The following has been adapted from a discussion that Frank DeSimone L’15 held with current Penn Law students on Tuesday, July 8, 2020 as part of the Practice Primer Series organized by the Office of Career Strategy (OCS) and Center on Professionalism (COP). At the time of this discussion, Frank was an Associate at Morgan Lewis - part of a team that represents the U.S. and international clients in a variety of high-stakes complex commercial matters, with a focus on civil and criminal antitrust litigation and class action litigation.
Could you tell us about the kind of work that you do as an international lawyer? What does the specific practice include?
I’m a fifth year Associate at Morgan Lewis. I practice in our antitrust practice group, which is a really fascinating and diverse area of the law. We handle any and every kind of case you could think of, both civil litigation and criminal investigations. We work with public and private organizations, and in addition to the traditional litigation work. We also do a lot of transactional matters, particularly in the M&A space, for large scale acquisitions that are being investigated by a government body–perhaps the FTC or DOJ. So, I’ve gotten to try my hand at a wide variety of different things over the last five years, which has been great with respect to the international focus in particular.
I would say that almost 100 percent of my work has some sort of international component. Now, part of that is a function of the fact that many (if not all) of our clients are doing business internationally or have interests in other jurisdictions. It’s also a function of the fact that our firm, like so many firms today, has offices all around the world. And so, we’re regularly working with colleagues on questions pertaining to international law issues or issues that American companies may be facing abroad. I’m happy to give a number of examples.
I have a call later today with local counsel in India to discuss a discovery issue. We’re currently representing a pharmaceutical company that’s being investigated by the FTC in an antitrust case, and there are a number of third-party entities that are being subpoenaed. I think we have about 15 different jurisdictions that are involved at this point. And of course, each country has its own complicated discovery laws dictating how and even if we will be able to obtain relevant documents to this litigation from these different countries. And India seems to be hotly disputed at the moment. We’re trying to come up with a compromise with the FTC about how we’re going to proceed. So we’re speaking with our local counsel today in India.
I have no familiarity with Indian law prior to this, but I’m learning on the fly. And that’s really one of the great things about the practice of law generally, but also international work, is that there there is so much we don’t know and so much we’re constantly learning. You get exposed to a lot of different issues. And it’s fascinating to really compare different legal systems and see how different procedures and processes differ in different jurisdictions.
Of course, another great aspect of the work is, is the opportunity to interact with both our colleagues and clients in different countries. That cross-cultural work, I think really adds an interesting layer to the day to day that can sometimes be mundane. When you get the opportunity to speak and work with lawyers in other countries, it’s very fascinating and rewarding.
What drew you to the practice of international law, and what do you like most about what you do?
I’ve always had a very strong international focus. It really goes back to college. I took advantage of a number of different international opportunities and had an opportunity to do extensive traveling all around the world, actually with a musical group that I was in. So that was my first broad exposure to what it would be like to perhaps live and work abroad.
One of the reasons I even chose Penn Law was because of the wealth of international programs and offerings, which were almost overwhelming. I remember arriving as a 1L for the pre-orientation activities. I tried to assess all the different offerings, be it study abroad programs, be it international coursework, be it internship opportunities. There really is something for everybody.
Can you speak to some of your most meaningful international experiences in Law School?
I tried to take that first semester to have as many conversations as I could, while balancing my doctrinal 1L courses, to really carve out my own path. I think what’s so great about Penn Law and the University in general is they really have developed a strong focus on international law and international coursework. Since I’ve left, I’ve continued to follow all the efforts coming out of Perry World House. It’s amazing to see the kinds of programing that’s out there for the student that wants to take advantage. There’s also a great international law community at Penn Law. We are very like-minded individuals. We had a way of gravitating towards each other.
I took different international law courses, really as many as I think my schedule and my credit limit would allow. I took the intro public international law elective as a 1L, which I would highly recommend to anybody who’s interested in international law.
I also took two seminars, one of which was the Global Research Seminar, which was absolutely fantastic. It was a course that focused on rising powers, particularly China and Brazil. Half of the class went to China for winter break and half of the class went to Brazil for spring break. I kind of think I made the wrong decision by going to China in January, as opposed to the beaches of Brazil for spring break. But it was still a fantastic experience. We met with academic leaders, policy developers, business folks, just to get a sense of law in China.
The other great thing I did at Penn was pursuing a joint degree program with the Lauder Institute. Lauder is a program that works with both Wharton and the law school and offers a second degree, which is a Master’s in International Studies. I had worked abroad prior to coming to law school for a law firm in Parisa. So, I had developed that international interest and a language ability that I really wanted to hone. Language skills are so important in today’s world. They can set you out of the pack when it comes time for job interviews. That was an important piece to me. But as I said, there are other great dual degree programs that Penn Law offers and study abroad options. I really would just encourage you to have those conversations, explore those opportunities, and carve out the path that’s right for you.
How can a student build an internationally focused resume while they’re still at school?
Take advantage of every and any opportunity you can; because you don’t necessarily know what pathways will be available to you. Be curious. Be open to new opportunities and also to networking. One of the great things that Penn Law can offer you is a very strong international network, both in the LLM community and through coursework.
When I took the Global Research Seminar, we were in China meeting with so many different types of people in so many different fields of law that I had never experienced, or heard of, or would have even thought to look into had it not been for that course. I don’t think there’s any wrong class you can take. If you’re interested in international law and it fits into your schedule and you’re at all curious about it, just take it. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
I know a lot of this advice probably sounds cliché. But when you’re in the moment, and you’re trying to balance various interests, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s most important to you and what your passion is. If you really are motivated by a career in international law, you have to walk the walk.
Employers in whatever sector are going to want to see that international experience on your resume. An internship abroad is great. But it’s more than that. It’s showing a commitment to it in whatever way you can find. Penn Law has so many resources and make sure to take advantage of them.
How do you distinguish yourself as an associate, for example, if you’ve been working at a not-for-profit overseas?
It’s a great question and something I kind of struggled with. When you’re interviewing for these summer jobs as a law student, a lot of employers see the same cookie cutter resumé over and over and over. They’re checking the box.
A lot of times, they might gloss over an international experience or maybe they won’t understand what it is. So, I do think the onus is on the student to sell him or herself a little bit more. It was a skill that I really only developed as I was going through the interview process. That’s obviously something that the great folks at CP&P can help you with.
[Once in a position] it’s really important to remind an employer of your background, particularly if you’re at a law firm that isn’t exclusively doing international work. Very early on, I emphasized that I have language ability. I have this cross-cultural skill set. And so, they quickly put me on a team that was advising a German client. And I immediately had the opportunity to fly to Frankfurt and meet with senior-level executives and prep them for depositions. I really don’t think that would have happened if they didn’t see my resumé and didn’t see that I had this familiarity and comfort level to just be dropped into another country and meet with someone who wasn’t necessarily fluent in English or had an understanding of the American court system.
So there is a little bit of selling yourself. There is a little bit of raising your hand. But if you have the resumé and if you’re proactive, the opportunity should flow from that.
Do you have any final words of advice for students as they explore their interests and pursue their careers during these very uncertain times?
Even if you ultimately decide not to pursue a formal career in international law, the world is obviously so global now that it’s almost impossible to think that you would avoid doing some sort of international work. Even if you are a litigator in Philadelphia doing traditional litigation, the odds are extremely high that you will have a client at some point that has a concern abroad. So any time you invest in international coursework or opportunities at Penn Law will not be time wasted. It will be something that enriches your life, even if you don’t necessarily see today how that’s the case.
With respect to COVID-19, I know many of you are concerned about the job market and the economy and what opportunities will be available to you upon graduation. I would simply say that while it’s easy to focus on the crisis that is happening in our world, you can also try to shift and look at the opportunities.
There’s going to be new industries that are emerging. We’ve already seen it, whether it’s new telecommunications platforms or plexiglass windows, wherever it may be. There may be a new industry that is booming that you might want to explore.
With respect to international opportunities– perhaps you’re interested in international work, but your family may not want to move to Francophone Africa. All of a sudden, the company in Francophone Africa or the NGO may be more interested in hiring and having somebody work remotely. Many of us are now working remotely and it’s becoming more of the norm. So, there might very well be more international opportunities than there were previously.
I would encourage all of you to think creatively about what sorts of new opportunities are available in this ever-changing world.