From Chicago to the World: 25 Years of Northwestern Pritzker Law’s International Team Project

07.02.2024

Student Experience
A photo of approximately sixteen people inside a courthouse.
Members of the 2024 International Team Project at the highest court in Bosnia.

This past spring break, Yona Isaacs (JD ’24) was one of 21 students who traveled to Bosnia as part of this year’s International Team Project (ITP). There, they interviewed local attorneys and non-governmental organization partners about domestic legal rights for minority groups while taking in local history, hiking to waterfalls, and trying flavorful local food like burek (pastry with meat/potato inside) and çevapi (beef kebabs). The trip was the culmination of a semester of work, during which the students researched and created presentations to prepare, customizing their curriculum.       

This year’s ITP trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Ireland, and Panama marked the program’s 25th anniversary. Founded in 1999 by Lisa Huestis, a former clinical associate professor at the Law School, ITP has sent more than a thousand Pritzker students to every continent (other than Antarctica) to prepare them for the worldwide legal market.  The International Team Project is a comparative law course, designed by students in conjunction with a faculty advisor, where students learn about the role of United States law, legal institutions, as well as political, economic, and cultural systems in comparison to a foreign country.

One of the hallmarks of ITP is that the semesters are student-organized, culminating in them synthesizing their field findings into a publishable paper. “It’s an opportunity for students to, in conjunction with a faculty advisor, really develop a course and make it their own,” says Jesse Bowman, ITP’s director. While faculty members grade the work and advise as needed, they defer to the students who assemble travel plans and curricula around the countries they study and visit. “Seeing our three 3L team leaders and their JD, LLM and MSL classmates take ownership of creating their own unique course was inspiring,” says Joshua Alter, Associate Dean of International Programs.

The program has been building back up to full steam after pausing due to COVID restrictions. In 2023, the law school appointed Joshua Alter as Associate Dean of International Programs to help steer ITP into a post-pandemic future. One of his aims is to strategize with Northwestern partners and alumni to connect with additional international institutions and governments in the future to help identify legal issues for students to study.

Daniel Gandert, Clinical Associate Professor of Law in the Center on Negotiation, Mediation, and Restorative Justice, traveled to Australia as part of the ITP course during his second year of law school, traveled the next year to Greece as an ITP student team leader, and served as a faculty advisor for ITP Bosnia and Herzegovina this past year. “ITP gives a unique type of travel where you get to meet people at places in another country that you wouldn’t be able to in your own country,” he says.

As part of this year’s cohort prepared to travel to and study in Ireland, the Vice Consul of the Consulate General of Ireland visited the class to speak with them about their questions on Irish laws covering data privacy, international tax, reproductive justice, digital banking, free speech, alcohol regulation, and income inequality. “He came prepared with a binder full of notes on each of the subjects,” says Alter. Students asked questions and then, at his invitation, offered to follow up later over e-mail. “He made the introductions to set up a memorable trip for us to visit the Bar of Ireland,” says Alter. “That was phenomenal for us because we were able to speak with barristers about the subjects our students were studying, and they were able to have real conversations that reinforced the research our students were doing.” He says that the students zigzagged around Dublin to meet with interviewees. “It was a really nice way for me to watch the students balance work, interviewing, and travel in a one-week condensed program.”

Student-driven

Isaacs says this type of customizable experience led her to apply to Pritzker. “This was a good example of that collaboration, and students bringing their knowledge, expertise, and interest into the classroom and being able to direct what they want to do and how they want to do it.” This is a skill future attorneys will need to rely on. “It teaches you how to collaborate with other people, which I think is a huge asset once you are actually working as a lawyer, because most documents you draft, you’re going to be drafting with other people,” says Elyse Voyen (JD ’20), who traveled to Morocco with ITP when she was a law student.

These skills can be applied to any legal career, even if it’s unrelated to international law. Voyen says collaborating with her classmates to create their ITP experience in Morocco foreshadowed her current work as assistant regional counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Working with a group organizing a program and making decisions, it’s like a blank slate. You have to work with people in order to create the project that you want. At my current job, I get to collaborate with a lot of different people, using the same skills strengthened during ITP.”

A group of Northwestern Pritzker Law students in front of an arched doorway in Morocco.
ITP students in Morocco, 2019.

Frances Guerrero (JD ’18), who will begin a new position as Corporate Counsel at Hyatt Corporation in July, says traveling with ITP to Iceland in 2017 as well as Cambodia and Vietnam in 2018 exposed her to more international matters and different ways of thinking. “It was beneficial in terms of putting my knowledge, curiosity, and research to work versus just typing up a brief and submitting it. It actually had tangible results, real people that I was able to speak to and get their perspective on the work that I was doing.”

According to Alter, these global experiences and perspectives are relevant to today’s attorneys. “If we’re training these students to be future lawyers who understand global complexities, it’s a great opportunity to experience these other cultures and meet people with different perspectives.” He noted that every one of his JD students is planning to work in large multinational law firms after graduation or during their 2L summers. “For them to get to see the global connections of legal practice, including at the law firms they’ll work at after graduation, has been really helpful.”

A group of Northwestern Pritzker Law Students in front of Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia.
International Team Project students on a trip to Cambodia, 2017.

A deep network

Sometimes, the different perspectives come from within the ITP cohorts themselves: Alter says that 15 JD students (including one in the two-year program), six LLM students, and one MSL student were in his Ireland group. “The cool thing for me was seeing students across degree programs who never met so quickly become a tight-knit community. My hope is that they will remain lifelong friends after this course and shared experience.”

Years after her ITP experience, Guerrero was making plans to travel to Africa with a friend who used to lead ITP trips. She says that ITP stands out as an informative and fun experience—not always common in law schools. “I’m a first-generation college and law student, and I never got to study abroad. For a lot of folks, sometimes ITP was their first time traveling internationally. It was great that there was a program for them to do it in a manner where they could go in a group and feel safe, encouraged.” In the years ahead, Alter and Bowman want to raise prospective student awareness of ITP further and deepen its network so current ITP students can benefit from engaging with alumni. Alter says that some of this year’s students studied beer and alcohol restrictions and regulations in Ireland versus the U.S. “A high-profile alumnus who works in-house at a major beer company was the first person I thought of to connect with when they mentioned their topic. Especially because he also went on ITP when he was a JD student!” Alter added that at a recent event, admitted students spoke with second-year students who had studied media rights, free speech, and defamation in Ireland. “Incoming 1Ls were able to hear from impressive 2L students whose general theme was, ‘We’re focused on our academic and extracurricular activities as 2Ls here in Chicago, but we wanted an international experience as part of our three years at Pritzker. ITP is, in my opinion, the perfect vehicle for many students at Pritzker to be involved in globalized legal education and see the increasingly globalized practice of law.’”