Melanie Glover is a 2010 Cooley alumna who practices immigration and naturalization law with the Dallas-based law firm of Davis & Associates. In this post, Melanie recounts her wonderful externship experience in Spain and offers advice for current Cooley students.
While at Cooley, I was able to work as an extern at a law firm in Madrid, Spain. Identifying the right placement may take a bit more time, but I strongly recommend that students interested in international or comparative law take advantage of this opportunity.
To prepare for my externship, I first checked with the Externship Office where I learned that it was possible to satisfy the externship requirement abroad. Since the School’s database did not yet contain a firm or contact in Madrid, the Externship Office directed me to use the mechanisms for having a new site approved. This may take a bit more time, but it is very well worth the effort.
Next, I identified several web sites that list firms and lawyers in different cities around the world. The search engines at these sites permitted the selection of parameters such as the type of law that a firm or lawyer practices, the city, country or region being searched, and even the size of the firm (www.hg.org or www.martindale.com). I identified about 20 firms and sent resumes and cover letters to attorneys at each location.
I suggest that an interested student should send an externship request to the listed hiring or managing partner if there is one or to a partner or associate at the firm who does the kind of work that is of interest. In addition, it is useful to clarify from the beginning that the position sought would be unpaid. Another helpful tip is to follow up methodically to schedule phone interviews. It is important to remember that lawyers and law firms receive numerous resumes and that success requires making yours stand out – professional follow-up is one of the best ways to do this. Finally, I narrowed my choices to three firms, and I found myself in the difficult but fortunate position of having to choose among three offers for an externship position. In the end, my choice was to extern for a law firm, Mariscal Abogados & Asociados, whose primary practice is corporate and commercial law.
My foreign-externship experience was invaluable because of the variety of hands-on legal work that I was permitted to do. My tasks were varied and meaningful. I researched and wrote memorandums covering issues concerning commercial contracts and employment agreements. I attended informal meetings with governmental officials, and I also was allowed to handle corporate filings at the Madrid Commercial Registry.
A significant amount of my work also included translating articles about international-law topics including intellectual property, debt collection, contract, and employment issues. While “translating” may seem a bit mundane, I learned that it was a much-needed skill that opened the door to many of my “legal” assignments. This is because translating, I found, can be used as a learning tool to help quickly and concisely bring the translator up-to-speed on a developing legal issue. I was even able to observe client interactions and pre-trial negotiations. I was also fortunate to have Dean Toy conduct the site visit, and the firm was very impressed the professionalism of Cooley’s externship-review process.
Would-be foreign externs should be aware that foreign law firms have the greatest need for locally licensed attorneys, which means that a post-externship position may not always be possible at first. Nevertheless, forward-thinking externs can secure great recommendations, life-long friendships, new skills, and an eye-opening experience that changes you for the better. To this day, I maintain contact with the lawyers I worked with at Mariscal Abogados & Asociados and even help with short legal articles that the firm uses as part of its promotional materials. I also try to encourage others to extern for the same firm. For example, I have heard that a Grand Rapids student may be externing at the law firm this summer. Whatever foreign externship experience you decide to pursue, a little investment in time and effort can shape the rest of your legal career in ways you did not anticipate.