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Pathways to the Profession: Dan Wilson L’14

August 28, 2012

Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Dan Wilson L’14 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.

With grant support from the Penn Law International Internship Program (PLIIP), Wilson is working for a law firm in Lagos, Nigeria.

As I departed from New York City bound for Africa, no one was as incredulous about the fact that I was going to Lagos, Nigeria, as me. Aside from a short jaunt in Morocco, I had never been on the continent and certainly had never been to a city like Lagos – and I’m still unconvinced that any city in the world even lends itself to such a comparison. Moreover, I knew little about the laws of Nigeria, and even less about the legal profession there. Accordingly, I didn’t have a clue about what to expect and was not, in any meaningful sense, prepared. But within 10 hours’ flight time, I was in Lagos, preparing to start a six-week internship with the law firm of Aluko & Oyebode.

I began my first day of work thinking I would be immersed in an alien legal universe. Thus far, everything else had been alien: the poorly paved streets were stuffed with rickshaws, peddlers and beggars; public and private security officials marauded around with Kalashnikovs; traffic, on a scale that would put Los Angeles to shame, defied basic logic and rules; and the air was alive with the constant hum of generators, as the government provides only a few hours of electricity a day.

For my internship, however, I was treated to a sleek, modern office, with all of the amenities one could ask for, as well as substantive responsibilities involving the type of legal skills and knowledge useful wherever in the world one chooses to practice – including America. These included analyzing and conducting due diligence on sophisticated contracts, researching statutes and case law and applying them to the cases at hand, writing argumentative memos, and collaborating with other lawyers to accomplish the tasks demanded by the client.   

With the exploratory freedom the law firm gave me, my work came to encompass areas of law as diverse as project finance, capital markets, environmental litigation and intellectual property – and, being in Nigeria, they almost always came with an intriguing international twist. Happily, after my experience as a paralegal in Manhattan and my Penn Law coursework, I more often than not found myself on familiar terrain. While I had never anticipated dealing with Rylands v. Fletcher again after finishing Professor Klick’s torts class, sure enough, it featured prominently in an oil spill case I worked on. The level of scrutiny Professor Kraus taught me to bring to bear on contracts also assisted me in flagging problematic issues in numerous contracts I was asked to review. Meanwhile, the research abilities I had fostered as a paralegal and in my Legal Writing course were immediately transferable to Aluko & Oyebode, where Westlaw UK was the database of choice. 

Between work and my adventures in Lagos itself, my internship truly amounted to a once in a lifetime experience. Without it, I would never have had the chance to live in Africa. I also would never have had the chance to get my hands on so many different legal matters in as hospitable, friendly and unpressured of an environment as the law firm turned out to be. For this opportunity, I will forever be grateful to Penn Law. Had it not been for the Penn Law International Internship Program (PLIIP), I would not have had the financial means to make the dream a reality. 

-          Dan Wilson


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