Internationality is in our DNA

Bucerius Law School is proud of the worldwide network it has established with 97 renowned law faculties since its inception 20 years ago. This network facilitates student mobility, exchange between researchers and the realisation of joint academic projects.

Let us go back to when everything started: in the autumn of 2000, it was ground-breaking to found a privately financed law school in Germany that was inspired by the American model. However, with today's hindsight, it is clear that broadening the focus of legal training in Germany by introducing international subjects and a curriculum with a mandatory study period abroad was long overdue. A fledgling law school might not have seemed like an obvious partner to established academic players, so building a stable international network to meet these objectives was a challenge for everyone involved.

"After the law school opened, it had to contend with two major tasks. It had to enter into cooperation agreements so that the students of its first year could spend a trimester abroad in 2002. Concurrently, it had to develop an attractive academic program in English for visiting partner-university students, as it was clear from the very beginning that integrating them into the bachelor program would not make sense for linguistic and content-related reasons," Kasia Kwietniewska explains. Having worked for the International Office since 2002, initially as a staff member and since 2008 as the department's head, she has sent more than 1,800 German students abroad and welcomed more than 1,600 international students to Bucerius Law School. "We were pioneers, and so were our four first partners. The University of Michigan in the USA, with whom we entered into the very first student-mobility agreement in December 2000, was one of them. Some months later the number had already risen to 30," Kasia Kwietniewska recalls.

Thus, two years later, the students who had enrolled in the first year could go abroad, and 67 students from 32 universities in 9 different countries came to Hamburg to participate in the first international exchange program on International Comparative Business Law.

Establishing a worldwide network

Thanks to the founding dean Professor Dr. Dr. Hein Kötz it was possible to build a partner network in such short time. The renowned comparative law scholar had formed contacts all over the world and successfully sparked their enthusiasm for our young law school. It was also his achievement to place the focus of the program for visiting students on international and, above all, on comparative business law. True to the style of this era, the first cooperation requests were made in handwritten letters; if you retrieve the contractual paperwork from the archives, it still emits the tobacco scent that the passionate pipe smoker had left behind. In the age of digitalisation, the pre-contractual process may not be that personal, but it is faster and indeed easier. The days when Bucerius Law School was the only one "knocking on doors" are long gone; nowadays the law school receives cooperation requests on an equally frequent basis from all over the world.

Including study periods abroad into the curriculum paved the way for many joint endeavours. Faculty members were inspired to engage in an exchange with their colleagues abroad: various conferences, event series and research projects have been, and continue to be, conducted across borders in collaboration. In 2005, Bucerius Law School joined forces with US-American and Chinese partners and offered the first short-term academic programs in China, which ran for 5 consecutive years under Professor Dr. Karsten Thorn's management.

Another major step towards internationalisation was taken in 2006 with the launching of the Master of Law and Business Program (MLB Program), an international and interdisciplinary degree program in English. Two years later, the International Office's first Bucerius Summer Program started, supplementing the academic portfolio with programs for young professionals and students from non-partner universities. "Birte Gall, who was the manager at the time, and I wanted to reach a broader audience. Applying the experiences gained in the exchange program to shorter training programs in English, we were ready for the next step", Kasia Kwietniewska recounts.

Promoting international exchange

The law school always has been, and will remain, a place of open encounter. It defines itself as a forum for eager scholarly, interdisciplinary, and international exchange. Internationality is in its DNA. It welcomes junior and senior scholars from all over the world to its campus through the Visiting Faculty in the international programs and conferences.  For many years, Bucerius Law School has also been enabling visiting scholars to stay for extensive research periods. Since the beginning of Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Katharina Boele-Woelki's deanship, the international approach to research has been intensified: international publications as well as junior scholars' research endeavours enjoy great support. This applies to the law school's own scholarships as well as to fellowships granted by cooperating foundations such as the Joachim Herz U.S. Exchange Program for Young Legal Scholars. Participation in international activities is not only made possible for students, lecturers and researchers, but for all members. Since 2018, management staff has been able to gain experience abroad and interact with partner-university colleagues by participating in the ERASMUS+ program.

The International Office as a hub

The International Office plays a far more important role than that of a mere service institution: "Originally designed to act in a purely coordinating capacity for student exchange, our department developed into an important hub for university affairs within a few years. We see ourselves as a competence centre, giving advice and support to all law school members and alumni. We develop academic programs and keep on building our partner-university network. In doing so, we give daily impulses for Bucerius Law School's ongoing internationalisation – and will continue to do so for the next 20 years," Kasia Kwietniewska concludes.


Lena Johannes