another country, and to explore the meaning of professionalism in a context different from our own."
"This four credit course places students with solicitors, barristers, and members of Parliament," added Bacigal. During the summer of 2011, nine students participated in the London CPP program. And this past summer, seven students were placed in internships at Parliament, legal aid, the International Senior Lawyers Project, McGuire Woods's London office, a criminal law firm, and a corporation. Next summer, the program will be offered again, offering a new group of students the chance to work in London.
Danielle Brown, L'14, was pretty sure she wanted to work in legal aid before going to London, but now she knows for sure. She explained, "I want to do something that is going to help people." Brown worked for the Hackney Community Law Center (HCLC), a legal aid firm that serves the residents of Hackney, a borough of London, by offering a variety of legal services, including housing and immigration.
Brown had the opportunity to work in both areas of law with one of the firm's senior solicitors. She recalled one occasion when she served as a runner for the duty solicitor, which involved going to court and interviewing clients who were facing eviction but didn't have legal representation. Brown and the solicitor successfully argued to have the eviction overturned, ensuring the client was able to stay in their home. Brown explained, "once we settled with the housing associations, we got to bring those people back into our office and work with them a little bit more, so that’s how we picked up quite a number of our clients." She also worked closely with the senior solicitor on several immigration cases.
Brown said the best part of the experience was working with clients. She was responsible for taking notes and writing letters for the senior solicitors, which allowed her to work one-on-one with HCLC's clients. She also assisted the solicitors in devising plans for their clients. Brown commented on the immediate outcome of that process, "I think providing them with a little bit of closure made them feel a lot better."
Brown also enjoyed working with the staff at the Hackney Community Law Center. She added, "Even though they are not really paid a lot, especially being solicitors, they put everything into their jobs."
Brown is seriously considering a future working in international law. The daughter of an American mother and an English father, Brown has dual citizenship, which makes it possible for her to work in England long-term. She added, "I'm a pretty unique case because I have dual nationality, so I don't have to worry about work visas." Brown has the opportunity to work on immigration cases again with a barrister next summer.
After spending two summers in England and a semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain, Jeremy Lorenzo, L'13, is now a seasoned traveler and international law student. During his first summer of law school, Lorenzo participated in the School of Law's Cambridge Summer Program, an experience that led him to return to London the following summer for the Clinical Placement Program. He explained, "That summer, I got a taste of the role that the law plays in international relations, as well as some of the differences between British and American legal systems. When I was given the chance to learn through a more practical approach with the London CPP, I jumped at the chance."
Lorenzo worked for Kaim Todner Solicitors Ltd, a legal aid firm that specializes in criminal law. There he was involved in a variety of activities, including attending court proceedings in both the lower courts and appellate courts and participating in client meetings.
Lorenzo was also responsible for writing memoranda regarding extradition law issues to the supervising solicitor, assembling evidence packets to be used in court, and drafting briefs to Counsel. He added, "I was especially lucky to be present during the Julian Assange Ecuadorian Embassy fiasco. I was able to explore the issues presented with my supervising attorney Michael Evans, who was actually interviewed by a news station because of his expertise on the subject."
When asked about the future, Lorenzo said, "The experience working abroad will impact my future plans positively, whatever I decide to do." He's interested in becoming an officer in the JAG Corps and hopes that his experiences working for an international litigation firm will help him to obtain that goal.
When Brandon Metheny, L'14, first heard about the program, he thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity and would be a great way to get practical law experience. Metheny worked for Emily Thornberry, Shadow Attorney General and a Member of Parliament (MP) in England's Labour Party. In addition to writing letters to ministers and constituents, he also learned the "proper way to make tea," a survival skill he was taught during his first days in the office. Metheny added, "I also wrote a letter to [Prime Minister] David Cameron, which was really awesome."
Metheny also researched bills that Thornberry was drafting, including a justice and security bill and a gay marriage bill. Metheny remarked, "It was interesting to see the differences between the U.S. and U.K. political systems," noting that one of Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign promises included passing a gay marriage bill, a sharp comparison to the political agenda of the conservative party in the United States.
Since Thornberry is a former barrister, Metheny said he was exposed to the legal side of government matters. He explained, "I was lucky . . . I got to see a lot more of U.K. law rather than just U.K. government, and there is a distinction there. I think that perspective is the biggest take-away." He also said that he now has more perspective on the American political system.
Metheny commented on the importance of taking classes at Cambridge after completing his internship in London. While the Clinical Placement Program offered practical law work experience, the classes provided an overview of EU law, international law, and comparative law. He added, "I think the two worked in concert and really gave me a full perspective on the differences and similarities between U.S. law and international law." The experience has also made Metheny more interested in the possibility of working in international law.
Metheny summarized his experience by saying, "Working and living in this huge international city was pretty incredible." He said he would encourage others to participate in the program. "It gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity—as I walked through the doors of Parliament, I met some of the most powerful people in the world."