Pathways in International Law

I had the recent opportunity to attend a panel entitled “Pathways to Employment in International Law” hosted by Cardozo’s Office of Career Services, through the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law. After a brief introduction, the panelists each took the floor in turn to give details about their respective–and highly varied–careers in international law. A  question and answer session followed this and after the formal adjournment, the panelists stayed for more one-on-one advice and discussion. All were very open, and very willing to dispense valuable advice along with their business cards.

The panel moderator, Mr. Russell Semmel, is a recent Cardozo graduate currently working in the area of customs and international trade. His internships are things to envy, and include time in the United Nation’s Office of Legal Affairs, as well as a period with The Honorable Judge Timothy Stanceu at the U.S. Court of International Trade. Since Mr. Semmel graduated so recently, those of us still in school can perhaps look to his extracurriculars as a guide. If that’s the case, we ought to be aiming to make the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, as well as joining the SBA and the International Law and the Dispute Resolution Societies. Regardless of your interest in international law, Mr. Semmel has this piece of advice: “Anything you study or practice in the law has an international dimension to it. Every lawyer not only can, but must learn to practice ‘international law’. As students, the sooner you recognize this, the better off you’ll be.”

The first speaker of the evening was Ellen Yost, a very determined woman who began her career as a corporate lawyer in Buffalo, eventually heading the Canadian practice group for her firm. As she tells it, it was a bit of a fight to convince those above her that there was, in fact, business in Canada! In the time following, she co-founded her own firm, specializing in Canadians doing business in the US. She moved to Fragomen LLP following a firm merger, and now focuses her practice exclusively in the area of U.S. business immigration. She has spent several years in Brussels, Belgium, where she was responsible for the opening of Fragomen’s first international office there.

Mr. Luca Melchionna, the second speaker, shared his unique international experience. An Italian national, Mr. Melchionna received his J.D. and LL.M. degrees from the University of Rome I-, and spent several years in Italy practicing in cross-boarder practice for several international firms. Mr. Melchionna has now spent several years in teaching positions in both Italy and America; he has also earned a second LL.M. degree in American Law from Boston University. He has acted as Director of the LL.M. Program in U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Law School Graduates at St. John’s School of Law, and advised students seeking an international legal career: “Understanding a different culture is the key to establishing the practitioner’s value. Speaking another language or being admitted in another jurisdiction are tools that allow an attorney to reach hands and close gaps. In this regard, an attorney practicing international law wears different hats as an ambassador, mediator, translator, interpreter, pace keeper, arbiter, soft speaker, observer, listener, problem solver, and so on. If you like to learn and grow, the opportunities in this field are endless.”

The third panelist was Cardozo’s own Sherry-Ann Smith, the current Director of Career Services and Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives. Before moving into the administrative and development side of legal education, Ms. Smith worked in corporate finance and global investment funds, and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as in the state of New York. While completing her J.D at Howard University, she was actively involved in the International Moot Court team–something else we students may consider trying to add to our own resumes.

This panel was an excellent introduction to the various pathways one could follow in the overall area of international law, and I would recommend joining the ABA and its International Section for more information. Student membership for the ABA is only $25 (or $60 for three years), and section membership is free. The Section also hosts two seasonal meetings each year, each with special programming for young lawyers and law students. The upcoming fall meeting is in Miami, and while that may be a bit far to travel, the spring meeting will be in Washington. After attending the panel, I’m certainly looking forward to it and I hope to see many other Cardozo students there as well.