Professional Advice about International Legal Careers

International Law Society – The University of Arizona

David Gantz – Law Professor, James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona


Professor Gantz is the Samuel M. Fegtly Professor of Law and the Director of the International Trade Law Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law. In addition to his notoritority for substantial contributions in trade law, Professor Gantz is renowned as an excellent teacher and mentor to the thousands of students that have taken his international law courses over his 21-year teaching career.

What is that you do?

I teach several classes a week, I spend a lot of time preparing for class and a lot of time going to administrative meetings. I have two or three writing projects at any given time, which involve international trade law, international environmental law, investment issues, European Union, and regional trade agreement. I am working on WTO dispute settlement cases. I have done a lot of work in the last six months on the US- China, bilateral investment treaty. I am going to do some additional research on regional trade agreements, dispute settlement mechanisms and some work on the trade agreement between the EU and US.

So a lot of time over the course of the year is writing and research.


You spent a lot of time in South America last year?

I spent time in a lot of different places. I taught a short course here (Arizona) for six weeks. Then I spent four weeks in Santiago, Chile teaching. I attended a bunch of conferences, and I spend some of the time in the east in Maryland doing a variety of things including seeing my children and grandchildren, and sailing a boat.


So you do a lot of academic work.

In theory, in law school, you spend 40% of your time writing, 40% in teaching and 20% in administration. I also run the master’s program in the international trade law; there is a different one in indigenous people’s law and policy for which I am not responsible. So I spend a lot of time with those programs and I spend a lot of time reading masters’ dissertations.


What was your career path?

After I graduated from law school, I spend 2 years in Costa Rica, participating in a law reform project and teaching. And then I spent several years as a lawyer, 7 years as a lawyer in the state department and 15/16 as a practicing trade lawyer in Washington, and then I came to Arizona Law, 21 years ago.


What does a typical trade lawyer do in practice?

It depends on where you located. In Washington DC it mostly what we call unfair trade practices, dumping and subsidies or other types of trade restrictions or customs law. Sometimes we worked on investment issues as well, but mostly it was administrative law.


Do you have any advice for law students who want to practice international law?

Yes. Get very good grades in law school. Maintain your fluency in at least one foreign language, preferably one that not a lot Americans speak like Chinese, Arabic, or Portuguese, because there are already a lot of Americans who speak Spanish. I think being fluent in a foreign language and studying law in more than one jurisdiction is a significant benefit in finding jobs today in a language where a lot of American companies are trading or are doing business, like China, like most of the middle-east, not Iran, but most of the Middle East. Brazil is a big market and you need to speak Portuguese to work well there. I think it still helps if you know Japanese or Korean, but in terms of the cost- benefit ratio, Arabic, Chinese or Portuguese, is probably if you starting from scratch better, but if you already speak some Japanese or Korean then perfecting it is a good idea. The world pretty much operates today using English and a few specific languages spoken in very large jurisdictions. Surely knowing Spanish is a good idea, but there are so many other people coming out of law school that know Spanish. There are not many students coming out of JD programs that speak Chinese; there are a lot of LLMs but in terms of job market, it is a huge advantage to be a JD because everybody knows the first year required courses really mean something.


Do you think it is better to start career in private practice or government agency?

I don’t think one is necessarily better then the other. The problem is a lot of government agencies want you to have 2-4 years’ experience in private practice mostly because they are not as good at training you as large private firms. We in law school do better than we used to, but a lot of you are still learning by doing once you begin law practice. And some of the government agencies like the Commerce Department, the State Department and the Treasury Department want someone who has been trained by a law firm to do the basic work, contract work or civil litigation. Not every agency of course. Some of the local departments are very happy to train you, but by in large, a lot of international groups including the World Bank’s International Center for Resolution of Investment Disputes (ICSID), someone with legal experience in a law firm because they consider it good training. They tend to hire people mostly from large firms but they also hire people from smaller firms as well. They are basically looking for people who’ve been trained in a way that they find it difficult to do in -house by themselves.


When did you find that you are interested in international law?

From the time I was an undergraduate. Then I took a lot of courses in the field in law school and was lucky to find a position in Central America. It was mostly funded by the Ford Foundation. So I can speak Spanish, but I can’t speak Chinese or Portuguese and those other languages. And from there I went the State Department, and then to private practice. So it was always about being in the right place in the right time, and involved some luck. But if you have a general idea where you want to go, and you know you may not get the job you really want immediately, you can settle for something else that is taking you in the direction. For example, your may have trouble finding job in a firm that does a lot of international law work; if so, you try to go to a firm that does a lot of corporate work. Because the relationship is obvious. If you know how to deal with corporate clients in the domestic area, it is not a big change to deal with corporate clients in the international area. Thus, if you can be hired by a firm that does a lot of corporate law even if they don’t do a lot of international work, you can learn a lot in 2-4 years and try to find something else.


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This entry was posted on September 8, 2014 by .


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