Sacrificing summer : my Summer School experience

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Sacrificing summer: my Summer School experience


This summer I decided to stay in Paris, where I study law at the Sorbonne, to participate in a 5-week Summer School programme co-sponsored by Cornell Law School (an Ivy League school in the state of New York) and the Sorbonne (Paris I). They offer a range of courses in international and comparative law, taught in English, by Cornell Law School professors. The programme also offers optional French classes at beginner and intermediate levels and extra-curricular visits; such as a tour of the French Parliament buildings and day trips to nearby towns. It was truly a great networking opportunity; for building relationships with other participants, professors, guest lecturers and various law firms and institutions. For example, there were guest lecturers from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Crédit Suisse. “Make the most of it while you’re here”, they told us.


The first three compulsory lectures were a lesson in abandoning stereotypes. Participants came from a range of countries, with different legal systems. Some were legal practitioners, others students. Inevitably, we all had questions, but also cast judgments on one another’s legal systems. Why doesn’t the French Supreme Court look at the facts of a case when deciding? Why do they only accept questions of law? Are they just lazy? The professor found creative ways to challenge our judgements in order to give us a greater understanding of the American and French legal systems. These were the focus throughout the whole programme, with reference to other countries to fill out the international picture. Students had the choice of taking one to six courses, which consisted of daily classes and an optional exam. Bastille Day (a French national holiday) fell in the middle of the programme this year, so there was a four-day break which many used as a chance to travel. The slower rhythm of the summer programme, compared to the usual rigour of law school, enabled many students to find the time to travel during weekends and more generally, to enjoy Paris.


Was it worth it?


Putting the financial cost aside (note the 50% course fee reduction for students at Paris I), this programme undoubtedly brought:


- Gains in perspective: Studying alongside students from various educational systems introduced me to different legal systems and new ways of approaching my law degree. The Danish students, for example, had part-time jobs in law firms alongside their studies. They talked about the advantages of seeing what they were learning in school applied to real-life cases. American students shared how they were expected to contribute to most, if not all, of their lectures. The teaching style of the Summer School was very different to the one I have experienced in France. We were given a considerable amount of reading each day and classes were more of a guided discussion platform around our reading. 


- Academic gains: All of the courses were worth one or two academic credits which count towards an undergraduate degree, so many students could take fewer courses the following year. Whilst this is not the case for me, I benefitted from the choice of courses available. “An introduction to global financial markets” and “International Arbitration” are two examples of courses I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to take as they are not offered by my home university. This introduction to different areas of law was an opportunity to explore my academic interests: it will definitely influence my choice of courses next year. 


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- Professional gains: A Summer School is great to have on a CV and we all made professional contacts. In the short run, however, these did not constitute the most significant professional benefits for me. Over the first few years of studying law, universities throw a range of different courses at us, many of which are obligatory: Constitutional Law, Adminsitrative Law, Criminal Law... It can be hard to identify specific preferences in the midst of such broad course content, especially when at the end of the day our priority is passing the class. Many law schools in Europe do not even offer specialised courses until masters’ level. This cuts off younger students from a range of professional opportunities during the early years of their law degree. For example, the application process for an internship at the Arbitration Courts of the ICC asks candidates to discuss their experiences of working in, or studying, Arbitration. This weeds out most first and second year candidates as Arbitration is rarely taught so early in law degrees. Having had an introduction into different and more specialised areas of law this summer means that I can apply with confidence to more specialised professional opportunities, putting myself ahead of my peers.


It was worth it for me; would a Summer School be worth it for you?


To find out more on the benefits of Summer Courses, see


Zoe Hayes