Pleased today to welcome this post by University of Georgia School of Law student Collin Douglas, who described his recently completed Fall 2022 externship in Norfolk, Virginia, in the legal department of HQ SACT, a leading unit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This externship forms part of Georgia Law’s D.C. Semester in Practice initiative, in partnership with NATO Allied Command Transformation. Collin arrived at Georgia Law with a background in international affairs, having earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in that field from the University of Oklahoma. His law school experiences have included service as Executive Articles Editor of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law, internships at USAID and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, and work as a research assistant for a climate and security institute. Collin is due to receive his J.D. degree this May.
My time at the NATO Supreme Allied Command Transformation Office of the Legal Advisor was an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience. It was a completely unique law school experience, and allowed me to do work I could not do elsewhere.
In the wake of the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mission of NATO has felt that much more vital. The invasion of Ukraine gave NATO a renewed focus and drive, and that fact was clear from the ever-quickening pace of work around NATO SACT. The Legal Advisor performs a wide variety of legal roles within NATO SACT to support the mission, and I was able to interact with all of those roles.
As soon as I began working, I was treated as an equal member of the team and trusted with important work. One of the responsibilities of the Office of the Legal Advisor is to provide legal aid support to the international military staff of NATO SACT. This support ranges from advising on how to handle speeding tickets to coordinating with the State Department on visa issues. Within a few weeks of starting work, I was the first person who greeted any legal assistance client who walked in the door, of which there were 10-20 every day. Talking with NATO personnel from 32+ different countries exposed me to 32+ different legal perspectives and cultures. This fact gave the legal assistance portion of the work its own international perspective, as we often had to anticipate things like the Norwegian perspective on landlord-tenant issues, the German perspective on automobile sales, Albanian frustration with the visa process, or simply whether someone fully grasped the legal aspects of something they were involved with.
The Office of the Legal Advisor also performs the more typical general counsel duties of any other large organization, but with the added (and interesting) layer of being an international organization. This work covers contracting, employment intellectual property issues, and much more. This work does not differ significantly from that of a general counsel’s office in a large corporation. Where it does differ is the immunity that NATO receives under the treaties that make up the NATO system. I was able to support this work by researching and helping to articulate NATO’s view on its own immunity. Doing work of this kind for an international organization is such a rare opportunity, and I jumped on the chance to contribute to it.
My externship at NATO was part of the UGA Law Semester in D.C. program, led by Professor Jessica Heywood, so I took part in two classes that greatly contributed to my time at NATO. As part of this program we heard each week from a different lawyer working in Washington, D.C. This provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the many career paths available to attorneys who want to work in the nation’s capital. I also had a weekly class session with other students doing similar externship experiences; this allowed me to better understand my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace and to grow as an individual.
I am extremely grateful for my time at NATO SACT. There is no other law school experience that compares to it. I want to thank my amazing colleagues Monte DeBoer, Mette Hartov, Theresa Donahue, Kathy Hansen-Nord, Vincent Grassin, Butch Bracknell, Madeleine Goddrie, and Galateia Gialitaki.