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Laura Deeks ’13 Prizes Her Study–Abroad Experience

For some students, it’s a family experience or a college internship that’s behind the decision to attend law school. For Laura E. Deeks ’13 it was a warm January in New Brunswick. As a junior at Rutgers University, from which she graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English literature and political science, Deeks was troubled to see trees in bloom in what should be the coldest month of the year.

That phenomenon coupled with a lifelong love of the outdoors led to a rethinking of her career plans. “I was interested in getting my Ph.D. in English literature or political science and teaching, but at the same time I was experiencing the effects of climate change, pollution, and energy policy first-hand and I had serious concerns. I felt I’d better try and help do something about it instead of just worrying and complaining on the sidelines. Law seemed to offer the most flexibility and the best preparation.”

At Rutgers School of Law–Newark, Deeks is active in several organizations, including the Environmental Law Society (as acting president and vice president) and the International Law Society (as public service chair and secretary). “So many issues in environmental law are global issues,” she offered, “and I think it’s imperative for there to be international cooperation in policy and enforcement.” She also is an articles editor of the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the Student Pro Bono Board Class of 2013 coordinator, a Neisser Public Interest peer advisor, and a former Street Law teacher.

Deeks and Peace Palace
Laura Deeks ’13 in front of the Peace Palace, home of the International Court of Justice, in The Hague.

To further her knowledge of international law, Deeks spent the Spring 2012 semester in the Netherlands as a participant in the study-abroad program at Leiden University, one of Europe’s foremost research universities. Rutgers Law School has been sending students to Leiden since 1995. Each year about 250 law students from other European countries and the United States take part in the Leiden Law Courses. The offerings center on international law, comparative law, legal history, the law of the European Union, and law and economics in the international context. Accordingly, the program is of particular interest to students who look toward practice in international business transaction, international trade regulation, and public international law.

“Attending the Leiden Law Courses was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said Deeks. “The courses were rigorous and I loved being in class with students from other countries; it made for an engaging and varied classroom experience that you just don’t get when most students are from the same country.”

Deeks also found a very active international student community outside of the classroom. “I met and made friends with people from all over the world. Our similarities united us and our differences enlightened us. It was great fun to learn about the legal and non-legal elements of other cultures and to engage in conversations about current events with people who have diverse backgrounds and perspectives.”

A not insignificant part of the appeal were the beauty and charm of Leiden itself, a university city since 1575, and the quality of life in Holland. “I admire the Dutch for balancing work and leisure so well,” said Deeks. “The Dutch have a word, gezellig, that doesn’t quite translate but, roughly put, means a sense of ease and welcoming, and it’s the most apt way of describing the Dutch culture and my experience in the Netherlands.”

When the semester was over, she extended her stay in Leiden by working for two months as a research assistant at the Peace Palace Library in The Hague, some 10 miles away. It was an opportunity she had considered since hearing about it from Marjorie Crawford, the library’s head of technical and automated services, at a meet-the-faculty event Deeks attended as a 1L. Once Leiden admittance was certain, Crawford put Deeks in touch with the director of the Peace Palace Library, Jeroen Vervliet, who interviewed her at length about her interests and what she wanted to gain from the experience. He then matched her with a project: compiling sources for a selective bibliography on criminal acts at sea to be published for The Hague Institute.

Deeks’ work on the bibliography, titled Criminal Acts at Sea: A Selective Bibliography, required researching and assessing sources in English and French on topics that included marine pollution, jurisdiction, illegal fishing, and piracy. Scanning each of the sources to determine which were the most authoritative and would be most useful to researchers, she learned much about the international law of the sea while improving her researching and French skills. She also was able to sit in on cases before the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (both residing in the Peace Palace).

Working in The Hague was truly inspirational and has set the bar for the rest of my career. To know personally what it’s like to be a young professional in an international city of law and diplomacy is an education in and of its self.

“Making friends and connections in the workplace and earning their professional respect helped me realize how feasible and fulfilling it is to work abroad,” said Deeks. “Overall, working in The Hague was truly inspirational and has set the bar for the rest of my career. To know personally what it’s like to be a young professional in an international city of law and diplomacy is an education in and of its self.”

In February 2013 Deeks will be returning to Europe as a member of the Rutgers Law School team selected to participate in the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris.

A second research publication, a note titled “A Website by Any Other Name? Sex, Sugar, and Section 230” that is forthcoming in the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, looks at the growing phenomenon of “sugar dating sites.” Given the evidence that prostitution does occur in many of the relationships the sites facilitate, Deeks looked at potential liability for the people who run them. “I use this example,” she explained, “to explore the present state of United States Internet law and the issues and challenges associated with Internet legislation.”

Deeks chose the topic by chance: “I happened to be reading a news article on the rise of ‘sugar dating sites’ and I was moved by the lengths young people go to in order to make their loan payments and support themselves in today’s job market.

As for a career path, she is primarily interested in international environmental and energy law with an emphasis on policy, diplomacy, and alternative dispute resolution. She’d still like to teach at some point as well but would like to practice first.

“I see myself working abroad, perhaps even in The Hague, and working for an NGO, an international firm, the UN, or the State Department. I know life likes to throw curve balls,” she added, “so I’m following my heart and keeping my options open.”