Gretchen Oldham, JD 2009, MII/DJCE University of Cergy Pontoise 2010
I really enjoy working in international arbitration because each case deals with unique cultural, linguistic, and legal issues.”
Associate, Lazareff Le Bars, Paris, France
Gretchen Oldham's dream had always been to live and work in France. Originally a high school French teacher in her native Oklahoma, Gretchen finally put her dreams to work in 2006 when she packed her family-a husband and four children-off to Vermont to pursue VLS's international dual degree program with the University of Cergy-Pontoise near Paris. Four years later, she had graduated with not only an American JD but with a French law degree as well.
The transition from VLS to France was not without its share of culture shock. In stark contrast to VLS's small classes and Socratic method, French law school offered large and prolix lecture courses in which professors routinely failed half their students. "It was sink or swim," Gretchen recalls, "but it was well worth it, and not just because at the end of the day I was living and working in Paris." With the assistance of VLS's community of alumni in Paris, Gretchen managed not only to pass but also to attain honors in both the law degree and on the Paris bar.
VLS connections proved invaluable again when Benoit Le Bars, Gretchen's former professor of French Corporate Law at VLS, hired her as an intern at his new boutique arbitration firm, Le Bars Associés. When Le Bars merged his practice with the late Serge Lazareff, Gretchen was among the first associates hired. Lazareff Le Bars quickly became one of France's most elite international arbitration firms, being listed in publications such as the Global Arbitration Review's top 100 firms and the Legal 500 in Paris.
Gretchen is proud of the recognition her young firm is already garnering, but her dedication to her work goes deeper than appearing in well-regarded rankings. "I really enjoy working in international arbitration because each case deals with unique cultural, linguistic, and legal issues," she says, citing the daily challenges of working in a variety of legal systems with clients from all over the world.
Today, Gretchen is coauthoring a book on social enterprise with Le Bars and Professor Linda Smiddy, one of Gretchen's original inspirations. "She's definitely the reason I'm here," Gretchen says. Now, through her role as VLS's liaison with Cergy-Pontoise, Gretchen hopes to inspire the next batch of international jurists.