Studying Abroad as a Law Student: Tips from Assistant Dean of International Programs Andrew Horsfall
By Ms. JD Editor • August 20, 2021•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Law School
Some of my favorite law school memories took place not within the walls of my contracts class, but throughout the streets of Europe. My law school offers several unique study abroad opportunities for law students, and I was lucky enough to seize the opportunity twice! During the summer after 1L year, I worked as a legal intern in London by day and studied UK law by evening. On the weekends, my classmates and I took in the sights and sounds of London or took impromptu trips to neighboring countries. For nearly three months, I felt like I really was a solicitor, learning how to practice law and interact with lawyers from across the world. For Spring break my 2L year, I took a week long course on international tax law in Zurich, Switzerland where I was introduced to expert Swiss tax lawyers and traveled to the banks and law firms that practiced the very law we were learning.
Both of these study abroad adventures were coordinated by Syracuse University College of Law’s Assistant Dean of International Programs, Andrew Horsfall. Dean Horsfall leads the law school’s Office of International Programs and oversees not only the summer externship program in London and the short-term study abroad programs, but also the LL.M program, a Visiting Scholars Program, and a doctoral-level SJD program. Before earning his J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, Dean Horsfall worked at Syracuse University Abroad. I could think of no one better to provide insight and tips on studying abroad as a law student, so I sat down with Dean Horsfall to discuss tips for law students considering studying abroad. The quotations herein are attributed to Dean Horsfall.
Research the Programs
“In my experience, most law students have already studied abroad as undergraduates, and may have already had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad.” As a law student, you only have six semesters and two of those are in your highly-structured 1L year. Because of this, “short-term study abroad courses over a spring break, winter break or summer tend to be the most common not only at Syracuse, but at most U.S. law schools.” Short-term programs are popular among many law students, even those who have not studied abroad before, because it provides the most flexibility for our already busy schedules.
This was the case for me. I wanted to ensure I could balance my schedule, bar classes, and interesting electives only offered stateside, so I gravitated toward the spring break and summer opportunities. However, that’s not to say that semester programs do not exist for law students. Some law schools may have exchange programs at law schools abroad that invite U.S. law students to study abroad for a semester to complement your schedule.
“Many law schools do a great job offering a rotating list of unique, interesting short-term study abroad courses in a specialized area of law.” Oftentimes, a week-long program abroad lends itself nicely to a specialized course that draws from the location; for example, a tax law course in Switzerland or a human rights law course in South Africa. “It’s always our hope that programs like these provide multi-layered exposure to the practice abroad in both that particular subject area and in that community.”
I had the privilege of experiencing both a short-term program in specialized coursework and a summer of externship work. Both were rewarding in different ways and both provided opportunities to network with the attorneys practicing in Switzerland and England These conversations gave me the best insight on comparative law and practices in other legal communities.
If your law school does not offer study abroad opportunities, or at least not ones that fit your schedule or your interests, have no fear. Some law schools allow students from other schools to take part in their study abroad programs. In fact, one of my favorite travel buddies from my time in London had joined our program from another U.S. law school. Be sure to do your research and don’t hesitate to reach out to other schools to learn about whether you could be eligible for their programs.
Consider the Cost
When preparing to study abroad in law school, one of the most practical considerations is cost. “There is usually a program fee that includes the cost of any course credit and could cover additional expenses like travel, housing, and events during the program,” offers Dean Horsfall. This was true for my program fee, which included flights, local travel, housing, networking events and the cost of the credit hours. However, there are additional costs to consider like food, extracurricular activities, clothing to fit the location’s climate, and the currency exchange rate. “There is usually financial aid available to students that can be included in their annual financial aid packages” and I had to weigh whether paying those additional loans would be worth my experience.
Prioritize Experiential Opportunities
While some study abroad programs will include most substantive study, others focus on experiential learning through practice. Dean Horsfall offers the advice that “[i]f you are going to study abroad in law school, you should consider opportunities that highlight or provide experiential opportunities that will provide exposure to the profession as it is practiced abroad.” This can be through guest lectures and site visits or through an externship program where you get to work a legal job abroad. In any case, “being able to meet with practitioners who are working in distinct, interesting or specialized areas outside of law school provides that exposure.”
Keep an Open Mind
“A curious mind is always a good thing!” When preparing to be a culturally competent student and traveler, your law school will provide an orientation program that will address cultural competency items to prepare for. Even still, Dean Horsfall recommends that “being open to exposure to otherness is generally a good first approach.” This is particularly true with respect to the legal community where you are studying abroad. “While an undergraduate study abroad experience might be more focused on cultural immersion, study abroad in law school should offer something deeper, such as exposure to professional cultural otherness and professional differences across other legal communities.” Dean Horsfall and I discussed the importance of understanding that what you learn in law school is valuable and authoritative for the jurisdiction you are studying in, “but it may be very different in terms of how law is practiced abroad.”
Identify the Takeaways
If you decide to study abroad in law school, whether you are studying or working, stay focused on “identifying the takeaways, skills and comparative best practices you can use as a professional,” offers Dean Horsfall. While I was abroad, I focused heavily on networking with the practitioners from that country, learning to work with people from a country different than my own, and adapting to the ways the law in Switzerland and England were different from what I had learned of the laws in the U.S. I returned back to the U.S. with these insights and have carried them with me to each new opportunity. I also used the experience to explore the culture of these places outside of the law and spent the time to enjoy the cities I was in for the rich culture they provide.
As some final advice, Dean Horsfall adds that “[a] lot of law school is spent developing your professional persona and thinking about life after being a law student…and time spent abroad demonstrates to future employers that you have both an intellectual curiosity and adaptability to navigate a foreign professional and legal environment.” I found that my law school’s study abroad experiences were personally and professionally fulfilling. This opportunity to articulate the substantive law I have learned while cultivating and developing the skills I gained has been invaluable to my career thus far. While I had not initially considered studying abroad in law school, it became one of the most beneficial aspects of my legal education and I would highly recommend considering opportunities that come your way!