"Law Studies Abroad" Offers Semester-Long Look at Foreign Legal Study

William & Mary Law School unveiled a new, semester-long Law Studies Abroad program in 2005, joining a growing number of U.S. law schools offering lengthier study abroad opportunities for students. William & Mary recently welcomed home its first participant, Adrienne DiCerbo ’06, and organizers hope the program will continue to grow and attract students looking to immerse themselves in foreign law and culture.

Law Studies Abroad is an exchange program developed through faculty relationships with four foreign legal institutions: Instituto de Empresa in Madrid; Keio Law School in Tokyo; University of Auckland Law School in New Zealand; and University of Vienna in Austria. Participants pay their regular William & Mary tuition and fees, and can earn up to 12 credits during their semester abroad.

Interested law students apply for the program in the spring of their second year and travel abroad in the fall of their third year, said Associate Dean Patricia Roberts. Professor Ronald Rosenberg, Director of Foreign Exchanges at the law school, advises students on course selections abroad. Fluency in a foreign language is not necessary to participate.

A good candidate for Law Studies Abroad, Roberts said, is a student who has at least a 3.0 GPA, an interest in practicing international law, and has already finalized her post-graduation job plans. The most interested students tend to be those who studied abroad before law school, thoroughly enjoyed the cultural experience, and can’t wait to travel again for long-term studies.

“These institutions are more vibrant and full of people during the regular academic terms, so students have an increased opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture,” Roberts said. “Students get to experience different faculty in another culture, and truly experience what it feels like to be a student at that institution.”

DiCerbo, William & Mary’s pioneer participant in Law Studies Abroad, spent fall semester 2005 at Instituto de Empresa in Spain. DiCerbo said her interest in practicing public interest law internationally, combined with a rewarding study abroad experience as an undergraduate, led her to participate in the program.

“I wanted the opportunity to study in a foreign setting, and yet still graduate from law school on time,” DiCerbo said. “Madrid is a center of culture, not just a center of business, so I got to meet people from all over.”

Students in the law program at Instituto de Empresa pursue the degree of Master’s of International Legal Practice. DiCerbo said her courses were all taught in English and focused more on discussions and group problem-solving exercises than the textbook-based learning style typical at American law schools. This hands-on approach, she said, led her to tackle subjects that might not otherwise have piqued her interest, such as International Arbitration and International Business Law.

One of only four women in a class of more than 20, DiCerbo said she surprised her classmates by raising her hand and participating in class discussions – something the other females wouldn’t do. But, DiCerbo said, that was part of a valuable lesson she learned in Spain: even in a foreign country, it’s important to be independent, speak your mind and “roll with the punches.”

Although the application process for next fall’s foreign exchange won’t officially start until after spring break, a recent information session attracted 21 interested students. Three have already turned in applications, Roberts said.

William & Mary also hopes to host some students from the foreign exchange partner schools in the coming semesters.

“We’re still getting our feet wet and learning as we go,” Roberts said. “These are some amazing locations, and a really exciting learning opportunity for our students.”

DiCerbo, too, is optimistic about Law Studies Abroad’s future at William & Mary.

“I think it’s important for other students to have this experience, and I plan to help facilitate for whoever goes next,” DiCerbo said.