By Clódagh Hussein, Rose Barnsley and Lachlan Helme-King
Can you give us an overview of the subject (what was the focus, what were the expectations)?
Clodagh: Global Lawyer explored what it means to be a ‘Global Lawyer’. Each day we were introduced to different legal professionals whose work looked toward the international sphere. This included individuals who worked in large international organisations such as think-tanks, law firms and NFP’s. Everyone had a different story to tell and had incredibly interesting career journeys. For example, one woman we met graduated from MLS and is now an Attorney in Los Angeles representing asylum seekers at all levels of their court system.
Lachlan: Global Lawyer covered many areas of international law, from international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights, to trade and investment law. It was incredible; in a single day we would hear from someone who advises on investment projects in the developing world, to someone who advocates for people detained at the US-Mexico border, to someone who helped write the new Sri Lankan Constitution.
Rose: During Global Lawyer we were introduced to a huge variety of institutions and individuals. One thing the others did not touch on was that there was an expectation that we would discuss the legal, ethical and political specifics of the work of these institutions with the individuals themselves. This was a demanding aspect of the course but led to some fascinating conversations.
What motivated you to apply for the subject?
Rose: I grew up in a couple of different countries, including the US, so working internationally has always appealed to me. I was particularly interested in the IHL aspects of the course and the chance to meet people who have worked within IHL in conflict zones. I don’t like the idea of working in an office and this subject was a chance to meet people whose practices involved this kind of work. This included Professor Oz, who ended up being able to give me a huge amount of practical advice in this area.
Clodagh: I was motivated to apply for this subject because I did not know what I wanted to do with the JD but have always been drawn to the idea of working internationally. I thought that this subject would provide a unique opportunity to see what that might entail and to suss out if it were truly for me. Additionally, I had only ever heard amazing things about the subject and thought that applying was a no-brainer.
Lachlan: My undergraduate degree was in International Studies and Mandarin and I have always had a keen interest in international relations, politics, security, trade and the law. Most of the institutions we visited I have in some capacity studied. They fascinate me, so I knew I was going to apply for this subject about the same time I knew I was applying for the JD at Melbourne Law School.
What was your favourite institution/firm to visit and why?
Rose: I have to say the Pentagon because it was legitimately one of the most surreal things that has ever happened to me. Hearing lawyers and leaders within the US military saying what they honestly thought about drone strikes, the necessity of civilian casualties and detention at Guantanamo Bay has given me a very intense interest in the enforcement of IHL which I don’t think I will get over any time soon
Lachlan: I feel the same way as Rose – visiting the Pentagon was by far the most memorable and surreal. The sheer scale, power and prestige of the US military headquarters creates a strange feeling in the atmosphere that is unlike anything I think I will experience again.
Clodagh: The Pentagon was easily my favourite institution to visit. Very few people are given clearance to enter it and due to the degree of mystery that surrounds it. Simply going inside was an extremely special experience and it was interesting to see how our preconceptions compared to the reality. Beyond this, the individuals who spoke to us within the Pentagon were all very interesting and spoke to us candidly. We even went out to drinks with them which was very fun!
What was one experience or message that stands out in your memory?
Rose: I was particularly struck by one of the speakers who works in IHL, they spoke with us soon after Trump’s administration announced that ‘ICE deportation raids’ on undocumented immigrants would start over the weekend. This of course was taking place during a period when the US government’s detention of undocumented immigrants was very present in the news. The speaker explained to us about how they felt the dehumanisation of undocumented immigrants by the present administration and the increasingly military rhetoric around their treatment were immensely serious developments. The fact that a person with so much expertise in international conflict, IHL and human rights was talking about this so emphatically really brought home to me the gravity of the current global trends in rhetoric around immigration and refugees.
Clodagh: One message or idea that has stayed with me came from a person who had spent much of their career trying to improve the lives of people in foreign countries, especially victims of armed conflicts. They have been very successful at this, however, they now reflect on the way the US government treats certain people domestically and wonders whether they have neglected those closer to home. This made me reflect on my own country, and the way our government treats asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and other minority groups and it has made me want to be a better advocate here before looking internationally.
Lachlan: One recurring theme in the program was the idea of pragmatism versus idealism. International law as a project, but especially in areas like humanitarian law, is very idealistic. The lawyers who work in humanitarian law are very ambitious and committed to the ethical dimension of this area of law. Lawyers also must operate in a field where being too insistent or orthodox in their application of IHL will simply make them laughed out of a room by the people they need to cooperate with to help anybody. I found this overarching ethical struggle in their work really compelling, and one that I think applies to other areas of law, politics and life more generally.
Can you tell us a funny or shocking part of the experience?
Clodagh: One thing that came as a shock to me was just how much time, work, passion and kindness our Professors Tania Voon, Andrew Mitchell and Bruce Oswald CSC put into every aspect of this subject. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience which would not exist without them.
Lachlan: The workaholic lifestyle came as a shock! The lawyers in the US, particularly ones working for large New York firms work incredibly hard and get ridiculously little sleep. I suppose that is not that shocking to anyone, but it was disclosed to us by a lawyer it is not uncommon to be on call 24/7 for weeks on end and that during this time they must sleep with their phone under their pillow on its loudest setting. That person also told us they had only received 2 hours of sleep the night before speaking to us!
Rose: Going to the Pentagon was shocking. A lot of the people who worked at the Pentagon who we spoke to described it as feeling like a ‘city’, which describes its enormity as well. Inside, we had to be escorted by cadets through the corridors to our seminar room and to the bathroom on our breaks. Listening to people from the military speak with some candidness in that environment about their attitude to the law in their work, I was absolutely shaken by the sheer social and political power of the US military industrial complex.
How have your perceptions of International Law changed since completing Global lawyer?
Rose: This course definitely brought home to me the fact that International Law is in no way a neutral and impartial system existing outside of global and domestic politics. After speaking with people from the World Bank, the Pentagon, the IMF and from Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law NGOs, I took away the definite impression that the makeup of International Law is both a result and an instrument of States and individuals who possess power and capital.
Clodagh: International law, to me, seems more tangible or concrete (which isn’t to say that it’s not fragile, see e.g. Lach’s beautiful analogy below). During this subject we met many “global lawyers” who work within this framework every day which has given me a greater appreciation of how lawyers interact with this system and how and why they feel bound by its rules.
Lachlan: I think in the past I saw international law as this looming body of law administered by established, prestigious institutions, my direct exposure to it has caused me to see it as a much more fragile and undeveloped area than I thought it was. I have come to see the various institutions, government departments and law firms as little cogs within a kind of metaphorical, sprawling, unfinished and fragile ‘vehicle’, hurtling into an uncertain future. This ‘vehicle’ is probably in need of a lot of repairs and requires extensive, ongoing maintenance, however no one can agree on how this is to be done. Some people want to repair or adjust it in wildly different ways, others want to cut certain bits off. There are plenty of other people who seem to want to abandon the whole thing altogether.