Summer Research Assistants Hit the Books on Behalf of Professors
Mingda Hang didn't realize when he started law school that he would develop expertise in Chinese patent law by the end of his first year. Hang, a University of Virginia School of Law student who is fluent in Chinese, has spent much of his summer finding, translating and summarizing relevant points from Chinese patent cases for an international patent law casebook Professor Margo Bagley is co-authoring.
"Doing research for Professor Bagley has given me the opportunity to appreciate the potential legal practice range afforded to someone with scientific training and a linguistic background," said Hang, who also holds a doctorate in molecular genetics and microbiology from UVA. "Working for her has been a nice preview of the niche I'm still in search of."
Hang is among a select group of law students who spend part or all of their summer conducting cutting-edge research for faculty on legal issues concerning everything from human rights to environmental law. The experience can offer students insight into potential careers in a variety of fields and reinforce what they have learned in the classroom, but also gives student researchers the opportunity to contribute to advancements in legal analysis and scholarship.
Hang's translations, for example, will help shed light on China's patent enforcement standards, Bagley said. Though China's patent law has been in place only since 1984, the country is now third worldwide in the number of patent applications it receives — behind only the United States and Japan.
"While a large and increasing number of patents are being litigated in China each year, unfortunately, Chinese courts do not consistently publish cases, and even the ones they do publish are not in English," Bagley said. "Finding translated cases is quite a challenge. Mingda's work has been very helpful indeed."
Working for Bagley also has given Hang insight into the kind of role scholars can play in shaping the debate about patent law. He is now helping Bagley prepare a speech she'll give in the fall at a conference on pharmaceutical patent protection in Asia.
Another summer research assistant, rising second-year law student Sadie Gardner, researched and co-wrote an amicus brief under Professor Deena Hurwitz 's guidance for Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case that will be reheard by the Supreme Court in the upcoming term. The case seeks to determine whether U.S. corporations can be sued for human rights violations that occur in another country.
"Our amicus brief [says] essentially that international law does allow these lawsuits," Gardner said. "The brief points to countries that allow for prosecution of acts on other states' territories — with specific reference to acts of torture, since that's what the underlying facts of this case are about."
As part of the research, Gardner looked at international treaties, U.N. documents, foreign countries' statutes, and scholarly articles comparing international laws. Taking the elective courses International Law and Human Rights Law in the spring helped prepare her for the work, she said.
"We ended up hitting on the Alien Tort Statute, which is the statute in question here," Gardner said. "So it was very timely for me that I had just finished two classes that were extremely relevant in understanding the concepts behind this."
Rising second-year law student Brandon Bull said he liked Professor Jon Cannon's Environmental Law class so much this spring that he offered to help Cannon over the summer with his forthcoming book about the Supreme Court's environmental decisions. Bull's research helped enlighten Cannon's discussion about the varying interpretations of environmental law, Cannon said, and also influenced the book's final chapter on the future of environmental law jurisprudence.
"On one extreme, there are scholars who have argued there is no such thing as environmental law, that it's just a subset of other legal fields like administrative law or statutory interpretation," Bull said. "And on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have argued that environmental law embodies different values and needs to be thought of as different legally."
A third perspective lies between the two extremes, Bull argued. "[This is] the idea that environmental problems have unique factual characteristics," he said.
Bull said serving as a summer research assistant has been a great way to tie together what he learned during his first year of law school because environmental law touches on so many other aspects of law.
"Doing the research has helped me see how my different classes have related," he said.
Rising second-year law student Amanda Gill has been researching the criminal procedure rights of corporations that have been sued by shareholders, victims and regulators for Professor Brandon Garrett's upcoming book on the subject.
"I'm helping to draw a picture by seeing patterns," Gill said. "Which companies are getting these large fines? Which companies, when they don't have a lot of money and they're going into bankruptcy, are not getting a large fine because that is seen as excessive and not productive?"
Gill also took an in-depth look at the case of British multinational defense contractor BAE Systems, which will likely be the focus of a chapter in Garrett's book.
Gill's summer research experience has helped her narrow down her career path.
"I took Corporations in the spring, and then I worked for Professor Garrett on the topic of corporations, and I realized I wanted to practice corporate law," she said.