Five Years of the Comparative Jurist: Reflections of Four Alumnae

By Lisa Zhang, ’17; Lauren Gillespie, ’18; Delia Root, ’20; and Ally Smith, ’21. Interviewed by Nancy Rosen and Trevor Newton.

The 2021-2022 academic year marks five years since the creation of the Comparative Jurist Blog by William & Mary law school students. The Blog’s Executive Editors interviewed four of its former members to learn about their experiences with the Comparative Jurist and how it has influenced their careers.

The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Lisa Zhang

William & Mary Law School Class of 2017
Assistant General Counsel at International Registries, Inc.

Could you describe your role in creating the Comparative Jurist?

While participating in journal activities, I found the school lacked a platform concentrating primarily on international law related issues and also found a strong interest in our student body in international law related topics. Our law school has very rich resources for international/comparative law—the law school has the Center for Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. Every year the law school welcomes speakers, scholars, and international students from around the world to visit or study at W&M law school; many of the JD students have had study abroad experiences, etc. After talking to my then roommate Emily Gabor and classmate Ajinur Setiwaldi, it became a natural decision for us to start taking actions to respond to the need and mobilizing the resources. We reached out to a few professors, seeking their advice and support. We ended up targeting an online platform for scholarly articles on international or comparative law issues. The school and all the professors from whom we sought help have been very supportive and helped guide us—from deciding the form to applying for funding and launching the website. 

How did your work on the Comparative Jurist contribute to your professional development?

It confirmed my interest in international law and helped me understand some of my strengths—I am bilingual and as an international student myself, my background lends me resources and perspectives suitable for practicing in international law related areas. 

What has your career path been since graduating from William & Mary Law Schoollaw school?

After taking the bar exam, for family reasons, I tried to stay in the Williamsburg area. I worked part-time in a local law firm for a few months. While seeking for local positions, I gradually became open to relocating to the NOVA area and started looking for positions in NOVA. Soon I interviewed for my current position and accepted the offer.

What type of work does International Registries do, and what is your role within the organization?

I work as an Assistant General Counsel in the Legal Department of International Registries, Inc. International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (“IRI”) provide administrative and technical support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime and Corporate Registries. Besides functioning as in-house counsels generally do, an important part of our work includes understanding the national and international regulatory and compliance requirements that IRI and the Marshall Islands observe and implementing applicable policies to ensure compliance.

What is your favorite part of your current job?

It is satisfying and rewarding to be able to work in my interested professional area and see that my professional skills bring actual help to my colleagues, the company, and the social and business areas we belong to.

What advice would you give student contributors to CJ who want to break into the international law world?

Do not limit yourself to a few selected places. Organization-wise, government, non-government, for-profit, all of them can be heavily related to international law and need attorneys. When we as attorneys practice professionally in the international law areas, we are contributing to the international legal frameworks and are making the world better, which I believe is the initial idea that many of us interested in international law embrace.

Lauren Gillespie

William & Mary Law School Class of 2018
Court Counsel at the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau

Could you describe your role at the Comparative Jurist? How did your work with CJ contribute to your professional development?

My principal contribution to the Comparative Jurist was publishing an article. It was a really good place to publish something that was a bit non-traditional. I think the format changed slightly but at the time when I was there, we were taking a lot shorter articles compared to law review articles, which tend to be massive and require a lot of work. The Comparative Jurist was a great place because they published  shorter articles; so it was less intensive and could reach more people that way.

The article I published started as a paper that I wrote for a class with Professor Angela Banks. She taught an international immigration class. The paper started off in international immigration; and then I spoke with the Editor-in-Chief of the Comparative Jurist at the time and she helped me transform it into something that was more appropriate for the journal’s audience.  

My work for the Comparative Jurist, along with my role on the Environmental Law and Policy Review, contributed to my professional development in so many ways. Journal helps you learn  what is required in the legal field. Overall, the three big impacts on my career I think would be management skills, attention to detail, and producing a final, polished product.The dedication involved, that’s something I bring up in almost every interview. I was once asked, “Do you have experience managing people?” I answered “yes”; it’s a lot of teamwork and management of deadlines.  I think anyone who is interested in doing journal but maybe not law review should definitely join the Comparative Jurist.

What has your career path been since graduating from law school? What type of law are you practicing today?

It was a very winding road. I graduated without a clear idea of what I wanted to do. That was difficult,  especially when some of my best friends had known which firm they were going to go to as early as the fall of their 2L year. But I knew I didn’t want to go to a big firm. I ended up working during the summer while I was studying for the bar.  A former colleague called me on a Tuesday and then I started working on Thursday. When you are going into the international field, there is no trial or courtship like at a big firm; you really have to be flexible and keep yourself open to opportunities. That can be hard and scary when you want job security. 

When I  found the clerkship in Palau, I immediately called Professor Warren and asked, “What do you think about this? Is this something I should do? Is it going to help me on my path?” She said that it could or could not; it’s kind of always the risk. It wasn’t like a clerkship with the United Nations or The Hague or something that has kind of those definite tracks, but overall she said, “You know, it’s interesting and probably would be a lot of fun.” I ended up taking the clerkship and it was fantastic. I gained intensive writing skills and learned so much.

After the clerkship, I came back to the US and I joined a civil litigation firm. Being able to choose a firm that fit me was really rewarding. 

Could you describe your role as Court Counsel at the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau? How has the clerkship prepared you for your current firm work?

Palau is affiliated with the US and when Palau became an independent nation, they had several US-trained lawyers help them develop their legal system. There is actually a provision in their constitution that says if there is no Palauan statute or case law on point, we actually look to US law. In a lot of cases, I was doing the same work as you would with a federal clerkship because and looking at some of the same cases. With that being said, the parts that were different were vastly different. Palau uses customary law, which is based on the tribal system on the island. For instance, a case could be something like someone has passed away and there are these traditional funeral rites that are completely divorced from anything we would see in the US. There is no probate; everything passes through different systems back into the community. I had to face a huge wealth of knowledge that I had never experienced before and then work with it. One skill employers look for is your ability to adapt. I think this experience shows adaptability. 

What advice would you give student contributors to CJ who want to be involved in international law?

Be flexible and understand your personal limitations. I had offers to work at an unpaid internships through the United Nations, but I just don’t come from a background where I work without getting paid. I had to take positions where I was going to be able feed myself. Still, I was on the lookout for other opportunities. Therefore, if you can take an unpaid internship with the UN, do that; that is amazing and those opportunities are out there. But if you can’t, just stay flexible and don’t be afraid of the non-traditional career path. Don’t worry when you graduate without a job; just keep an ear to the ground for those international opportunities.

 Overall, just be flexible and keep your eyes open for those international law opportunities. Consider jobs even if they’re not strictly legal careers. Maybe it’s a research assistant position or maybe it’s a role with no JD required—those opportunities can still get you in the door. You will meet interesting people and if you are interested in it, you will develop a body of work and create a rich, satisfying path for yourself.

Delia Root

William & Mary Law School Class of 2020
Management Position, Law Office of Julie Low

Could you describe your role at the Comparative Jurist? How did your work with CJ contribute to your professional development?

From 2018 to 2019, I was Managing Editor and from 2019 to 2020 I was Editor-in-Chief of the Comparative Jurist. The biggest project that I undertook was to make the Comparative Jurist an official William & Mary journal, although that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition because of the pandemic. For that project, I worked with the administration and professors and also spent a lot of time reading the school’s bylaws to understand what a journal can and cannot do. In terms of professional development, that helped me learn how to deal with bureaucracies, which I deal with a lot now because I work on Medicaid applications professionally (which might be the most challenging bureaucracy in the government). 

My experience supervising a staff at the Comparative Jurist has also been helpful as I take on a greater role at my law firm. I’m currently transitioning into an Executive Director position, which includes HR and other related responsibilities. I’m one of the youngest people in that role at my firm, just as I was also one of the youngest editors when I was Editor-in-Chief at the Comparative Jurist. My experience at the Comparative Jurist taught be how to work within a team and gave me the confidence to think that age doesn’t always matters in terms of being a leader. 

What has your career path been since graduating law school? What type of law are you practicing today?

My career path has not been straightforward, and that can at least partly be attributed to me graduating in May of 2020. Instead of taking the Bar Exam in July, my exam was pushed back to September. Then, at the last minute, the Bar changed the format of the exam itself, so instead of having 200 questions there were only 100. Because of that change, my exam didn’t count as a Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), so I had to take a second Bar Exam in February 2021. So yeah, the start of my career was chaotic.

The hiring process was also a mess because of the pandemic. Thankfully, during the fall of my 3L year, I had done an externship in the nonprofit/government space, and that improved my hiring prospects. William & Mary’s Office of Career Service gave me a lot of advice, but I ultimately landed my current job by networking with people that I knew in the Boston area. Very few firms were hiring because the pandemic had just started, and I had a number of friends who had job offers rescinded, so I counted myself lucky.

In January 2021, I started working for the Law Office of Julie Low. We do elder law, so I mostly do estate planning and Medicaid applications. I’ve enjoyed that work a lot and have really appreciated my coworkers. I’ve had some exposure to international issues, too. With our estate planning practice in particular, we have a number of international clients, and I’ve helped to organize assets from countries including Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, and China. While I still might work in international law later in my career, one thing that I’ve learned is that you have to be flexible in your career, and that things are probably not going to be as straightforward as you envisioned.

What career advice would you give to students who are currently involved with the Comparative Jurist? 

I would recommend that students take advantage of opportunities to interact with Comparative Jurist’s authors and writers; definitely get to know them, especially when there are international-focused events at the school. There might be fewer opportunities for that now because of the pandemic, but hopefully that will be changing soon.

Another piece of advice would be for students to be open to any kind of opportunity. A lot of students want to work in international law right away, but in this market, it’s very hard to get your foot in the door and a lot of places prefer that job applicants have domestic experience first. Just because you don’t work in international law right away does not mean that you never will. 

Ally Smith

William & Mary Law School Class of 2021
Judicial Clerk at the Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg, Virginia

Could you describe your role at the Comparative Jurist? How did your work with CJ contribute to your professional development?

My role at the Comparative Jurist was important to me throughout my law school career and it expanded as I gained more experience. As a 1L, I started as a Senior Editor since I had international writing experience before starting law school; as a 2L, I was the Managing Editor; and as a 3L, I was the Editor-in-Chief. I found each of the roles exciting and they presented unique challenges. During my first year, I mostly supported cite checking, which is useful for 1Ls planning to apply for a journal. I personally decided against joining a journal, so for me, the Comparative Jurist was an alternative experience that helped me develop as a writer. It also built my Bluebooking and cite checking skills, preparing me for future jobs in similar ways that a journal would. 

As a Managing Editor, I engaged in outreach with authors and corresponded with them to develop the topic if their article, and then kept an open line of communication throughout the editing process until the Comparative Jurist published their article. In terms of professional development, corresponding with the authors helped expand my network and helped me understand some of the critical areas of study in the international comparative law field. 

During my third year, I served as Editor-in-Chief, which allowed me to have a say in selecting articles to publish, how to schedule publication, and craft the overall trajectory of the Comparative Jurist. That was especially challenging because we were online for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. One of my biggest accomplishments was to establish a new and exciting collaboration with Professor Jenik Radon where students were able to help write articles. I also learned how to manage a team and keep that team on track to meet self-made goals and deadlines, which I think will be helpful throughout my career. 

How has your transition been from law school to serving as a judicial clerk?

What’s been interesting in transitioning from law school to the working world is that you go from learning about the law in the abstract to applying the law to real cases. I have a lot of discussions with judges about the law, and in some ways it’s almost like talking with a professor about a hypo. However, at the same time, the outcome of that hypo affects somebody in real life, so you have to stay cognizant of what’s at stake while maintaining an intellectual curiosity about the law and using rigorous critical thinking that law school promotes.

Another shift has been that, as much as I do read case law in my job, so much of what I do is about writing. In law school, there’s a lot of reading, digesting, talking, and listening; writing is just a portion of what you do. I think my Comparative Jurist experience was helpful in preparing for this role because, even if you’re not the principal author for a Comparative Jurist article, the experience of making sure that there are no mistakes and cite checking are the same skills that I’ve applied in my clerkship. 

Have you had the opportunity to address any international law-related issues in your role? Do you know what type of law you want to pursue in your post-clerkship career?

I suspect that international law comes up more often in in federal court then state court. Most issues arising in my court are very local, whether they be business disputes, family law matters, or criminal law matters. However, the judges definitely appreciate my perspective on international legal systems, and they actually asked me about the Comparative Jurist when I interviewed. I think that was a point that they found exciting and compelling about my application—I had a unique experience and perspective on international law. While it doesn’t come up often, when we’re discussing a case, I might mention that Cambodian law diverts from American law in a certain way. It provides interesting food for thought, and if it’s an issue that’s not super clear cut, I think it offers an interesting perspective and context that the judges appreciate.

What I do next is a little up in the air, although I’ve found my clerkship to be informative in terms of my next steps. Coming into my clerkship, I thought that after a year or two, I would probably go into public defense. What I have seen in my clerkship though, as I’ve watched four jury trials, is that criminal trials really weigh heavily on me. I’m currently questioning whether I would be okay with the secondary trauma that public defenders face. While I interned for the public defender in Richmond after my 2L year, I was in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Office, so most of my work was with juveniles accused of theft and drug crimes. I think courts are often much more ready to work with juveniles to give them a second chance, and so I think my experience working on that side of criminal law is different than the full-time public defender position where you’re dealing with a lot of violent offenses. So, we’ll see as time goes on what I think about the option of being a public defender. 

I’ve also had a renewed interest in torts (which was my favorite class in law school) because they’ve been some of the most interesting cases in court. For example, we’ve handled high-profile breach of fiduciary duty and defamation cases. One of the judges I work for previously focused on civil litigation, and he’s been very willing to share his experience. Overall, my next steps are a little bit up in the air now, but what’s really nice is that I get to see all kinds of cases at the court, and I potentially have a second year to clerk after this one if I want to just absorb more and further reflect on what I want next in my career. 

I will say, in relation to international law and the Comparative Jurist, one of the reasons that I’m not jumping straight into international law is that Professor Warren advised me it can be helpful to build a field of expertise as an American lawyer before entering into the international realm. In the immediate term, I want to continue to have international connections, and eventually I would love to work in in an advisory capacity with a nonprofit or governments or on whatever area I eventually settle on as my practice. But first, I want to establish myself as a lawyer and develop more professional expertise.

You’ve already touched on this some in your previous answers, but what career advice would you give to students who are currently contributing to the Comparative Jurist?

I think that pursuing a clerkship is a great idea for most people because you get to see every kind of law firsthand. You’re able to learn through so many different types of cases, seeing how the law works, and it provides a very different perspective from law school because you’re seeing what you learn in action. Also, it provides some logistical advantages after graduating because you don’t have to wait to pass the Bar Exam to start clerking; you can jump straight into working and there’s no awkward gap that you might have when starting or applying to other jobs. 

The other advice that I have for people working on the Comparative Jurist is to talk it up during interviews. It’s something that can distinguish you from other law students because it’s less typical. So many people do journal and everybody has summer internships, but the Comparative Jurist is unique because it’s a student-run publication, you get to work directly with the authors, and you do get that Bluebooking experience, all while operating in an internationally-oriented context that’s different from your typical journal. I think that international aspect is often interesting and exciting to employers, and I know it helped me stand out from the crowd while I interviewed for jobs. 

Finally, the last piece of advice that I’d give is to take all the opportunities that the Comparative Jurist offers you, whether it be the opportunity to work with a contributing author or to develop your professional network. Those experiences will help make you a well-rounded job applicant and will help you going forward. The Comparative Jurist provides so many awesome opportunities that you can draw from.

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