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Internship and elective abroad: What do I have to consider when applying? – A field report

International Students Day celebrates its annual debut on 17 November. The reason for its introduction was the constant reminder of the student protests in Prague against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, which were, however, violently put down. Students Day has always served to recognise all the difficulties faced by students and young people around the world.

Compared to the wartime period, students today face different problems in shaping their future. The world of work is becoming more and more digital and international. Most (office) jobs can now be done easily and flexibly from home or other places on earth thanks to remote working, so that some colleagues never get to see each other in person.

However, the demands on junior staff have also changed. Now, good and versatile language skills (or at least good English), openness towards international partners and clients as well as stays abroad through work & travel or for at least one semester during their studies are required. During the legal clerkship in Germany, there is the possibility of completing the three-month elective station abroad.


What considerations do I need to make before applying?

A stay abroad is particularly good for personal development. However, if you decide to take on an international internship for your own time, there are a few things you should think about in advance.


  1. look for an internship in good time

The search for a suitable place can take a long time. It makes no difference whether you apply somewhere abroad or in your home country. When I was looking for a traineeship in my home country in Dresden, Germany, to complete my legal internship, it took me several months to find something suitable. The pressure had also increased over time, as I had to send a confirmation by a deadline.

For the elective station, I wanted to spare myself the pressure. Since it was clear to me long beforehand that I wanted to go abroad for the three months, I started looking for a suitable position early on. Fortunately, I found one quickly and the application process went smoothly, so I was able to relax and use the time until the start of my internship for further planning.


  1. 2. Which area of law should I choose?

Before you start looking for a law firm or a company, you should be clear about which area of law you would like to experience. Therefore, it can be important to clarify for yourself whether you would prefer to experience the classic work of a lawyer or try your hand at corporate law.

During my practical training, I focused on the field of intellectual property law in order to gain initial experience and decide whether I wanted to pursue this area of law as a career. That’s why I mainly looked for law firms that work in this field. You can teach yourself the theory. But it is also important to see the practical side, because every area of law is approached differently.


  1. where would I like to go?

You should also think about which country you would like to travel to beforehand. I have always been fond of the Netherlands and Switzerland; in the end, the choice fell on the Netherlands as another member of the EU, as the legal situation is similar to that in Germany. But for those who would like to get to know previously unknown legal systems, the world is open!

The neighbouring country also has a lot to offer culturally and, despite its geographical proximity, there are many new things to discover there. But you won’t be disappointed from a legal perspective either. You can learn a lot from comparative law. The Hague is also home to the International (Criminal) Court. So if you have a preference for international criminal and international law, you can also apply for an internship there.


  1. 4. Will I get along well linguistically?

Overcoming possible language barriers is just as important. It is therefore advisable to look for law firms or companies that at least work in English. For me, the connection to German law firms or clients was important. This gave me a particularly good idea of the differences in working methods and procedures.

However, many law firms abroad, especially outside the EU, also covet interns who are linguistically proficient. It is therefore advisable to be fluent in the official language of the desired location. The search can also be directed towards how international the desired internship should be. However, since Heffels Spiegeler Advocaten has an international character overall, my knowledge of German and English was sufficient. In other words, the more international the placement, the more likely it is that English skills will be sufficient.


  1. Can I finance my stay?

In addition to the legal aspects, you should also ask yourself whether you can finance the period of your stay. Most internships last several months; depending on where you stay, accommodation and food can be quite expensive. There are various ways to finance your stay, whether it’s through BAföG abroad, DAAD funding or your own savings. I was lucky enough to have enough savings and to receive a monthly salary through my traineeship. In most cases, the job is also paid, so that the financing is supported. However, this must be openly communicated in the job interview so as not to suddenly be left out in the cold.


What should the application look like?

The first big step has been taken! But now it’s time for the real work: what should the application look like?


Language of the letter

There is not much to consider when choosing the language of the motivation letter. It is important that it is adapted to the language of the law firm or company, because it already gives the first impression of fluency or internationality. Since Heffels Spiege-ler not only has Dutch and English, but also offers legal advice in French and German, I wrote my application in German. This was particularly suitable as many of their clients are based in Germany and I was able to convey the ability to support communication as well as understanding of the German legal system.

In most cases, however, the language used will be English. Therefore, you should demonstrate that your English skills are good. Legal English will not be necessary, and you can learn the specific terminology during your stay.


What impression do I want to make?

When you apply, you should definitely show what you are interested in. Especially in very specialised areas of law, such as intellectual property, it is important to show how interested you are in pursuing a career in that area of law. Fortunately, I was already able to show experience through my previous legal traineeship, so the chances were good for me to successfully find a training position.

The importance is high in many law firms and companies, as many tasks are based on personal responsibility. If the potential trainer gets the feeling during the application process that the tasks cannot be fulfilled as desired, you have a bad chance of getting the place. After all, you will also be doing work for the firm or the company, and this involves give and take!


Congratulations! You have the job in the bag: the last steps

Now it’s time to make the final preparations. Depending on the duration and location, a visa may be required. So you should take care of that first. For my three-month stay in the Netherlands, this was not an issue.

The search for suitable accommodation will be much more complicated. If you are going to be abroad for at least six months, you have a good chance of finding a room or flat at a good price. Student hotels, student flats and student residences are particularly suitable for this purpose. For a stay of only three months, it can be more difficult to find something. If you are lucky, you may find accommodation in a shared flat that sublets a room. There are also temporary flats that you can rent for a limited period of time. However, the difficulty here is finding suitable accommodation for the required period. In a pinch, it is still possible to find accommodation in a hotel or a holiday flat and an AirBnB. Many hosts offer flats for a longer stay, especially for people who are temporarily travelling in the city due to their job or studies. However, you should be aware that the rent can be much higher, depending on where you are staying. But this is a great way to meet new people!


Regardless of the professional side of your stay, you should not forget to explore the country. Even in a neighbouring country, there are cultural differences that you might have to get used to. But that makes the stay all the more exciting.

These days, it’s easier to travel internationally for a while. Nevertheless, not every student or trainee lawyer can fulfil this wish. Therefore, the experience you gain professionally and personally is all the more valuable. So if you have the interest and the opportunity, don’t hesitate and go for it!


Virginia Bagirian