Students Share Their Experiences on Southwestern's Externship Program in Argentina
Within a few days of my introduction to the judge and his staff at the 'Juzgado Nacional de Primera Instancia en lo Civil y Comercial Federal N° 6; (the Argentine equivalent of a U.S. Federal District Court), I discovered that the expectations I took to Buenos Aires did not reflect the practical realities of the opportunity before me.
The Southwestern program had offered me and a small group of other law students a remarkable summer invitation: for 5 and a half weeks, a desk and a position as an extern in the very heart of the Argentine legal system. I imagined that I would soon be "working" on cases for my judge and the attorneys in his office. But on the first day, with the sound of computer keyboards clacking around me, with clerks producing heavy files for plaintiffs' and defendants' attorneys who crowded the reception area, I swiftly saw the naiveté of the idea that a foreign law student could simply settle in at his new desk and go to work.
In truth it would have to be the busy Argentine lawyers and judges who would roll up their sleeves and go to work teaching me the methods and traditions of their civil law system, the legal terminology of their court, and the nature and status of the many cases they were managing. I became the beneficiary of their willingness to guide and educate me, instead of a practical contributor to the professional output of the office.
Five-and-a-half weeks is little time to gain even a cursory knowledge of the workings of a country's judicial system, even though the externs have the benefit of a weekly class on Argentine legal institutions, which is eloquently taught by the director of the Supreme Court’s law library, in addition to weekly special outings to meet government ministers, legislators and leading lawyers. Above all I think it is valuable to appreciate the generosity of a group of important federal judges in Buenos Aires, who each summer welcome these visitors from North America into their offices and lives.
The best suggestion I have for future externs to ensure success and fulfillment during those interesting weeks is to encourage them to focus early and carefully on the subject of the thesis paper. The thesis paper provides a framework that I found essential in bringing focus to my presence in the judicial office. It gave everyone in the office a collective understanding of my role, and it made me a participant rather than merely an observer. And it was a ticket that opened doors all over the city. With the encouragement of the program's director, my research led me to the most important lawyers and legal scholars in my field of interest. Through my thesis it was remarkably easy to create a network of experts both inside the office and throughout the city who opened their files and libraries to me, invited me to dinner, and not only guided my research but showed a warmth and friendliness that made Buenos Aires memorable.
Southwestern Evening Student Cari Schwartz also participated in the Argentina Summer Law Program and served as a judicial clerk through the externship component. The following are some of Ms. Schwartz's most memorable experiences, thoughts on the program, and advice to students considering an externship in the Summer Law Program in Argentina.
Q: Why did you participate in Southwestern's summer abroad program in Argentina?
A: I chose the program because I love to travel. I thought that speaking Spanish would also be a good opportunity for me. Participating in the externship was also my first legal work experience, so it was a great opportunity to combine a lot of different interests.
Q: You chose to
take part in the externship component of the Argentina Summer Abroad Program.
Were there any requirements that you found difficult to over come?
A: To participate in the externship you have to be fluent in Spanish. Even though Spanish is a second language for me, it was a bit of a culture shock because the Argentinian Spanish is different from the Mexican Spanish that I know. Then there is "legal Spanish" which is a whole different language in itself. Everyone with whom I worked, though, was very patient and understanding. Everyone knew that I was always going to have a dictionary with me.
Q: Where did you
get placed as an extern?
A: As an extern I was placed in a family law court working with a very well respected and well recognized judge who had about twenty years of experience on the bench. He was a very hands-on person to work with and was very committed to making sure that I was benefiting from my experience in every sense.
Q: Was there
anything unique about your placement or the judge that you worked for?
A: The judge I worked with taught a course in the evening, and thus I found myself in school again. I didn't take his exams, though, just sat in on his course. So for four nights a week, I was either taking his course, or my externship classes. I also took informal professional development classes. This was great because I got to meet people in the field and interact with other professionals outside of the court.
Q: What was a
typical day like for you?
A: I was often working, studying, and keeping busy. The family court opened at 7:30 in the morning, so I was out of the house at 7 a.m.. The court then closes between 1:30 and 2 p.m. and afterward, my afternoons were spent researching and doing things for work. There are classes in the evening. Also, two days a week the program organizes trips to various organizations and special areas of interest.
Q: What do you
believe was the best part(s) of the program?
A: One of the best things about the program is the organization of the trips. The trips were very diverse and interesting. We went to the Argentina Stock Exchange, prisons, and human rights organizations. We also met the governor of the city. When we went to these places, such as the Stock Exchange, the CEO and some of the other employees actually met with us, answered our questions, and spoke with us before showing us around. As a participant in the Southwestern program you have a great advantage because you get to see a part of Argentina life, whether it be legal, business, social or cultural, that not everyone has the opportunity to be exposed to. A large part of that has to do with Professor Miller (founding director of the Argentina program) and his ties and connections to the Buenos Aires community.
In addition, the program organizes a city tour and a lunch for us to meet everyone involved with the program. There is also a Saturday trip in the country to see an "estancia," an old country house and a weekend trip to the Iguazu waterfalls in Brazil. These trips provide a really great way to see a country in a small amount of time.
Q: Was there
opportunity to network?
A: There can be if you want there to be. It's up to you to get as much out of it as you want. There were quite a few students who went just for summer school, which lasted four weeks (the externship component of the program is six-weeks) and while they were there, they took advantage of every opportunity to network. Some students landed jobs after summer school, which allowed them to stay in Argentina for little longer.
Q: What was your
housing situation like?
A: I was placed with a wonderful Argentinian family. They were really supportive, nice, caring, enthusiastic and just great people. That was another aspect that had a positive effect on my experience.
Q: Is there
anything you would change about the program?
A: I think it is a very well balanced program. The program can be exhausting, but if you are going to travel such a distance, then you are going to do as much as possible. You don't want to regret not doing anything the program had to offer. It was a great experience.
Q: Do you have
any closing thoughts or advice you would give someone who was considering
Southwestern's Summer Abroad Program?
A: It's a wonderful experience for anyone who is fortunate enough to take the time. The summer programs are an excellent opportunity to pursue something that is related to law while also taking a break from what we do on a daily basis here.