International law program garners recognition, helps launch careers
Two years ago, third-year UA School of Law student Maggie Krajcer applied for the school’s Asia Summer Study Abroad program “basically on a whim,” she said.
A history major as an undergrad, Krajcer had never traveled far from home and was open to anything as far what to study in law school.
“I was a 1L, really busy and freaking out, but I went to the information session because it sounded really interesting,” she said. “One of the courses was an international contracting class, and I had liked my contracts class. So, I just jumped in and applied. It was my first taste of international law. Ever since, I’ve taken every single international law course offered here that I could.”
Last May, Krajcer began working as an intern at Hyland, a fast-growing tech company based in Westlake, Ohio, with more than 3,000 employees and 16 offices in 10 countries outside of North America. She reviews employment contracts and international laws issues having to do with employment.
“One of the main reasons I got the job at Hyland was my experience abroad and my familiarity with global law,” she said. “That stands out with an employer, because it’s hard to get international law experience without going abroad. I still have the book from the international contracting course on my desk, and details like my knowledge of the way Japanese people work have really been helpful.”
Krajcer is currently looking for a full-time post-J.D. position somewhere that would include some international law aspects.
Globalizing Akron Law
Krajcer’s transformation is something Prof. Matthew Wilson—former dean of Akron Law and president of the University— might have had in mind as he shaped his vision for the law school in in his first months as dean in 2014.
Among the credentials Wilson brought to Akron, none were more impressive than his international resume: Six years at Temple University’s Japan Campus, first as its law program director and associate professor of law, and then as its general counsel, associate dean and senior associate dean; four years as an international scholar at Kyung Hee University Law School in South Korea; visiting professorships at two Japanese universities; specialization in international business law, intellectual property law, commercial litigation, international dispute resolution, comparative law; and more.
“One of the goals when I came here was to globalize Akron Law,” he said. “The school had had a study abroad program in Switzerland, but it had been placed on the back burner. ([Yet] as I looked around the faculty at the time, about 40 percent had some kind of international experience, and I thought, that was really high for a law school. So, combined with my own expertise, and where the world is moving, I thought, let’s see if we can put all of these international programs into play.”
In short order, the school began expanding its international law course offerings, nurturing active relationships with foreign universities, and hosting more scholars from overseas.
In 2015 the school rolled out a new two-year international J.D. program aimed at foreign law school graduates and announced agreements with Kyung Hee University and Nagoya University in Japan to offer a unique four-week dual-country, tri-city Asia summer study abroad experience beginning in 2016. It also entered into collaborative agreements with three Vietnamese law schools and several Chinese universities. Meanwhile, Wilson ramped up efforts to entice more globally-minded U.S. students to Akron, taking the global law story on the road to dozens of universities and law school fairs.
Just three years in, the globalization strategy is showing results. Applications for the Asia program are strong, including repeats from some other law schools where a student had been part of an earlier tour. The National Jurist recently named it a “Best Law Study Abroad Excursion.”
“As I go to law school fairs, I’d bet one in every two students, maybe one in every three, has an interest in something international,” said Wilson. “That’s one of the reasons why they come to our table.”
“Some of the students who go on the Asia program are very set on doing international law,” said Prof. Sarah Cravens, who is the program administrator and has taught or co-taught the courses on Global Issues in Tort Law and Cross-Border Practices. “Others do it just because they want to travel. But as they take the courses and experience these other cultures, they often find that they do have an interest in international law.”
Two valuable benefits of the program that students generally don’t appreciate until they get there are all the people they will interact with and the self-confidence they will build after the initial culture shock, she said.
In addition to the courses, the program includes field trips to local legal institutions, social activities, and opportunities to interact with legal experts and practitioners and law students not only from South Korea and Japan but from around the world. Krajcer noted that she keeps in touch on Facebook with the South Korean law firm partner who taught the International Commercial Arbitration course.
“We don’t do a lot of hand-holding,” Cravens explained. “We give the students directions and all kinds of pre-departure information, but they are on their own to a large degree. What that translates to is that as professionals they are going to need to know how to find a courtroom in a city, file a brief and enter into a transaction and order lunch in Seoul. Most of them are very pleasantly surprised to find that they can do it.”
She continued, “One of the things we impress on them—both in encouraging them to go and while we’re there—is that you don’t have to be an international lawyer to need to understand international law. If you’re going to practice law, the likelihood is that something related to international law is going to come across your plate.”
The experience transfers well
Take 3L student Nate Fulmer, who went on the 2017 trip. For various reasons, he said, he had missed study-abroad opportunities in high school and college, so when he learned he could travel to Asia with some new law school friends and “knock out six credits” in the process, he was all in.
Fulmer is a candidate to graduate in 2019 with a joint J.D./Master of Taxation degree. He recently accepted an offer to work full-time after graduation at Akron-based business law firm Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, where he has been interning.
“It’s all transferred really well to the work I’m doing in my current firm,” said Fulmer. “People know I have this experience, so sometimes when an international issue comes up, a partner will be knocking at my door saying , ‘Hey, you like international stuff, right?’ One of my first assignments as a summer associate involved a tax issue for a Chinese company shipping goods through Ohio, and Ohio wasn’t properly taxing them. Having gone on the study abroad program has already created a lot of opportunities for me.”
Legal love story
There is probably no student whose life has been changed more by the Asia study abroad experience than Akron Law 3L Audrey Fettig.
“I had always dreamed about visiting Japan, so I jumped at the opportunity when I learned about the Asia study abroad program,” she said. “I had never even been to Canada before, and since then I’ve been traveling all the time.
“I immediately wanted to go back to Japan after that summer, so I did a semester abroad at Temple University’s law program in Japan last winter and spring and arranged an internship with a Japanese ‘bengoshi’—a lawyer—so I could stay over through the summer.”
There was another factor calling her back. While trying to learn some basic Japanese ahead of the summer 2017 trip, Fettig met a young Japanese doctor through a video chat program for people looking for a partner to practice their foreign language skills.
The two grew close. They met in person for the first time in Tokyo that summer. One month later, Fettig said, “He confessed his love to me, as they say in Japan.”
After getting her J.D. this spring, Fettig will be moving to Tokyo to work and live. She decided to bypass the bar exam, since it would mean delaying her move overseas for two years. There is a huge demand in Japan for American J.D.’s to do legal drafting, she explained. English is the common language for all international legal documents in Japan, but few Japanese attorneys are trained to draft legal English.
Just think, she said, “I would never would have gone to Japan if I hadn’t gone to a law school.”
And she wouldn’t be engaged to be married—as happened on Christmas Day in Tokyo.