Alumni Spotlight: Axel Bree LLM ’98 and Anna Herken LLM ’98

The Washington College of Law was fortunate to have German alumni, Axel Bree LLM ’98 and Anna Sophie Herken LLM ’98, teach a course on European Union Law at the law school this past summer of 2004. They recently published a short article about their LLM experience in the German magazine “justament.” Currently Axel and Anna both work in the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labor of Germany. They will move back to Washington soon and Anna will start to work for the Inspection Panel at the World Bank in 2005. Below is a brief interview of their LLM experience and career path.

What are your positions in the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labor currently?

Anna: My position in the Ministry was Formerly Deputy Head of International Trade Policy Division (GATS, TRIPS and Trade and Environment). Additionally, I also was responsible for the preparation and conduction of the G8 summit and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. In September 2004 I was appointed to support the ongoing German labor market reform. In March 2005, I will leave the German government, however, and start to work for the Inspection Panel of the World Bank in DC.

Axel: I work in the European Policy Department. My main task is the coordination of the legal and policy questions concerning State Aid in our Ministry. Also, I am a so-called expert for projects which aim to prepare the EU accession of States for EU membership. Furthermore, I am responsible in Germany for a European Dispute Settlement Mechanism called SOLVIT.

Why did you come to the Washington College of Law for your LLM studies?

Axel: We thought about going to other places and countries for our LLM degree but we found that the program at AU offered the most in terms of diverse curriculum and opportunities. To let you know, I am an avid surfer…so as far as beaches are concerned, other places would have been better, but as far as LLM programs, we were set on coming here. It is great that you can focus your studies on your own interest at WCL whether environmental law or int’l business law, etc. and not have to take classes that are not that related to international law.

Anna: Plus, the fact that you can start with the spring semester in January was attractive. I finished my JD program in August and did not want to wait another year before starting my LLM studies. That is why we seriously considered schools in the southern hemisphere which tend to start in January unlike the schools in the United States in general.

Where did you study before coming here?

Anna: I studied in France and in Germany. I did my final exam at the Free University of Berlin.

Axel: I did my JD at the University of Cologne and my Ph.D. at the University of Goettingen in Germany.

How has the LLM degree helped you in your career path?

Anna: It has helped a great deal. You have to distinguish between the academic benefits you can gain from other beneficial aspects such as practical work experience in D.C. For example, I worked at the World Bank and had an internship at the IDB. The opportunity to gain such practical experience was really beneficial and a foundation for what I do now. The opportunity to work in an international organization here is something you would not necessarily be able to gain as easily elsewhere in other US cities. Also,

I think we would not have gotten the jobs we have today without the LLM degree and experience. For, example, my experience at the World Bank certainly helped me to get my new position in the World Bank.

Axel: For me, another aspect is that I really used the knowledge that I gained here. I had classes in trade and environment and afterwards, I did a study for the German Ministry of Environment on the exact same topic that I was studying while at WCL. I could even copy and paste some parts of my research papers. In addition of course, employers appreciate that an applicant has obtained the LLM degree as such.

What are your responsibilities or what is most challenging about your position?

Anna: I very much enjoy the opportunity to get a lot of international experience. Being a delegate and being involved in so many different international conferences (WTO-Ministerial, Johannesburg World Summit, G8 Summit) enabled me to understand international processes and international institutions. As a German trade official I enjoyed discussing with my other European colleagues in the so called 133-trade committee that meets regularly in Brussels and where European trade policy is made. It was great to be so closely involved not only in the European integration process but also in negotiations and discussions with other global players and particularly with developing countries. Further, I like the mixture of people you deal with: from developing and developed countries, to NGOs, the private sector or governments. There are so many aspects and often contradicting interests that have to be considered when dealing with international trade or sustainability – I consider it an extremely important and interesting task to find solutions that are acceptable to all actors.

Axel: My responsibility with regard to State aid is to ensure that our subsidies are consistent with EU law and that our policy interests in this field are well positioned and preserved. Most challenging is to reach agreements or solutions in negotiations with other Ministries, other governments or the European Commission. In general, it is fascinating to be involved in the enlargement process of the European Union. During my work in the East European States I learned a lot about these economies in transition and their specific needs and problems. As Anna said, it is quite inspiring to deal with people from so many different nationalities and backgrounds, in particular if we achieve a common success.

Please describe a bit more what you taught while at WCL.

Axel: This summer we taught a class on the Law of the European Union. Being an introductory class, we focused on the main outlines of the European institutions and of the basic economic freedoms. Also we tried to include the latest developments in Europe concerning the accession and our new draft constitution. Besides the basic dry facts, we wanted to provide the students with some “insight” perspectives.

Any advice for current and incoming LLM students?

Anna: Use the time to learn and experience internships because it is a good opportunity to work in international organizations, NGO’s, etc. Try to get practical work experience and take classes that may not be offered in your home country such as on the subject of international financial institutions. Try to profit from the faculty and not only the full time but the adjunct faculty as well. We don’t have that in Germany a lot—professors who also are engaged in professional work, NGO’s, etc.

What do you like to do in your free time during your stay here?

Axel: What free time? In such a short period—3 weeks for a whole semester class, we have had to use most of our time to prepare for the classes. Well, actually we used two weekends to go elsewhere like the beach and New York City. I even went surfing in Queens. But while we were students, it was a very fun year. We traveled throughout the U.S. as much as we could and had a great time. We enjoyed meeting all the students and we’re still in contact with some of our LLM classmates. However, we hope to see some other classmates again, when we move back to Washington.