Attending law school in Connecticut, most of my classmates aimed to get a cushy job at big law. A few wanted to get into public service. I don’t recall anyone looking to practice law abroad. I was the only one checking for mentors in Asia.
Find a Mentor
Once I found one, I made sure to ask her the important questions. What did she do to get to where she was? Where there any specific courses I should take in law school? What kind of language skills did I need to be a successful attorney in China? I needed answers if I was going to achieve my goal of practicing law abroad.
In my case, my mentor was extremely humble. She told me that as long as I set my sights on practicing law in China, everything else would come into place. She was right – everyone’s path is different and there is no one model on how to become an international attorney. Whether you want to practice law in-house or in a law firm is completely up to you, and it ultimately depends upon your personal preference.
Make a Plan
In addition to having a great mentor, I did have previous experience in China. I had taught English in China during undergrad and had worked on a U.S. – China startup during law school. I started to build bits and pieces of China-specific projects in order to gain experience in the country. Totally aloof to what I was doing; in essence I creating my own brand as an international attorney with a strong China background.
And what do you know – my mentor was right. As long as I had my mind set on becoming this China-specialist/international attorney, things would fall into place. Now I don’t want to it sound like this was a very simple or easy task. I sacrificed quite a bit to throw myself into China work and China-based assignments.
Sacrifice a Lot
At one point, I recall returning from Dalian after completing a contract teaching international trade law at what was at the time an up and coming university. My mother was ecstatic about my return to the States and had banked upon my return being permanent. Unfortunately for her, three months after I returned I accepted another role based in Shanghai working on international trade compliance for an aerospace and defense company. Moving away from family has been a huge sacrifice and it certainly isn’t for everyone.
Your plan has to be right for you. It has to take into account, your personal life situation, whether you can afford to take what may be a lower paying job abroad, or even some time off to learn a new langue. But if you create a plan to practice law abroad, and stick by it, its will only be a matter of time before you are writing your own blog about life as an attorney overseas.