On my first day of law school, a good friend of mine passed along a dose of newly graduated wisdom: “Law school can easily become a conveyor belt; it’s harder to step off than you think.” A nifty metaphor, I remember thinking. But not much in the way of advice. As per usual my friend was right.
The conveyor belt began its churn in haste. Many of us came to law school with some idiosyncratic notion of why we were there, driven by personal convictions about our future profession’s ideals and values.
But somewhere—amidst the first-year curriculum’s near uniformity, the bend of legal education toward doctrine over practical skills, and the deeply entrenched professional mythologies and hierarchies in our legal institutions that each generation of students inherits—something was lost. Our professional goals became more standardized, and our construct of what it means to be a lawyer, more synchronized. The “whys” and “whats” many of us held close before law school collapsed into a series of binary choices: litigation or transactional? BigLaw or public interest? International or domestic?
Along this conveyor belt, a certain set of guideposts emerged: law review, on-campus interviews, moot court, clerkships … all the familiar landmarks that a place like Stanford Law can offer.
Enter Global Quarter. The law school’s pitch to students was that while the past two decades of innovation and globalization have drastically expanded the role of lawyers, legal education has not evolved at a commensurate pace. If successful, the W.A. Franke Fellowship in Global Business Law would be a significant step in bridging that gap, offering both a supplementary skill set and an alternative framework by which to conceptualize the practice of law.
For me, Global Quarter lived up to that promise almost instantly. On our first day, we found ourselves on a sprawling terrace overlooking Lake Geneva, divided into teams negotiating a mock contract for a data-sharing agreement, led by eBay’s Chief Privacy Officer Anna Zeiter, LLM ’14.
A new professional ideal began to take shape: the lawyer as a force for agreement, the lawyer whose competence was defined by her ability to listen. Compromise, it appeared, was reached not by determining entitlements, but by understanding the legitimacy of the other parties’ narratives and values.
Then there was what to me was the highlight of the quarter—a visit with General Counsel Michael Strauss, JD ’00, at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London. There, we ran through a simulation of a very real issue EBRD lawyers faced in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and one uniquely personal to me as a Ukrainian-American): Given its political mandate, what does the bank’s constitution say about whether the board of directors can and should suspend Russia’s membership from the bank? The GC’s job, it became evident, was not simply to interpret the EBRD’s constitution in a vacuum, but to interpret the possible decisions legally available, politically feasible, and reputationally prudent through the decision-making lens of the board of directors and the board of governors. The simulation demanded that we consider what becomes of a lawyer’s tool kit when a situation so completely and unfathomably “explodes the very limits of the law.”
Of course, the ultimate purpose of Global Quarter was not to philosophize about the limits and possibilities of today’s legal education. With gratitude, I can speak to the more concrete mark the experience has left on my professional goals. And so, to be precise, a quick tour:
I am currently studying at the University of Vienna, where I am pursuing a joint degree in European Union and International Business Law and participating in another transformative SLS opportunity—the JD/LLM Exchange Program. At the same time, I’m interning for the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, where I constantly find myself revisiting Michael Strauss’ lingering question: What power do lawyers have when situations “explode the limits of the law?”
I now know that I want to spend a chunk of my career practicing internationally. When I graduate this spring, I will begin my career in Washington, D.C., as an international trade attorney, focusing on economic sanctions, export controls, and anti-money laundering at Crowell & Moring LLP. I am excited about the practice of law in a way that was difficult to envision in the early days of law school, in no small part due to the opportunities the Global Quarter has helped me access.
Still, I find myself most drawn to the Global Quarter’s intangibles. On our first day of the program, Professor Robert Daines left us with the following thought: Law is necessary, but not sufficient. From that premise, everything else flowed.
I often think about how the attorneys I most wanted to emulate are those who understand that the law is but one instrument to find solutions—and, more precisely, those who are able to methodically assess and succinctly communicate the likely outcomes of convoluted processes involving many stakeholders. Each general counsel we spoke to during Global Quarter offered a fascinating window into the calculus an attorney makes when unbound from the hierarchies of law firms and how they choose to operate as moral actors where legality is gray and fundamental values clash.
I reflect on the interaction I had with a set of in-house lawyers on the last day of the Global Quarter trip in Berlin. Their company was developing a disruptive technology that if successful promised to revolutionize consumer convenience. Before we left, I asked them if they had ever, during the development process, had a conversation about the more abstract, societal implications of a technology that had the capacity to alter our relationship to place, to community, and to time.
The question went unanswered, but like many moments throughout our trip, the true texture and understanding were found in the unsaid.
“What should be the role of a lawyer?” the silence begged.
It’s something that many of the Franke Fellows will spend our careers answering. I am grateful to Global Quarter for offering the question. SL
Jackie Schaeffer is a 3L at Stanford Law School, currently interning for the U.N.’s Independent International Commission of the Inquiry on Ukraine (supported by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law).