CLA News / Building Global Networks in University for an Interconnected Legal Age: Perspectives from a Law Student by Clarissa Wong
The cross-border aspect of legal practice is growing in significance. Not only have commercial transactions become overwhelmingly cross-border in nature – over 70% of cases in the UK Commercial Court are international in nature – transboundary issues like climate change and data privacy are increasingly relevant for clients around the globe. In addition to longstanding reasons for engaging the cross-border aspect of law, such as clients’ desire to access markets governed by a certain jurisdiction, or the advantages of leveraging global networks for professional development, these reasons provide ample incentives for lawyers to develop global networks.
It is thus interesting to see a parallel trend in the internationalisation of the law school population. The number of international students at UK universities has steadily increased year on year,  and they currently account for 18% of law undergraduates. Some UK universities like the London School of Economics and Political Science – which comprises over 70% international students – are effectively global universities, offering aspiring lawyers an unparalleled opportunity to spend their formative university years amidst a vastly diverse student body and faculty. The global networks that students build in these formative years will help them understand how cultures, legal thought and legal systems vary across jurisdictions. This will allow them to form the international legal community that is sorely needed to collectively confront the increasingly global nature of issues today.
Role of students in building global networks
Forming one’s understanding of the law through discussions with diverse peoples – such as international coursemates, global thought leaders, alumni and industry contacts – sensitises students to the reality that different cultural perspectives and lived experiences serve as the heterogeneous fulcrums of people’s understanding of the law. With coursemates hailing from jurisdictions where civil society is distinctively religious, imperial, mercantile, unequal or multi-ethnic, some coursemates understand the law as a product of politics, some see it as a conduit for justice, others experience it as an avenue of oppression and yet others are familiar with the law as a vehicle for pragmatic interests. Further, the academic study of the unique social contexts behind substantive legal developments in UK law, such as protest culture, aristocratic landholding and imperial history, exposes one to the cultural inheritances that shape British society’s enduring conceptions of the law. Understanding how different people are likely to see different interests for themselves represented in the law does not just allow students to self-identify as a member of the international legal community, it also motivates them to develop the skills needed to collaborate with international clients and counterparts to address cross-border issues.
To develop these skills, students can leverage on a wealth of opportunities at law school. For example, student-run law reviews facilitate forums for law students around the world to analyse the relevance of international legal developments to their jurisdiction of study; societies like the Pro Bono Division of the LSE Law Society support the International Law Book Facility’s important work of increasing access to quality legal knowledge worldwide, by packing and sending quality legal books to developing jurisdictions; the law department and societies like the Bar & Chambers Division of the LSE Law Society organise events which expose students to the best practitioners’ insights on international legal practice. In 2023, the Bar & Chambers Division of the LSE Law Society had the privilege to host two events with a few eminent CLA lawyers, who shared about the realities of maintaining practices in the UK and abroad, on practising in a different jurisdiction’s courts and on the international nature of lawyers’ professional development opportunities. They personified and modelled the modern lawyer of our global times – he/she who is able to understand and address the interests of global clients in the context of pervasive global problems.
Role of interchanges in building global networks
An open culture of education and knowledge-sharing is invaluable in allowing students to develop the understanding and skills to form the next generation of global lawyers. The diversity of the curriculum, faculty and opportunities presented in law school promote such an open culture. In the law curriculum, the analysis of foreign cases cited in UK judgments and courses with a focus on comparative law help one appreciate the variations and similarities between UK Law and those of other jurisdictions. Faculty with diverse backgrounds and international work experience have helped relate course content to commercial and societal realities around the world, and can point students to relevant knowledge sources and opportunities for pursuing global networks, such as summer programmes and work experience.
More broadly, the openness of the UK in serving as the meeting point for international practitioners and as the sandbox for a variety of legal thought makes it an invaluable location for learning and promoting interests in law. It is little wonder that it is a leading arbitration hub for global clients. In a self-fulfilling cycle, this culture of openness attracts the next generation of legal professionals who wish to benefit from and contribute to the vibrancy of legal discourse in the UK. This advances the effectiveness of international legal discourse as students pursuing their careers abroad can always pick the brains of members of the legal community half the world away, relying on the connections made back in their student days.
Significance of global networks and legal education for the future
This age of increasing interconnectedness brings with it a concomitant need to mediate disagreements between stakeholders of diverse provenance, each thinking around different fulcrums of legal understanding. Lawyers’ long-held role in facilitating solutions amidst situations of conflicting interests has primed the profession for a role in bringing diverse stakeholders together towards a structured consensus. To fulfil this role, lawyers will increasingly tap on their global networks of contacts, knowledge and of cultural understandings. To allow those networks to blossom early, it is all the better that law students have the opportunity to interact with international counterparts as they spawn the next generation of global legal professionals.
Clarissa Wong, second-year student in London School of Economics and Political Science LLB Programme
 ‘Global Legal Centre’ (The Law Society of England and Wales) <https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/england-and-wales-global-legal-centre#h4-heading2-2> accessed 7 January 2024
 Kevin Prest, ‘HESA statistics show an overall increase in UK international enrolments in 2021/22, but a big drop in EU student numbers, 20 January 2023’
<https://opportunities-insight.britishcouncil.org/insights-blog/hesa-statistics-show-overall-increase-uk-international-enrolments-202122-big-drop-eu#:~:text=HESA%20published%20their%20Statistical%20First,12%25%20overall%2C%20reaching%20679%2C970> accessed 7 January 2024
 ‘Entry Trends’ (The Law Society of England and Wales) <https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/career-advice/becoming-a-solicitor/entry-trends> accessed 7 January 2024