When I arrived in Hong Kong in July last year for the Duke Summer Abroad Program at Hong Kong University, I was surprised to find that many Duke students had already finished a summer internship with law firms either in Japan, Korea or China prior to their arrival in Hong Kong. It turned out that the students were helped by their program director to land 4-6 weeks internship before our summer program. I thought to myself how nice it was to earn 6 law units as well as an internship abroad, all in one summer. I wanted to do that too, but it was already late into the summer, and I was afraid that I would not be able to do it. What were my chances?
After a bit of networking, I got a few words of advice from the program director that it is easier to find a summer internship in either Japan or Korea than in Hong Kong and China at such a late moment, especially for a US student who does not know the local language. I followed his advice and, without any real hope, sent out my resume and cover letters to five Korean law firms in the very last week of our program in late July. I didn’t think that I would be successful but told myself that I would apply anyway just so I wouldn’t regret not doing it. To my surprise, I was offered an internship with a mid-size international law firm in Seoul, South Korea within just a few days! Sometimes it is rewarding to maintain a “just do it” attitude.
Many of you are probably working hard to search for a summer job at the moment. I hope that some of you are considering working abroad, especially those of you who are interested in international law. I found it immensely enriching and eye-opening to live and work in a new place as well as to learn about the similarities and differences that exist between the United States and foreign countries. My last minute job search convinced me that there are more opportunities to intern abroad than one may think. For this reason, I thought I should share some tips and resources with you.
1. Prepare your resume and cover letters as early as you can and apply early. Hastings career center has a great database that will help you to locate alums working in your preferred region. You can contact them for advice and recommendation. Many alums will even help you find local jobs if they are available. It was this linkage that most of the Duke students found their summer internships with very prominent US law firms in Japan and China.
2. I used HG.org and Martindale to search for the firms by region and by practice areas. While doing your search, don’t limit yourself; apply to as many firms as you can. However, you should prioritize your options into region, country and area of practice ahead of time in case you receive a few different offers at once. Even in late July, I received two offers and was ready to negotiate for my best one. Strategize your game!
3. It is best to have a rough idea of the area of law that you are particularly interested in. While negotiating with my law firm, I was asked what field and region I wanted to work in. Later, the firm nicely arranged me to work with the chief attorney who was in charge of the firm’s South East Asian practice. The experience was beyond fruitful and instructive.
4. Be prepared to ask for any accommodation that you may need while being in a foreign country. Some law firms do have a specific program for summer associates, but most firms don’t, which means they may not be entirely familiar with your personal needs. I asked my firm to help me with finding accommodation that is close by the office. The company ended up offering me a small residence only 10 minutes by subway from the main office located in the center of Seoul’s financial district. Later on, they further paid for all utilities, transportation, lunch and even dinners whenever I stayed at work late. There were also a welcome lunch and departing dinner (with karaoke) at the end of my internship, but that was another story of building professional work relationship with your employer. I was told that some Korean and Japanese firms even pay stipends for your stay if they cannot offer you working salaries.
5. Knowing local language is preferred but is not required. Although there is an obvious advantage to speaking the language, it is important to keep this in perspective. Before my internship, I had never been to South Korea and don’t know any Korean. Yet, I did not have any language problems during my internship. If you are in a similar situation, I suggest looking for law firms that have strong international practices, which will almost guarantee you some learning experience and professional interactions.
6. Be prepared, be patient and be open-minded when you are in a new country. Everything will sort itself out gradually. Did I say that you will have a blast? If you trust the journey, it will show you the land where your imagination often fails to reach.
Sail your boat, have fun and best of luck!