Time Flies in Germany
Thursday 26 July 2012
I am originally from Newcastle upon Tyne and completed my degree at the University of Nottingham where I studied for a Bachelor’s degree in Law with German. I’d always enjoyed learning languages whilst at school and felt that continuing a language to degree level would give me greater career opportunities in the future. As part of my degree I spent a year studying in Germany and when looking at prospective employers when applying for training contracts, it was important for me to be able to work in an environment where I would have the opportunity to use my language skills. Shulmans was an ideal choice in that it is a member of Interlegal, an international network of independent commercial law firms which offers support to members whose clients are engaged in international transactions or cross border disputes.
In May this year I packed my bags and took the short flight to Germany to spend a month at Spieker & Jaeger, a law firm based in Dortmund which is a twin city of Leeds. The firm is a similar size to Shulmans and represents clients from across Germany as well as being involved in a significant amount of international law, particularly in the field of intellectual property law. I was greeted at the airport by my exchange partner, Daniel Wolgast, a qualified lawyer specialising in corporate and employment law. After a welcome meal and an attempt at celebrity spotting in a local restaurant well-known as being a haunt for Borussia Dortmund football players (although none were there celebrating my arrival), I was looking forward to my first day in the office and to meet my new colleagues.
Although it was daunting to be thrown into the new environment, everyone at Spieker & Jaeger was incredibly supportive and encouraging and I was fortunate to be involved in a variety of work across many practice areas including IP, employment law, competition law and commercial law. I shadowed many of the lawyers in the firm and in particular enjoyed attending court in Germany as there is no solicitor/barrister distinction and most firms do not tend to have specialist litigation lawyers. This means that each lawyer will represent their client in court should a particular matter become contentious. It can be intimidating enough getting to grips with the procedure and formalities of court in your own country, let alone when being in a foreign jurisdiction with the proceedings being conducted in another language. On one occasion in court, as the parties advised the judge they would leave for a few minutes to discuss a potential settlement, due to a slight misunderstanding I remained in the court room. It was only when the judge asked for the door to the court room to be closed when everyone left that I quickly realised I should have followed, especially when the next question from the judge was to ask whether I was the defendant’s partner. This mistake however led into an interesting debate about the career path of law students in our respective countries as I discovered that in Germany students have the option of becoming a judge once they have completed their degree.
As they say, time flies when you’re having fun and my time in Germany certainly passed very quickly. After a brief interlude for the Jubilee Weekend, Daniel flew to Leeds at the beginning of June to spend a month working at Shulmans and gain an insight into the English legal system. Having been welcomed with such hospitality when in Germany it was good to have the opportunity for Daniel to meet my colleagues and develop an understanding of the work in which Shulmans is involved and how prolific Leeds is as a legal hub outside of London.
Taking part in such an exchange has been incredibly rewarding and I have had the opportunity both to refresh my language skills and learn more about the application of German law. I have been able to make many valuable professional connections and have no doubt that it will lead to even closer ties between our respective firms going forward, which in turn enables Shulmans to continue to offer even more fantastic service to our international clients. I would advise any young lawyers faced with the opportunity of spending time working abroad to jump at the chance as professional and personal benefits cannot be underestimated.
Claire Stoneman, Trainee Solicitor, Shulmans (http://www.shulmans.co.uk/)
Established in 1981 by Jeremy Shulman, Shulmans is a well-established commercial firm of solicitors, with a strong reputation for high quality work, having a single office in Wellington Street, Leeds.
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