August 05, 2010
Summer Study Abroad Programs in Law
Posted by Gordon Smith

Tomorrow is the final day of classes for the Georgetown Law Center's London Summer Program. This is my third experience teaching in a summer study abroad program, and, depending on how you count, my eighth or ninth time teaching outside the U.S. While I sometimes have mixed feelings about these experience, the last month in London has been extraordinary.

The Georgetown program is outstanding in every way. The students are bright and motivated. The facilities -- offices at the top of Chancery Lane and classrooms at King's College on the other end of Chancery Lane -- and administrative support have been excellent. The extracurricular events -- including a walking tour of the Inns of Court, a trip to Oxford, and a speaker series -- are interesting, well organized ... and fun! And my faculty colleagues, especially Program Director Carlos Vázquez, are engaged and accessible.

As is the norm with summer law programs, all of the courses have an international or comparative dimension. In fact, this is one of the main reasons I like to do these international engagements. (The other being that it is a wonderful way to experience another part of the world.) I have a longstanding interest in comparative business law, which sometimes is manifest in my teaching of Business Organizations and will appear increasingly in my scholarship. This summer's course, called "Corporations: US and Transnational Perspectives," has forced me to get back up to speed on developments outside the US, particularly in Europe. Whenever I teach a course like this, I learn a bit more, strengthening the foundation for comparative scholarship.

I have been fortunate to be accompanied by part or all of my family on almost all of my international teaching engagements. We also spend more than I am paid, but our children have benefited immensely from living for short stints in Paris, Lund, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, and other cities. Renting a local apartment, shopping at local stores, and using local buses, subways, or other transportation options provides an experience that is dramatically different from the usual travel experience.

The students also seem to benefit from the programs. Most of the students have completed only one year of law school, so their summer employment prospects often are not strong, especially this year. In the Georgetown program, a number of the students are transitioning from evening studies to the day program, and the summer credits allow them to catch up with their peers. Even when this is not the case, students with an interest in international practice can get a toe in the water, meeting alums and other practicing lawyers. While some of the students are experienced international travelers, for others this is a new experience.

In the end, I am not a total enthusiast for summer study abroad programs in law, either for students or professors. When I wrote in anticipation of this London experience, I was excited about the opportunity for the reasons discussed above, but some summer programs are more serious on the academic side than others. Some are in better places than others. Despite my reservations, I think these programs serve a useful purpose for some students and faculty, and I am grateful to Georgetown to have been invited this summer.

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