Two Scottsdale women who attend Phoenix School of Law chose opposite paths far away from home to further their educations this summer.
Melissa Williams spent just more than three weeks taking classes in China and returned in late June. Shari Miller left last week to study for a month in Ireland.
Both think taking advantage of such programs enhances their law learning experiences. Miller, who works for a Valley law firm specializing in the health care industry, also studied last summer in Italy. She’s attending the Franklin Pierce University Law Summer Study Abroad Program at University College in Cork, Ireland. Williams, who for 18 years owned a Scottsdale-based wholesale art and frame company that she sold to attend law school, enrolled in Duquesne University’s Summer Study of Law in Beijing.
Though visiting sites is part of their agendas, both women realize their journeys aren’t sightseeing trips.
“It was something different, more than just doing summer school,” said Williams, 36, who earned 4 1/2 credits studying Chinese constitutional, contract, criminal, tax and intellectual property law. “We worked every single weekday. Classes were four hours each. It wasn’t easy. I learned not only about Chinese law, but a different culture. The trip was incredible.”
Miller, 50, is attending six one-credit classes covering intellectual property, e-commerce and Internet regulation.
“I was interested in the combination of the class topics and the location,” Miller said. “I’m of Irish heritage and was there more than 20 years ago and loved it. I communicated with a student who went to Ireland last year who said you’re in class six hours a day, Monday through Friday, but it’s a great program and she would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Williams said while China is evolving and has a constitution, it’s clear the country is still under communist rule. One lesson in law she learned came not in a classroom, but at her hotel when her camera was stolen.
“I reported it, and they had me come to the police station to make a statement,” Williams said. “It was not like it is in America. It reminded me of ‘Barney Miller,’ except they didn’t speak much English. Everyone had a cigarette in their mouth. Everyone wanted to know what was going on with everything around them. They all wanted to see my passport, get involved. They all made an attempt to make me feel like they were going to get the job done.”
They did. Williams got her camera back three days later. An 18-year-old housekeeping employee at the hotel claimed she borrowed the device. Williams said she was told that if the woman is found guilty, she could be released or get up to three years in jail. Williams said two of the 15 professors who taught the group were brutally honest, answering every question the students posed. She said a professor from Duquesne gave the class the big picture before local professors took over.
“Criminal law professors there despise the death penalty, but China doesn’t tell how many people they put to death,” Williams said. “They do it quickly, sometimes within weeks. The media is controlled by the government and doesn’t report any of it.”
Miller said she believes the international aspect of law touches everything an attorney does. She said learning about law in other nations can only help a lawyer do his or her job.
“ Things like this are a rewarding experience,” Miller said. “It’s six hours a day, five days a week, with the first final exam a week after we arrive. But, learning about a wide range of technology, intellectual property, Internet regulation and e-commerce is important to me.”
Williams said she hopes to return to China, but doubts that she’d want to practice law there.
“I could see myself working in a firm in this country that deals with Chinese law,” she said. “I did come back with an itch to learn Mandarin, though.”