International JD Dual Degree Program Gives Students Competitive Advantage in Law Careers Abroad

For American University Washington College of Law students interested in pursuing careers in international law, there is no more direct route than through the law school’s International JD Dual Degree Program. Not only do students earn a Juris Doctor from the law school, they also earn the JD equivalent degree from the host school, while immersing themselves in the culture of the host country.

“The JD Dual Degree Program uniquely prepares its students to practice both in civil and common law arenas in a variety of different settings and cultures,” says Dean Claudio Grossman. “The versatile abilities and bodies of knowledge that are gained through the program not only make its graduates more marketable but also further the core values of an American University Washington College of Law education on an international level.”

Founded in 2004, the program offers active courses of study at law schools in three countries: Monash University Law School in Melbourne, Australia; University of Ottawa Common Law Section, Ottawa, Canada; and Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, Paris, France. The program in Spain at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid has been changed to a JD/LL.M (master of European Union law) program due to major changes to the country’s legal education system.

“By living and going to school in a foreign country, not just for a semester but for a year and a half to two years, students are learning the language, the culture, and the legal system on a more intense basis,” explains Theresa Kaiser, director of Study Abroad and International Exchange at the law school. “Right away students have to learn how to deal with the culture and people and understand the legal system,” she continues.

Kaiser notes that in addition to regular coursework, most of the programs have opportunities for students to participate in internships, moot court, and journals as well as to work for firms in their host countries where they can build career networks.

Students who participate in the Dual Degree Program, “usually have previous experience abroad, have lived, or have family abroad,” characterizes Kaiser. “Some students enter the program with the thought of staying in the foreign country, while others plan to return to the United States. A fair number of students go open-minded as well, [and choose] depending on the best job. Through earning two degrees, students can at least double their number of potential employers.”

"I wanted to see what it was like to live and work in Paris."

Alumna Elizabeth Rushing ‘09 (below), studied abroad during her undergraduate years at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She focused her studies on international justice while in Shanghai, China, and Geneva, Switzerland, where she currently resides.

Rushing was attracted to the Dual Degree Program because, “I wanted to learn more about civil law, so as to better follow legal developments in countries across Africa, the Americas, and Asia that do not have a common law system; I wanted to practice law in a second language (she is fluent in French) and learn a second set of legal vocabulary; and, unsurprisingly, I wanted to see what it was like to live and work in Paris.”Elizabeth Rushing '09

During her first year in France, Rushing earned the equivalent of a JD, a license en droit, in international and European law. During the her second year, she earned a master en droit, the rough equivalent of an LL.M., in human rights law, focusing her research on the judicial protection of the right to education.

After graduating, Rushing accepted a position in Geneva with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as reporting officer for Central and South Africa.

“Drawing on reports from the field and at headquarters,” she explains, “I write about the ICRC’s activities in central and southern Africa and report on them to donor governments and the general public in an effort to raise awareness of the organization’s neutral, impartial, and humanitarian mandate and promote support for its work protecting and assisting people affected by conflict and promoting widespread understanding of international humanitarian law.”

"I wanted to be sure I was flexible as possible in terms of work."

For some, like Nicole Hastings ‘11, the decision to attend American University Washington College of Law was based on the Dual Degree Program.

“I am probably in a different situation than most students,” she describes. “While I have always been interested in learning about other cultures and how the law functions in other countries, my husband is Canadian and I wanted to be sure I was as flexible as possible in terms of work. So the Dual Degree Program was the best way to ensure I could practice law in either the U.S. or Canada with the least amount of difficulty. I was also excited about the prospect of learning law in a different country...I find comparative law very interesting.”

In addition to her JD from American University Washington College of Law, Hastings holds an LLB (common law) from the University of Ottawa.

“Graduating with a Canadian law degree made it much easier to apply for jobs in the Canadian market,” Hastings asserts. “In Ontario, Canada, in order to become a lawyer (to be ‘called to the bar’), you have to do something called articling in addition to passing the bar exam. Articling is similar to an apprenticeship. You gain legal experience working for a firm, nonprofit organization, the government, etc. for 10 months. Many students hope to receive a permanent position from the employer they articled with. I will begin articling in early August for the firm I was fortunate enough to have worked for last summer, Torys, LLP, located in Toronto.”

An International "Foot in the Door"

Like Rushing, student Alicia Kraatz spent time in France during high school, living in a small town in the countryside outside of Lyon. The Dual Degree Program appealed to her because she is interested in international commercial arbitration and she thought it would be useful to obtain a specialized degree and improve her French. Kraatz also notes that Paris is a hub for the field of international commercial arbitration.

When she finishes her French studies, she will have earned two master’s degrees, one in international and European law and the other in business law. This summer, Kraatz is interning at the ICC International Court of Arbitration where she works for the secretariat on the American team.

“It is similar to interning for a U.S. judge,” says Kraatz. “I attend all sessions of the ICC court, review submissions by parties in arbitration, review final awards submitted by arbitral tribunals, and perform research related to various national laws and arbitration practice.”

“The Dual Degree Program gives you a real competitive advantage when practicing international law, by understanding both common law and civil law systems,” says Kraatz. “It gives students more opportunities to gain work experiences, and can also be a foot in the door to working in Paris.”

Kraatz speculates that after graduating, she will work in the field of arbitration, either for a firm or an institution like the ICC.  She says she will likely live in either Paris or Washington, D.C., and travel frequently.

Building a Dual Degree Program Network

Despite the benefits of the Dual Degree Program and the rare opportunities it often offers, students claim it sometimes can be difficult to make the switch from studying in the United States to studying abroad.

“I would say the biggest difference was the interaction with the professors,” describes Rushing. “It was more challenging to develop a relationship with the instructors in Paris, who also had careers outside of their teaching responsibilities. I was able to work with my professors more closely the second year, as we were a smaller group of students, and I took advantage of that. The other main difference was the availability of resources, both in print and electronically. I did miss the Pence Law Library while I was doing my thesis research, but the staff there helped me out by shipping a box of books to work with.”

According to Kraatz, one of the keys to her successful transition to studying in France was making friends with people who already studied at Nanterre (both former Dual Degree students and French students). Kaiser agrees that some of the best resources for Dual Degree Program students are alumni who have been through the program. To that end, she is building an alumni network at each of the program locations so alumni can offer support to the students.

“They can help [the students] make a soft landing in the country and help them make connections,” she says.

In addition to the alumni network, Kaiser says the law school is interested in expanding the program to other countries, but is taking a pragmatic approach.  England and Mexico are two possible future locations but other countries also are being considered.  

“Helping students to work in a foreign country at the job they dreamed of is very satisfying and helping to promote international understanding and cooperation through legal education is truly important. The more we can do both of those things, the better,” Kaiser says.

If you are an alumnus of the Dual Degree Program and are interested in being a part of a Dual Degree alumni network, contact Theresa Kaiser at tkaiser@wcl.american.edu or (202) 274-4237.