Duke Law offers 20 international exchange programs in 17 countries, but only about 13 of its students study abroad each year.
Law students can study in places like China, South Africa and Germany. Although administrators and those who have gone abroad say it is a worthwhile experience for law students, only a small number study internationally each year because it is not considered a typical law school experience.
“Among the best law schools, we probably offer more options and choices than any other,” said Associate Dean for International Studies Jennifer Maher, Law ’83.
Director of Overseas Programs Tonya Jacobs wrote in an email Tuesday that the school typically sends eight to 10 students abroad in the Fall and three to five students abroad in the Spring.
Oleg Kobelev, director of international career development and special projects, said the programs appeal to second and third-year students who have interest in international work.
Maher estimated that at its height, the law school sent about 30 students abroad per semester, but numbers are waning, mainly due to the increased options that students have. She added that students now often opt to do externships and participate in summer institutes as an off-campus experience.
“Given the constraints on legal education and the hoops that have to be jumped through, students have a lot of choices,” she said.
Shasha Zou, Law ’13, who studied in France for a semester, said students who participated were of a limited number who knew early on in their law school career they wanted to go abroad.
Kobelev said the benefits of a semester abroad are twofold in that they affect a student both in the long and short term.
“It contributes in the most immediate sense in that it gives students a sense of how law is taught in different jurisdictions,” he said. “It becomes more globalized.”
Their experience will also benefit them further in their career because they will have built a network of contacts in a different country and jurisdiction, which is not necessarily the case for students who have not studied abroad or participated in one of the summer institutes.
“The benefits are exposure, networks—they meet attorneys and students from other countries, and they learn how business is done, and how legal problems are perceived in a slightly different light,” Kobelev explained.
Maher noted that the benefits of a global education include cultural competency, an understanding of how other legal systems work and even comprehension of a foreign language.
Zou said her experience at a French law school was quite different from Duke’s hands-on approach. She said her classes were often two to four hours of solid lecturing, but the study abroad semester introduced a unique element to Zou’s degree.
“It definitely helped me become fluent in speaking about legal issues in French,” she said.
She also noted that she became more familiar with the intricate details of certain bodies of law.
In addition to the 20 semester exchange programs at various universities, the law school also offers two summer programs in Hong Kong and Geneva. Each are a month long and offer a variety of courses. Last year, Duke Law opened a new campus in Washington, D.C. It is their first domestic summer institute.
“Some people think you ought to stay at Duke and study U.S. law, but the people who study abroad often end up in a practice that’s more international,” Maher said.