My Time at W&L Law #9

With graduation less than a month away, we asked several of our third-year students to reflect upon their time at W&L Law. Today, Celeste Owens takes on the topic.

Celeste Owens

Celeste Owens

If, three years ago, you told me that W&L Law would be my gateway to international trade and investment law and policy work around the globe, I wouldn’t have believed you. And, as I know now, my skepticism would have grossly underestimated the possibilities that exist here for the student who seeks them. As my final year at W&L Law comes to a close and I prepare for my next adventure overseas, I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. In particular, I am thankful that I cast aside my doubt long enough to appreciate and benefit from the opportunities for growth, as an individual and as a budding professional, that W&L offers.

My most salient memory of one such opportunity stems from the 2010 joint W&L and UNCTAD Symposium on International Investment and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), the product of the dedicated and tireless efforts of Professor Franck and her extensive network. For two days, attorneys from large law firms, attorneys from the United Nations and the World Bank, ADR specialists, Ambassadors, State Department representatives as well as ministerial officers of governments from a host of countries, not to mention trade and investment specialists descended on Lexington.

In addition to generating a dialogue between investment stakeholders, Professor Franck strived to create learning and networking opportunities for students The semester prior, she had interviewed and carefully selected student rapporteurs and liaisons for the invitees, working to ensure that each student was assigned to a guest whose interests or experiences aligned with theirs. I was assigned to an Ambassador from Costa Rica and a trade representative whose family originates from the same rural town in the Dominican Republic as my godparents’ family. From my conversations with them, I began to understand how I could use my legal education to preserve international economic relationships.

Building on the symposium experience, I pursued internships that took me to Washington, D.C., Geneva, and Paris and courses that have put me on track to do the kind of work I want to do.  Beginning in my second year, I studied negotiations, European Union law, international litigation and arbitration, trade law, antitrust, Latin American law, and cross-border mergers and acquisitions (to name a few). The small class sizes and the professors’ captivating yet approachable personalities definitely enhanced my learning experience in these classes. They were happy to engage in an out-of-class discussion on the international litigation/arbitration case of the moment or China’s refusal to accept an iron-ore shipment from Brazil.

The General Externship aspect of the 3L program was another way for me to build on my symposium experience. Dean Natkin works closely with third-year students to place them in an actual practice experience that aligns with their interests. My classmates have chosen any number of opportunities, from working for local law firms to assisting general counsel offices. In keeping with my interests and goals, I chose an ADR center, where I was able to apply what I learned in my negotiations classes and training and further develop these skills through practice.

In my three years here, the school has continued to expand its curriculum and the administration taps into its network to recruit only the best professors to lead these courses.  A few weeks ago, my intensive Intro to WTO Law course was taught by an amazing visiting professor from one of the top Executive MBA/JD programs in the world. Also fairly recently, an alumnus returned to teach a fascinating skills-development seminar that explored the intersections between administrative, energy, and Native American law while encouraging us to think beyond judicial-branch solutions to a client’s problems. Even someone like me, who is much more inclined toward international commercial affairs, can find value in exposure to these areas of law, recognizing that they represent additional pieces to the representational puzzle.

Just as W&L’s faculty has helped me grow in my understanding of the law and of my soon-to-be role as a lawyer, my classmates have also contributed to my development. Our 1L year, a classmate invited me to serve on the board The Wine Law Society, which she had just founded. The organization offers social events – wine tastings on-campus as well as at local vineyards – as well as opportunities to explore winemaking and intellectual property law. Much like the investment ADR symposium, the Wine Law Society has opened me up to an area of law I never knew I would find interesting. Having grown up just outside of wine country in California, I was both surprised and fascinated to learn about Virginia’s efforts to establish a competing wine industry in the Mid-Atlantic.

In sum, W&L is a great place to forge one’s own path. Resources and opportunities abound, and the administration and students are always looking to create opportunities where they may not already exist. While my law school career has been a little less traditional, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  I am pleased to have gotten the exposure or the networking opportunities I needed to go abroad and to launch what I know will be a successful career.

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