Cooley student Dino Gojak is having a great experience with an international externship. In this post, he offers insightful thoughts to fellow Cooley students.
When considering choices for the practical experience (externship, clinic) the law school requires, I thought about using the opportunity to learn about law in the country of my birth – Serbia. Information about how to have a new externship site approved was on the portal, and I began to look for law firms that might accept me.
A simple web search turned up numerous small- and medium-sized law firms, mostly local and not “international” ones. After talking to others and thinking it over, I decided that the best plan was to look for a medium-sized local firm with foreign clients in the hope that it was there that I could do the most good. The law firm agreed, and the externship office approved the site. In the two months that I have been at this law firm located in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, I realize that I had made the right choice.
The strategy was to find a law firm that had great lawyers but needed some of the skills that I could bring in order to more effectively compete with the large, and more expensive, international law firms with home offices in London, New York, Vienna, or Berlin. After the initial period of getting to know each other, I am now helping to translate legal documents from Serbian into English (the other way around is a bit harder for me), to proofread important client letters, due diligence reports, and as the partners at the firm have begun to trust my abilities, to research commercial and labor/employment laws (the firm is a business law firm). I also am trusted to file legal documents at government offices since I speak enough Serbian to do that right.
A big break came when the formatting on a due diligence report failed, and I spent long hours reformatting because I had the right knowledge of the software. Now I am helping to create a legal database of information that is easily found on websites for firm-wide use.
This week, a partner asked me to proofread some work on “personal liens” and “real liens” for a German client. These sounded familiar to me and after some thought, I remembered that common law countries call these easements in gross and easements appurtenant, which we learned in Property class. This allowed me to explain myself well and to recognize those aspects of Serbian lien law that differ from the American forms and traditions. Now that my colleagues see that I know what I am doing, I am getting really busy at the firm.
There are special challenges with remote externships. Luckily, I have family in Belgrade that I could stay with, which meant that I was not faced with what is probably the hardest thing to negotiate in a foreign language – rental agreement. (Similar-minded students may be able to work with the law firm to at least get help with this process). Despite the difficulties, the opportunity is a great one and is worth the extra effort. Speaking Serbian was not a requirement, though it has helped, and so other students who consider this kind of option can find a way. I am truly amazed at how rewarding this experience is turning out to be.