Alumni Spotlight: Philippe Herbillon LLM ’83

The International Legal Studies Program was barely one year old when Philippe Herbillon was awarded his LL.M Degree. Despite the infancy of the program at the time, Philippe attributes his international perspective and career, in part, to his educational background at American University Washington College of Law.

He is based in Paris, France, where he is currently a self-employed legal consultant specializing in international contracting in the oil & gas industry. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Philippe during his recent visit to his alma mater.

How did you come to the ILSP, and what was your experience like at that time ?

After earning a law degree at the Paris “Assas” Law School, University Paris 2, I came over to the United States with the intention of primarily studying English. At this point, a friend of mine, also a lawyer, gave me the good advice of pursuing an LLM degree at a university in the United States. So, I applied and was admitted to WCL in January of 1982.

When I started my LLM studies, I had just three fellow students in the program—an Argentinean, a Mexican and a Spaniard. As time went by, an increasingly larger number of students, for example from Curaçao, Venezuela, Germany, China, Kuwait, etc., joined the program. At that time, all of the American JD students and the foreign LL.M students were mixed in classes, so there was a very culturally enriching environment. I deeply enjoyed being in such a diverse and interesting community.

What was your area of focus ? 

I focused on International Business and Tax Law.

What do you remember the most about your LL.M studies at WCL ?

I remember some exciting discussions covering topics such as geopolitics or economics or monetary policies with my fellow students from WCL. I would like to seize the opportunity to herewith warmly greet, among others, Russell, Karen, Daniel, Francisco, Andreas, Julia, Meklat, Wu, Pei, and Raoul.  These outstanding lawyers from the program enabled me to progress in my understanding of overall legal problems. 

As a French native, I deeply appreciate the exceptional opportunity I had to study in the US, which effectively supported my career and certainly allowed me to become more open-minded than before. This was a decisive moment of my life.

What has been your path since you graduated from ILSP ?

After graduating in 1983, I came back to France and swiftly found up a job as a junior lawyer with the Gabonese, Libreville-based branch of an international law firm where I have had a one-year practice. Then, I worked for some six years in the legal department of a major French banking group where I was put in charge, along with a team of other in-house lawyers, of international banking as well as mergers and acquisitions.  Following this, I joined a team of the international lawyers of a major oil & gas group, and was stationed for nearly five years as an expatriate lawyer to this group’s Indonesia, Jakarta-based gas division.  I dealt both with exploration & production matters and with international marketing of LNG/LPG on behalf of a domestic state-owned oil & gas company. During my stay in Jakarta I met my wife Sophia, who is the mother of my very cute, six-years-old daughter Sasha.  More recently, I have been for a couple of years, a self-employed legal consultant specializing in international contracting in the oil & gas business.

Why did you come back to WCL, and how do you find it today?

The reason why I decided to come back to WCL— twenty years later!—has a quite sentimental ground.  I was eager not only to see again Professor Goldman, Dean Grossman (in this regard, I have been very sad being advised, locally, that I wouldn’t see again late Professor Rubin), but also all of my nice fellows from the good ancient time. Actually, coming back to WCL was for me a bit like coming back to the “crime scene”.  My time at WCL, as well as the very good time I spent in Washington, DC has not only been unforgettable for me, but also an experience that has influenced the very course my life.

Having returned, I was really amazed by the new building of WCL. I am very proud to be an alum from International Legal Studies Program as I see how successful the program now is worldwide.  I feel that with regard to the setting up of an international community based on the rule of law and principles of justice and equity and of promoting international understanding among nations, the contribution and achievement of WCL has proven to be outstanding.

Do you have any advice for current and future students?

Current and future students should be aware that they will never be able to store up a comprehensive knowledge of law, and they should be prepared to always remain very humble with respect to mistakes commonly made by lawyers. My point is that they ought to learn, as I have, about the basic rules that are likely to make a lawyer a “good” one, and namely about ethical principles in the contracting work which cannot necessarily be gained from textbooks.  Negotiating a contract should not be a confrontation between contradictory interests and cultures, but rather the bona fide clever adjustment of these differences, whereupon all of the signatories will feel secured and happy. The International Legal Studies Program is certainly the right place with the right people for this kind of training.