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Pathways to the Profession: Alicia Zhang L’16

August 13, 2014

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 Alicia Zhang L’16 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. Zhang is from Austin, TX. 

My summer adventures have been at once challenging and fascinating: an opportunity to discover what cross-border transactional law actually looks like, along with the nuances of living and working in two unfamiliar countries. Thanks to the generous help of the Penn Law International Internship Program (PLIIP), I spent the first six weeks of my summer at Barun Law in Seoul, South Korea, and am now finishing up my fourth and final week at SyCip Salazar in Manila, the Philippines. 

I arrived at Barun in Seoul’s bustling Gangnam district, excited to join the corporate department there, and found myself welcomed by interns and partners alike (including an engaging and inspiring Penn Law alumnus). The informal dispersal of new projects from the firm’s foreign attorneys helped me gain exposure to topics varying from the consolidation of international arbitration hearings, to copyright protection of public architectural works. I appreciated the collaborative atmosphere and enjoyed tackling research as part of smaller teams. 

In contrast to the freeform flow of assignments at Barun, the SyCip program provided each “apprentice” with two experienced mentors for guidance, and my work here has revolved around their areas of specialty. One of my mentors deals primarily with energy and securities law, and I have accordingly been thrown into a world of drafting power sales agreements, reviewing oil company disclosures, and preparing legal opinions for international banks. The mentorship structure has given me a real taste of the day-to-day life of an attorney in these fields, and helped me clamber up the proverbial learning curve here. 

At both firms, I’ve drawn on the research and writing tools developed through Penn’s Legal Practice Skills curriculum and found unexpected connections to my 1L coursework. I dusted off my Civil Procedure foundation while discussing discovery rules in an insurance suit, for example, as well as in researching forum challenges to a loan default action. Issues from Property and Contracts have likewise surfaced repeatedly and in many a form.

Just as important have been the subtle lessons best learned outside of a classroom. I’ve watched how my supervisors think strategically about new policies, and foster client relationships. I’ve observed the similarities and differences between two major firms, and gained a better understanding of my own preferences in future work settings. To do this all with the added bonus of being immersed in very different cultures has made for an unforgettable summer. (Ask me about befriending street food vendors, or weathering a typhoon!)

As I prepare to return from the Philippines to Philadelphia, I am grateful to PLIIP for enabling this experience, and eager to see what lies ahead in my legal career.

-Alicia Zhang


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