A glance at Gretchen Oldham’s recent caseload hints at the transnational scope of her work — and a multi-cultural understanding of law. Working for a boutique law firm in Paris that specializes in international arbitration and litigation and alternative dispute resolution, Gretchen routinely finds herself in the middle of conflicting laws and competing cultures. To pick just a few examples, she:
- advised a European group of automotive service companies in ad hoc arbitration (UNCITRAL) under Swiss law against a U.S. franchisor in Geneva, Switzerland.
- assisted a co-arbitrator in an ICC arbitration involving a North American mining company and an African State under Ivorian law in Paris, France.
- assisted the President of the Tribunal in LCIA arbitration involving a European company against an Indian company under English law in London, United Kingdom.
Vermont Law School’s unique French-U.S. exchange program gave Gretchen a background in both common law and civil law. “...and, maybe more importantly,” she says, “the ability to see more than one side of an issue.”
The private firm she works for is young, idealistic, and increasingly well known in international circles for its ability to save clients the cost of litigation and avoid the conflict of law. Much of the firm’s work involves encouraging investments in emerging African markets, including environmental start-ups. Some of Gretchen’s pro bono work involves social enterprise, which is the subject of a book she’s currently co-authoring with a professor from Oxford University.
Gretchen became aware of the firm through her contact with adjunct faculty member Benoit Le Bars, a founding partner of the firm and a teacher at both VLS and the program’s partner school in France, the University of Cergy-Pontoise. As with other students in the exchange program, Gretchen learned French company and labor law during two years of study in France. She graduated with a JD in the U.S. and a DJCE — Diplôme de juriste-conseil d'entreprise — in France. “The job opportunities are vast for Americans graduating with that degree,” Gretchen says. “It’s the most respected degree from one of the highest-regarded schools in France.”
Gretchen points out that most of the students who end up with the dual degrees from VLS and Cergy-Pontoise are French students, and wishes that more Americans would discover this unique program. She sees not only the opportunity for careers, but also the chance to practice law that makes a difference in the world. “Vermont Law School’s exchange program with France is one of the best-kept secrets among American law schools,” she says. “This could become as important to VLS as its environmental program.”