3L Robert Zimmerman's International Internship
Third-year law student Robert Zimmerman spent his summer interning at the prestigious FPS Rechtsanwälte & Notare, Germany’s second-largest law firm that represents high-profile clients for their intellectual property work.
He maximized his experience and took full advantage of the opportunity, returning to the U.S. one day before the fall semester started. Robert, a Naperville, Ill., native, was a triple major in history, political science and Scandinavian language and culture with a minor in Western European studies at Indiana University. His degree in Scandinavian language and culture was self-created as part of the Individualized Major Program, which affords students who are interested in a particular-subject to turn that passion into a major. Since then, three other students have used the curriculum he created to earn their degrees in the subject.
While working on his final undergraduate dissertation, Robert lived in Oslo, Norway conducting research at various government agencies, national libraries and universities. “This opportunity opened my eyes to the intricate roles which persons with legal educations serve in cultures around the world. The versatility and cross-culture appeal of a law degree is what led me to law school.”
In the following interview, Robert gives The Sidebar a glimpse into his experience in Hamburg, Germany and his future career goals.
Was it always your goal to practice law internationally?
Yes, I realized at a young age that although I want to focus my career on advancing my home nation’s interests, I wanted to do so while being an active participant in our global community. I was fortune enough to be afforded the opportunity to live in Stockholm, Sweden for three years growing up. It was the most impactful experience of my life which has forever altered my world view. I attended the International School of Stockholm with students from more than 60 countries. I want to practice internationally to help facilitate multiple cultures working together toward mutually beneficial goals and bring together competing national interests for common growth, as well as assisting U.S. industry to reach new markets.
How did the Hamburg opportunity come about?
The Office of Career Services provided me with a contact list for all alumni, mainly former LL.M. international students currently practicing abroad. After casting a wide net and sending emails expressing my interest to alumni working in multiple jurisdictions, I received positive feedback from many of them. Working in Germany, specifically in Hamburg, aligned best with my interest.
What type of work did you do?
Intellectually Property is the core of FPS Hamburg’s practice. Accompanying intellectual property matters is often a transaction for the sale of the protected goods. Therefore, I primarily worked on comparative European and U.S. border seizure proceedings regarding IP matters to facilitate more efficient importing and exporting of goods, all while protecting the IP holders rights against infringers. This included writing memorandum and co-authoring an article on EU Border Seizure procedures for a North American law journal.
What were some of the differences you noticed in life at a German firm vs. a stateside firm?
There were several unique differences that I noticed compared to my experiences working in U.S. law firms. On the day-to-day level, the lawyers and staff in the office were among the friendliest people I have ever had the privilege of working with. Every morning when each attorney arrives, they stop by all the offices of those on their team to say good morning; the same thing at night to say goodbye. The exchanging of pleasantries was way more common place then I have noticed in the U.S. Additionally, the firm did not employ a top-down, rigid hieratical structure. Instead, each lawyer worked across office locations and, consequently, across borders. This was unique because in the U.S. legal tradition this would be more pragmatic because lawyers are often not admitted in multiple jurisdictions. Lastly, I assumed that since this was a German law practice, German would be the dominate language. However, at any given time one could hear French, English, German and Spanish echoing down the hall way.
From the legal perspective, FPS employed several Notaries. These are unlike notaries in the U.S. A German Notar (Notary) job function was preparing legal documentation and, before executing, to evaluate it for potential conflicts which could arise from the agreement. This includes satisfying the identity of the parties, that they are competent to contract, to explain fully to both parties the legal implications of signing such an agreement, and to fill the U.S. role of a notary and be present and witness the execution of the agreement. This position requires a graduate degree and is certainly a commodity to have in a law firm.
What was your favorite part about the experience?
My favorite part of this experience was the totality of it. I thoroughly enjoyed living independently in a city I had never been to before. The successes and failures which I had will remain with me as I advance in my legal career. Specifically, the ability to spend time in city, adapt to the local culture, transportation and lifestyle, as well as the interaction with the legal community. After this experience I am confident that I can go anywhere in the world and be successful.
What kind of extracurricular activities did you partake in while in Germany?
During my time there I was able to see most of what the exceptional city of Hamburg had to offer. Most memorably, was attending an FC St. Pauli soccer game. This is a very historic club in Germany and with the help of FPS I was able to get tickets to the sold out game. FC St. Pauli is clearly a club woven into the working class neighborhoods of Hamburg. Being able to attend the game made me feel like a local. I was also able to meet the president of the club who was the keynote speaker at FPS’ Summer Banquet. I also was able to gain a grasp of the local culture by befriending several German locals who were kind enough to show me the local spots in Hamburg.
How has SLU LAW’s Center of International and Comparative Law helped you in your education?
The Center of International and Comparative Law has helped me greatly to shape the path of my legal education. Specifically, Professor William Johnson, director of CICL, has been instrumental in helping me reach my goals of working internationally. I can unequivocally say from start to finish that without his guidance I would not have had this great experience of working in Hamburg. He is clearly very passionate about international aspects of the law and I cannot wait to see how the Center advances in the future under his leadership.
Additionally, while in Hamburg I was able to arrange a meeting between Askan Deutsch (LL.M. '00), Professor Johnson and I to help further the Centers’ commitment to the international legal community.
What was it like working with alumnus Askan Deutsch, especially as someone who also has a SLU LAW connection?
Working with Askan has been the most beneficial experience of my legal career. Having that SLU LAW connection allowed us to share an initial similarity which made transitioning to a working relationship extremely easy. Askan believed in my abilities and allowed me to work independently, trusting me to create a high quality product. He is a highly motivated person whose integrity and passion for what he does is unmatched. He spoke highly of his time spent at SLU and likely has become the successful lawyer he is today partially because of his SLU education. He is an extremely competent lawyer working with parties from both the U.S. and in Germany.
What do you hope to do post-graduation?
After graduation I hope to work as a business attorney with an international focus. I want to help businesses expand into both domestic and foreign markets benefiting both parent companies and those who now have access to their products. I would revere the opportunity to work with local and other cultures in a legal capacity to foster business relationships that will last far beyond an initial agreement. Additionally, I hope to one day be able to employ an intern from SLU LAW so that I can hopefully give a student the same impactful experience Askan gave me.
UPDATE (2/27/14): Robert and Askan published a collaborative article in the Oxford Journal of International Intellectual Property entitled "Customs seizure proceedings in the European Union and the United States."