Summer Abroad: 2L Sam Ruhlman in Barcelona

October 6, 2016

One week after finishing my last 1L final, I got on a plane to head to Spain for three months! I had never been to Europe before and decided now was the perfect time to go. I knew that I was interested in international law, but I didn’t have a clear-cut idea of the career I wanted to pursue in the field. The SLU LAW Summer Law Program in Madrid was my first step into the international law realm, but I wanted more.

After committing to the study abroad program, I met with Professor Johnson to discuss possible internships at law firms abroad. We discussed my areas of interest, my language experience, and what I wanted to get out of my internship to find the perfect fit for my extended stay. Never having travelled abroad, I gave Professor Johnson the difficulty of picking nearly anywhere outside of the United States for us to begin our search. In only a few weeks, I was set to spend the second half of my summer in Barcelona, Spain.

When deciding on where I wanted to intern for the summer, I decided I wanted to emerge myself in a different culture and push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I knew that the language barrier would be my biggest obstacle. I have a basic knowledge of French and Italian, but I didn’t know a word of Spanish outside of “hello”, “thank you”, and “goodbye”. Yet, I decided I wanted not only to spend six weeks in Madrid, but also to continue in Barcelona, where I interned with JAUSAS Legal, a Spanish business law firm. Lucky for me, my boss at JAUSAS was trying to develop her English, so we worked together to expand both of our language skills, and she introduced me to Barcelona from a local perspective.

I chose to live in an apartment right outside of the city because I wanted to experience the “tourist” life as well as the “local” life. The neighborhood I lived in was community oriented and the people were very welcoming to their neighbors; I quickly fell into the daily routine and habits of the neighborhood. Each morning I would walk to the metro station passing a small café where the manager would wave to me every morning. On my way home I would walk past the park where the elderly neighbors played community bocce ball each evening. My neighborhood may not have been in the beautiful city center or the Gothic Quarter, but I fell in love with the simplicity of life the neighbors created with each other.

Aside from the natural appeals of the city (the beaches, art, history, etc.), my experience at JAUSAS Legal started with one of the most exciting first days and ended with the most bittersweet last day. I primarily worked with a team of nine attorneys in the litigation department of JAUSAS Legal, but I also moved between departments, working on a variety of projects and cases throughout my stay. While my boss helped me develop my Spanish language skills, she also wanted to help me discover what areas of law I enjoyed working in and what areas I found to be less interesting by getting a full education of many different areas of international law.  

I arrived on my first day at 9 a.m. ready to work; however, I was not expecting to read hundreds of pages of a case in Spanish. Online language translators quickly became my best friend and were one of the first things I opened on my computer each morning. Despite my initial shock, I dived into work and didn’t let the language barrier defeat me. Throughout my internship my boss would ask me to attend meetings with her, translate and proofread English documents for various lawyers in the building, and write documents in both Spanish and English for our clients. While I knew I had an interest in family law, my boss insisted I get experience in the different areas practiced at JAUSAS Legal. JAUSAS Legal promoted continuing education among the lawyers in the office and each month individuals were asked to present on topics to the rest of the firm involving changes in the law, policy changes within the EU and many other topics that would affect not only the individual department but the firm and legal profession as a whole. I was encouraged to attend these meetings to get a better understanding of the impact of the different areas of law on the rest of the profession. Over my short six weeks I obtained a wide range of experiences in cross-border divorce and custody disputes, property cases involving inheritance issues, and business law cases involving mergers and acquisitions of assets and companies. Additionally, the encouragement to learn Spanish was an education I never expected to receive. By the end of my internship I was sitting in on meetings and translating for other lawyers in the office almost on a daily basis.

While the firm is on the list of one of the biggest international law firms in Spain, the relationships within the firm and with clients were very family-oriented and thoughtful. The lawyers at JAUSAS Legal were some the most welcoming, kind, and helpful people I have been lucky enough to get to know and work with. I was not expecting to find a home away from home when I decided to extend my stay in Barcelona, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to be welcomed into a work family. Throughout my internship I was shown around the city by my coworkers and was given a true local experience of the Catalan culture of Barcelona. JAUSAS Legal values work relationships greatly and the lawyers are very inclusive when it comes to welcoming new people to the firm and the city. I can say with the utmost confidence and sincerity that my experience as an intern at JAUSAS Legal has had the most positive impact on my legal career and growth as a person. Mercedes Caral Pons was one of the most caring, passionate and knowledgeable lawyers I have ever met, and I could not have asked for a better mentor or experience. My last day was very bittersweet because I was excited to get home and start my next semester at SLU LAW, but I did not want to leave the friends I made at JAUSAS Legal and the home I found in Barcelona.

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