This is the season to be applying to the U.S. Student Fulbright Program, the U.S. State Department's flagship program for U.S. students, including law graduates. This year's application deadline on this campus is September 15. For those of you who are second-year students, next year's deadline will again be in September or October. In certain circumstances, you can apply as an "at large" applicant, for which this year's deadline is in October. In any case, consider the following:
Escape Hatch to the Globe
Robert Gaudet, Jr.
Robert Gaudet, Jr., vice-chair of the ABA International Law Section Human Rights Committee, studies class actions in Europe with the support of a Fulbright grant to the European Union. He can be contacted at Robert_gaudet@stanfordalumni.org.
If you are tired of sitting in the office, calculating your time in increments, and having one week per year to travel the globe, then look into an escape hatch to the international world—the Fulbright grant.
The Fulbright grant is a prestigious award that can not only be a boon to your credentials but also give you the perfect excuse to spend up to nine months living abroad. Once you are awarded the grant, there are few formal requirements aside from writing midyear and end-of-year reports. The rest of your time abroad is yours to study, research, and learn about your host country. The idea behind the Fulbright program, initiated by Senator William J. Fulbright, who once studied at Oxford, was for students to promote international peace and understanding.
The Fulbright grant is awarded to young professionals and college graduates. Young lawyers make strong candidates for the grant because they are organized and smart. However, they rarely submit applications. Jodie Kirshner, a 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, received a Fulbright grant to the European Union to study corporate governance as a fellow at the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge University. She said of her experience, “In preparing myself for an academic job, the Fulbright was a key way to spend a year researching and writing.”
But the scholarship is not just for academics. Anthony Milewski, a 2006 graduate of the University of Washington, received a Fulbright grant to Russia. He now practices law in the Moscow office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and said, “The Fulbright Program gives students a year to explore their interests. I really wanted to study the Russian legal system, and was able to do so by enrolling at a law school in Moscow.”
Ready to apply? First, find general information at http://us.fulbrightonline.org/thinking_general.html. You can apply as an “at-large” applicant or through your alma mater.
Second, find an advisor. If your alma mater does not provide such advice (or does a poor job of it) or is too far away, then do not despair. You can attend Fulbright application sessions at the nearest public university. The local university might offer useful comments on your particular application. A good advisor can give you a timetable and explain the formula for success.
Third, find the right country. You can only apply to one country per year. Some countries, such as Brazil, require prior knowledge of a foreign language. Others, such as the United Kingdom with 418 applicants for 25 grants in 2007–08 and Sweden with 52 applications for 10 grants, receive so many applications that the chance of success is limited.
Seek a country where professors, lecturers, PhD students, or practicing lawyers are willing to write you letters of invitation to bolster your application. You can acquire letters of invitation by looking at university Web sites for professors in your field of interest and e-mailing them. First introduce yourself, and, later, ask for contacts with interests similar to yours. Many people are surprisingly helpful. If you want to go to India, but the e-mail response from Indian professors is tepid, then simply choose another country. proposal of two pages and a concise personal statement of one page. Proposals should contain three different sections
Fourth, take the time to draft a high-quality application that explains (1) your personal background and why you are suitable for the proposal; (2) the temporal stages of your proposed research or study, e.g., an LLM program and how it will proceed; and (3) how your study will increase mutual understanding between the United States and another country.
Fifth, get three letters of recommendation from your law school professors, community leaders, lawyers, or people familiar with your work. It is not necessary to get a reference from your current employer, particularly if you wish to remain discreet.
Screening committees in the United States and the host country review applications prior to awarding any grant. What do the overseas committees look for? According to Eric Jönssson, executive director of the Swedish Fulbright Commission, his committee generally looks for an “outstanding academic record; preparation in the chosen field; any other personal qualifications which make them an outstanding candidate for study in Sweden; demonstration of exceptional promise and commitment to graduate study; adaptability to a foreign situation; [and ability to] represent the Fulbright program during and after their time in Sweden.”
Applications are due in the fall, so give yourself an entire summer, working after office hours, to get this done. It will be worth it, months later, when you are roaming around a foreign country with your newfound freedom as an ambassador of goodwill. In today’s global environment of cross-border transactions, international clients, and multinational law firms, spending a year studying another country’s laws will do more than recharge your batteries. It will make you a better lawyer.