How internships in law can help launch your career

Published on 3 August 2020

Our students are encouraged to find and apply to internships to see how practitioners apply their legal skills and how laws are developed. Three LLM graduates discuss their internships and how they helped their careers and preparation for PhDs.

Caroline Cotta at the European Union in Strasbourg, Berenice Lemoine (top) and Tracy Leli (bottom) inset

Internships allow current law students to shine in the workplace and gain valuable practical experience and insights as part of their journey into a legal career. They are also hugely beneficial to the host organisations, particularly when receiving students undertaking research in areas relevant to current projects.

At the Dundee Law School, all students – undergraduate and postgraduate - are encouraged to look for and apply to internships so they can see first-hand how practitioners apply their legal skills and how laws are developed. Over the years, many Dundee Law students have secured prestigious internships at international organisations and tribunals.

“Vacation placements are a long-established part of an undergraduate’s legal journey and our English and Scottish stream students are successful each year in securing positions with leading firms in London and Edinburgh. We support our postgraduate students to secure positions with international and regional organisations. These experiences have been incredibly enriching to the students, both in providing added value and perspective to their research, as well as in developing key contacts for their future careers.”

Peter McEleavy, Professor of Law and Barrister

Peter interviewed three recent LLM alumni to find out about their international internships and their subsequent PhD programmes at Dundee

  • Caroline Cotta, from Toulouse, France, was part of the first graduating class of LLM Comparative & European Private International Law created jointly by the University of Dundee and the University of Toulouse 1 Capitole.
  • Berenice Lemoine, from Paris, France, also completed the LLM Comparative and European Private International Law
  • Tracy Leli from Kaiama City, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, studied the LLM International Law.

Where did you do your internship? What did you do and what did you learn?


I spent two months in Strasbourg working for the Research Division of the European Court of Human Rights. It gave me a much better understanding of the functioning of the Court, which is very helpful for my doctoral work. There are excellent books explaining how the Court operates but nothing replaces first-hand experience.

I had the privilege to ask questions to certain judges and members of the Registry, and to receive enlightening answers. These precious insights allowed me to deepen my reflection on various aspects of human rights law, which in turn strengthened my research.

Lastly, there is something quite exciting in taking part, even for a moment and in a very modest way, in the mission of an international institution which has done so much for the promotion of human rights in Europe. Thus, I left Strasbourg with new knowledge, fond memories, and a sincere admiration for the tremendous work accomplished by the Court.


I assisted the work of the General Secretariat in advising the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the area of judicial cooperation in family matters.

In practice, it meant helping Political Administrators with the preparation of the Council's preparatory bodies meetings and policy debates at ministerial level. This experience in the heart of the European Union in Brussels enabled me to see how European laws are negotiated in practice. It also helped me better understand the influence of politics on law.


I had my internship at the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law at The Hague, Netherlands.This is a global inter-governmental organisation with 85 Members (including the European Union) representing all continents. The organisation develops and services multilateral legal instruments that respond to global needs especially as regards Private International Law.

While on my internship, I had the opportunity of reviewing the Model Forms on intercountry adoption following comments received from Contracting States of the Hague Adoption Convention 1993. I assisted with the drafting of documents and provision of legal advice to ensure the Child Rights Act and the Adoption Acts of intending signatories to the HCIA are in line with the Hague Adoption Convention.

I was involved in the drafting of proposals for workshop on intercountry adoption aimed at Anglophone African States. I carried out series of research on Parentage and Surrogacy for use by the Permanent Bureau and Experts’ Group on Parentage and Surrogacy.

What is the title of your PhD and can you tell me more about it?


My PhD is titled: The Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights on International Child Abduction – An Empirical and Doctrinal Analysis.

Over the past twenty years, a significant number of disputes related to the phenomenon of international child abduction have been brought to the European Court of Human Rights, the oldest and most prolific international human rights court. My thesis seeks to assess the evolution of the Court’s case law on this sensitive issue of international family law.

In particular, it aims at determining how the Court has incorporated the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to its interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and whether its current approach is consistent with the progress achieved in the area of children’s rights since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.


My PhD is titled: Legal certainty and Flexibility: What Future for European private international law dealing with family matters? 

Legal certainty is the main policy objective in European private international law dealing with family matters. Legal certainty is often said to be incompatible with flexibility. Yet, flexibility has been present in European private international law dealing with family matters since the emergence of this area.

The aim of the research is to look further into this apparent contradiction and find out to what extent can legal certainty and flexibility co-exist in European private international law dealing with family matters.


My PhD is titled: Intercountry Adoption: The African Perspective and the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993- South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana as Case Studies.

Africa is presently the new frontier for the intercountry adoption of children. This situation has brought with it not just the benefit of orphaned or homeless children finding families again, but also, an introduction of illicit practices and abuses such as abduction and child trafficking. There is a need to regulate the adoption process in Africa, to protect vulnerable children involved in the process.

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of intercountry Adoption 1993 (Hague Adoption Convention) is the most elaborate regulatory treaty on intercountry adoption. The aim of this treaty is to lay down safeguards that guarantee the best interests of the child and the protection of his/her fundamental rights where intercountry adoption takes place. Unfortunately, though the Hague Adoption Convention is of very high importance and has great impact on the protection of children only few African countries have ratified this treaty.

My research aims to find out why this is the case and if the Hague Adoption Convention is the appropriate treaty necessary for the much-needed regulation of intercountry adoptions from Africa.

How has the internship helped you in your research and career?


The internship enabled me to supplement theoretical knowledge with practical experience. This was a very important step for my research, in order to come up with relevant solutions which could be used in practice. The internship also launched my professional career as I am still working for the European institutions in the field of judicial cooperation.


My experience during my internship equipped me with first-hand knowledge and understanding of the major treaty I am analysing in my PhD (the Hague Adoption Convention 1993). I also gained skills necessary for research and life generally. I understood work environment etiquettes, gained confidence in my career as I worked with some of the highest professionals in my field of specialisation. It was an invaluable experience.

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