Pathways to the Profession: Ruth-Helen Vassilas L’18
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. This dispatch from Ruth-Helen Vassilas L’18 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. Vassilas is from Rockville, Maryland. She attended the University of Maryland, College Park where she double majored in Political Science and Spanish Language, Literature, and Culture. After graduation she plans to work with international corporate law and she hopes to use her language skills in Spanish, Greek, and Danish in her legal career.
Coming into law school, I knew I wanted to spend my 1L summer working in Spanish and getting to know a legal system overseas. When I saw the PLIIP (Penn Law International Internship Program) posting for Wiener Soto Caparrós in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the decision was a no-brainer. The firm consists of twenty attorneys and specializes in cross-border finance, mergers and acquisitions, corporate structuring and taxation, employment law, commercial litigation, and antitrust. The office has a relaxed environment, likely due to the business-casual dress code, work day start of 10 a.m., and daily staff lunches. But the familiar pressure that comes with a legal career buzzes beneath the calm surface.
My duties in the office consist of editing contracts, conducting international and American research, drafting client correspondences, and translating legal documents. One research project, for example, involved advising a British client on the applicable Argentine laws for entering a mobile application into the market and running a “promotional sweepstakes.” Sweepstakes are not clearly regulated under Argentine law, much less those originating abroad. It proved a tricky legal question and required a good amount of educated legal guesswork.
As much as I am learning about the Argentine system, the firm often makes use of my American background, as well. Another project I worked on involved helping to write a chapter for a Spanish client’s book on the U.S. distribution system. The topics included the basics of the tax system, customs, employment, starting a business, and more. In addition, I was assigned a 40-minute presentation to explain to the office the U.S. election process and give an analysis of Obama’s presidency, the 2016 election, and the foreseeable political future of our country.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working at Wiener Soto Capparós has been applying what I learned in every 1L class. Contracts, civil procedure, constitutional law, torts, international law, environmental law, criminal law — questions and cases related to every class have come up either in my research or from attorneys in the office. Using Lexis has also been a lifesaver. I use Lexis’ database of contract templates when editing quickly translated and confusing contracts, and I use Lexis for the unanticipated amount of U.S. legal research I do. The knowledge I gained from 1L year feels even more valuable knowing it has so much worth abroad.
When I leave Argentina, I will take with me a long list of lessons. This experience showed me the importance of understanding business, finance, and taxation, and made me appreciate all of the cross-disciplinary options at Penn Law. It has also served as a helpful reminder of the social-consciousness required when working with other cultures. Every country has its vision of the way the world works — generally and professionally. To succeed in the international field one must be prepared to do as the Romans, or in my case the Argentines, do. All in all, after spending the past year in a small bubble in Philadelphia, the most invaluable part of this experience has been the beautiful reminder of how big the world truly is.
- Ruth-Helen Vassilas