de-DEen-US

Law: My legal traineeship at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation


Dear diary,

already as a teenager, I dreamed of living in the US for a while. But during my school years I didn't dare, I didn't want to be uprooted from my familiar surroundings. However, after gaining a lot of experience abroad over the past few years, I finally wanted to venture across the pond. The traineeship offered the perfect opportunity for this! But how did I apply? What could I expect there? And what is it like to do a traineeship abroad? I will answer all these questions here!

I can't believe that my time in New York is already over. I would have loved to stay longer. I would love to go back again. Because my time there couldn't have been better. I couldn't have looked for a better city and a better employer for my elective! Working at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (Region 2) didn't just offer me exciting tasks and an insight into another legal system. I have also grown close to dear colleagues and gained a little more life experience. And by the way, unlike working in a large law firm, I didn't overwork myself. So it was the perfect way to experience New York!

Back from New York, I only have one thought: although I wouldn't necessarily want to live in America permanently, I would love to return. At least for a few years and many more fantastic experiences!

  HOW AND WHEN DID YOU APPLY?

Initially, all I knew was that I wanted to go to the USA! I hadn't yet decided where and what exactly I wanted to do. So I first researched what options there were for a traineeship in the USA. Probably the best-known option is to apply to the Federal Foreign Office. This offers the opportunity to complete a traineeship at one of the embassies or consulates general. In addition to the embassy in Washington, there are several consulates general across the USA where you can apply. In New York, there are also trainee positions available at the Permanent Mission to the United Nations (SteV). You can find a list of places of assignment for the Federal Foreign Office here. You can also apply to the Chamber of Foreign Trade (AHK), which has five locations in the USA. It is also common to apply to law firms. I found a few places to apply through intensive research, for example through experience reports in legal training journals. I also contacted the German-American Lawyers Association (DAJV). They have a list of places you can apply to (which is admittedly less time-consuming than my own research).

Now that I had so many options in front of me, I had to slowly decide what I wanted to do and, above all, where I actually wanted to go. During my research, I realized more and more that I wanted to go to New York. Washington, Boston and San Francisco were also high on the list. But my own gut feeling told me that New York was the right place for me. That's why I focused my applications mainly on the opportunities there, but didn't completely ignore jobs in other cities either.

I applied to the Federal Foreign Office and the AHK within the deadline - no later than 7 months before the start of the station. I then started applying to various law firms and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). I had found the latter on the DAJV list and found it very interesting and somehow different from the usual opportunities. Little by little I received feedback. Unfortunately, some positions in the law firms had already been filled 8 months before I started my station - so I should have applied a little earlier. But I still had a few interviews with law firms and the NYSDEC, which fortunately were successful. After having several options, I decided to take the job at the NYSDEC for reasons of interest - and I don't regret it for a second, even though I didn't get any extra pay there.

In the meantime, two friends from my trainee lawyer group also found a job in New York: one at SteV and the other at AHK. It couldn't have gone better for the three of us!

  HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR ACCOMMODATION?

After finding a wonderful Airbnb for my administrative post in Brussels, I wanted to try the same for New York. And although it was much more difficult to find a decent and reasonably priced Airbnb in New York, I ended up finding one in Brooklyn. But my luck with finding an apartment in Brussels was obviously not to be repeated in New York: Two weeks before my arrival in New York, my Airbnb was canceled. The landlord had given notice to the Airbnb host, so he had to move out of the apartment and logically could no longer make my room available to me.

I can tell you: there's nothing better than looking for a new apartment in New York two weeks before the start of your trip during exams! Logically, almost everything was fully booked or far too expensive. Fortunately, I found a room in a shared flat through Outpost Club. It was significantly more expensive than the original Airbnb room, but I didn't really have any other choice. In the end, I was actually quite happy. I lived in a very tidy apartment with friendly flatmates and my own washing machine, we had a large community area as well as a gym for the whole house and if something broke, it was repaired immediately. I also liked my location. I lived in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, right next to a subway station on the G-Train, so I could get to work quickly (to Long Island City in Queens), but was also well-connected to Manhattan and other parts of Brooklyn. However, if I had to look for an apartment in New York again, I would probably do it differently. In my opinion, Outpost Club is still too expensive!

Friends of mine have stayed at June Homes, which isn't much cheaper than Outpost Club, but it is a bit. However, you can also be a bit unlucky with June Homes. One friend had a room without daylight, which was not clear from the June Homes advertisement. Another friend, however, had a very cool room at June Homes by a fire escape with a nice flat share! Some friends of mine have also stayed at Kolping House or Webster House. Both houses are definitely good and cheaper alternatives for short periods in New York. However, I would have missed having my own kitchen and the freedom to receive overnight visitors. Even my friends who found their accommodation via Facebook or similar platforms were the happiest in terms of value for money. However, those staying longer in New York will probably find the best accommodation via Roomi - a platform for finding roommates - and StreetEasy. Friends of mine have had very good experiences with these!

  WHAT DID YOU DO? WHAT WERE YOUR MAIN TASKS?

NYSDEC is an American administrative agency, so I was busy with typical administrative tasks. From a German perspective, that would mean that I wrote orders, complaints and appeals. However, since the system in America is structured somewhat differently, you can't compare it one-to-one. Rather, I prepared pleadings called, for example, “Consent order” or “Motion for an order without hearing”. However, similar to injunctions and complaints, you learn the structure and legal principles and can adapt them accordingly. I also had some research tasks and accompanied my trainer and other colleagues to internal and external meetings and court hearings.

However, the “site visits” were particularly exciting. Together with the biologists, we drove to properties, inspected them and determined the extent to which they complied with New York State Environmental Law or certain requirements. I also once visited the “environmental police” in our building with colleagues. There we looked at confiscated ivory products for a case and were also given a short tour where we were allowed to look at other confiscated items of animal origin. The short trip felt like being in a museum!

  WHAT COSTS DID YOU HAVE?

First of all: New York is expensive - very expensive! I saved up in advance for my time in New York, but without the support of my parents, I probably wouldn't have been able to enjoy the privilege of living and experiencing the city for three months. The high costs cannot be offset by the LBV purchasing power compensation either. Even if I had received additional remuneration during my elective rotation (which is usually only the case in the larger international law firms), it probably wouldn't even have been enough to cover the rent. It was already costing me around $2000 per month. I could have got my original Airbnb room for around $1400 per month, but even that is a lot of money. In addition, the visa cost me a total of around €1300, which was already gone from my savings before New York. I also had to take out international health insurance, which cost me around €68 a month, although I was reimbursed around €200 by the LBV.

In addition, the cost of living in New York is significantly higher: food costs more, eating and drinking out costs more, activities cost more, and so on. And you are always expected to tip at least 18% and tax is always added to the prices, which makes everything even more expensive. Of course, I also wanted to experience New York and did more accordingly. If you add it all up, I spent at least another $1500 per month just on food, activities and so on - if not more. Admittedly, I didn't keep a budget book on this, so I can't say for sure. You can almost certainly get by more cheaply in New York. However, I just wanted to enjoy the three months and take in as much as I could, including Broadway shows, sporting events, travel and expensive cocktails in rooftop bars.

Going out and drinking certainly cost us all a lot of money. Alcohol is very expensive in New York. In Manhattan, cocktail prices average around $18-20 - not including tip and tax, whereas in Brooklyn I got cocktails for “as little as” $14-16. Once a friend and I ordered mulled wine - unfortunately the prices weren't on the menu - and we paid $36 per person (!) with tip and tax. We thought we weren't looking properly when we got the bill. Beer prices also usually start at at least $10 - with the big exception of Rudy's Bar & Grill, where you can get a pint from $3 and a pitcher from $12. Three guesses where we've been! If you don't drink alcohol, you are automatically much cheaper in New York! I noticed this noticeably in December. I reached for tap water (which is always free!) or tea much more often when we were out and about. My wallet was directly less burdened. Nevertheless, the everyday food and experiences still cost me significantly more than in Germany - and not just because I was out and about more than at home.

So if you want to experience New York by attending a Broadway show, going to a basketball game, taking in the city from one of the many rooftops, sampling the culinary delights of the city or discovering one of the speakeasy bars, then you should plan a budget accordingly. If you want to see more of the USA, e.g. travel to Washington, Boston or Miami, then you should plan even more. So it's best to start saving right away!

 HOW DID YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE?

To be honest, I was a bit in the German bubble in New York. Because it's easiest to get to know other trainee teachers in New York through work, mutual acquaintances and trainee teacher events. Normally I would say “unfortunately” I was in the German bubble. However, I met such lovely people among the German trainee teachers that I have no regrets and made wonderful new friends with whom I am still in contact today! Admittedly, it is a little easier to say goodbye when your friends live at home in Germany than far away in America.

You get to know the German trainee lawyers quite easily through work (especially if you work at SteV, as there are so many trainee lawyers and interns working there) or through trainee lawyer events. For example, the law firm Alston & Bird organizes a trainee lawyer breakfast every two weeks. You can easily register for this by sending an email here. While I was in New York, Noerr also organized a trainee lawyer Christmas evening. We found out about the event at the Alston & Bird breakfast, but you can also write an email to Noerr here and ask about upcoming events.

I also made some other - non-German - friends. To be honest, the encounters just happened. For example, I met my friends Ken and Mike when I was at a baseball game with a friend. We wanted to take a picture, asked them if they could take one and got talking. Even when I was out in the evening, I kept meeting people with whom I exchanged numbers and met up. And then I met new people through friends and acquaintances. As long as you are open and maybe even dare to approach people yourself, you will definitely meet new people!

 WHAT DO I HAVE TO BEAR IN MIND IF I WANT TO DO MY TRAINEESHIP ABROAD?

I can't give a general answer to this question, as it can vary from state to state. For example, in NRW you can go abroad during the administrative and elective stages, in some other federal states only during the elective stage. In addition, trainee lawyers are civil servants in Hesse, for example, but not in some other federal states. The following information therefore relates more to NRW. In any case, you should discuss the details again with your responsible training supervisor.

In my case, I went to New York for the elective station. I applied for a transfer to the NYSDEC at the training center of my district court in the normal way - as I did for the legal clerkship. The only requirement was that the instructor responsible for me had a qualification equivalent to a German fully qualified lawyer - in my case, my instructor was even a German fully qualified lawyer. In addition, I needed a German certificate after completing the station with the following content: details of the person training me and myself, training period, training content, overall grade, date and signature.

In addition, I needed a visa for America. This is the J1 visa for trainee teachers. You need a so-called sponsor for this visa. I chose the AHK as my sponsor. The entire visa process is explained step by step on the AHK website for the J1 visa. In addition, the responsible clerk explained to me again at each step what I had to do next. Unfortunately, in addition to the consulate and SEVIS fee, there is always a sponsor fee for the J1 visa and you also have to pay for the trip to the consulate or embassy, so you pay around €1,300-1,400 for the visa. You will also need international health insurance. However, we were reimbursed part of the costs for this by the LBV.

 WHAT SHOULD YOU DEFINITELY DO? FAVORITE PLACES, RESTAURANTS & CO?

I could spend hours giving tips for New York! But that would go beyond the scope here, so I've summarized my New York tips for you here. But there are a few things that I would definitely recommend - especially if you're in New York for a longer period of time:

  1. Get out of New York City and discover New York State! In summer, Long Island and the Hamptons are a great destination. In the fall, Upstate New York is great for hiking. And if it snows, rent a cabin in the Catskill Mountains!
  2. Be sure to attend a sporting event - preferably of any sport! I've been to two football games, one basketball game and one baseball game. Each event was a special experience for me! I don't even know that much about basketball and didn't know a single baseball rule. But the atmosphere was incomparable and the basic rules were quickly understood.
  3. Come out of Manhattan! Manhattan alone is cool and interesting, but New York City isn't just Manhattan. I particularly enjoyed traveling in Brooklyn, as I used to live there. But there's also so much to discover in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island! I found it much more authentic there and you hardly meet any tourists!
  4. Take in as many shows as possible! Not just on Broadway! Also at the ballet, in a jazz bar or a small comedy show. In hardly any other city do you have the opportunity to see so many different, good artists, big and small, live as in New York! So you should take advantage of it! To save some money, here's a little tip: for Broadway shows, you can take part in so-called lotteries. You pay nothing to take part. However, if you win the lottery, you will receive tickets for good seats at short notice at a low all-inclusive price. You can find out how to get the cheapest tickets for Broadway shows here. You can also watch live TV shows for free. All you have to do is enter the lottery pot for the respective show on 1iota and have a bit of luck. I was able to watch the Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers Tonight Show live!
  5. See the city from above! I've actually been to every viewing platform and many rooftop bars. Every time I was blown away by the view over the rooftops! The rooftop bars are definitely the cheaper alternative, as you don't pay admission here, but “only” your drink. My favorites are Manhatta, Westlight and Harriet's Rooftop. You have a completely different view from all three places. However, the viewing platforms are usually a little higher up and therefore sometimes offer an even better view. I love Top of the Rock, but in my opinion the Summit One Vanderbilt offers the best view in terms of value for money.
  6. Experience New York in culinary terms! Because I haven't eaten badly once in New York! Whether Italian, Peruvian, Asian or in a typical diner. You should also definitely try sweet things like cookies or New York cheesecake. And, of course, you can't miss out on bagels! Nowhere else can you eat them as well as in New York! You can find tips for restaurants, cafés and more here.
  7. Work remotely in a café at least once - just for the feeling!
  8. Celebrate as many American holidays as possible! I was lucky enough to be able to take Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve with me. Each event was very special, with Thanksgiving in particular being an indescribable experience for me! But putting up the Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights also enriched the Christmas season in New York.
  9. Go out a lot and explore the city, because you're only young once!

My time in New York was a great experience that I wouldn't want to miss under any circumstances! Therefore, I can only recommend everyone to have a similar experience. In addition, such a stay abroad definitely offers a change from the rest of your legal clerkship. I would also always recommend that non-lawyers have an experience abroad. In my opinion, you learn things that no training or degree course in the world could teach you. I also had the feeling that I had changed again during each of my stays abroad - in a positive sense.

I can only list the advantages of doing your traineeship abroad. Even more reasons to do it in New York. So what are you waiting for? Apply now!

xx Chiara



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