My name is Robert Gerstberger. After studying law, I completed my mandatory legal clerkship in Düsseldorf and as part of it spent three-months in the legal department of Bayer AG in Leverkusen.
Before deciding, I gave a lot of thought to choosing the right assignments during the overall legal clerkship period. My goal was to complete assignments with responsibilities and employers I could imagine working with in the future. I therefore wanted my elective assignment to be in the legal department of a commercial enterprise. Working in a legal department is the express future career wish of many lawyers, but during training, you rarely have an opportunity to get to know what it’s really like first hand.
2 interviews + 2 possible assignments
I learned of the Bayer AG program from a notice posted on the bulletin board at the court, offering various positions for lawyers-in-training in its legal departments in Monheim or at headquarters in Leverkusen. That sounded exciting, because Bayer AG’s legal department is known for its size, specialization and, accordingly, its high standards. Shortly after applying, I received two invitations to interviews for the sites in Monheim and Leverkusen. The interviews were very pleasant, but it was not easy choosing between the two locations: Monheim is home to the Crop Science Division, and work there is more involved with day-to-day operations. Leverkusen on the other hand is where the majority of the corporate legal department is based; they mostly handle legal issues affecting the entire corporation.
In the end I decided on Leverkusen and, after completing my exams, was given the opportunity to spend three months working in the field of corporate law. In law school, I had already concentrated on corporate and business law, so I hoped I could actively help out and not just watch the others do their jobs. I had also been promised in the interview that I would be able to work on issues in areas of law with which I have had little contact as yet. That was important to me, because I also wanted to learn as much as possible about the various areas of law during my legal clerkship.
From corporate and capital markets law, to IT law
The company fulfilled its promise. Apart from interesting tasks in corporate and capital markets law, I also was involved in several questions of IT law, for example while preparing for the Bayer AG Annual Stockholders’ Meeting. These questions were very diverse, as you would expect for a legal department. It was both interesting and educational for me, because IT law is a field I had never been exposed to before. What is more, issues often come up in this area that are dictated by new technical developments and therefore not comprehensively covered in the case law or literature. It paid off in this instance that students learn in law school and during their internship how to assimilate new subjects entirely on their own. In addition, the IT legal expert in the legal department always was open to questions, so it was not difficult for me to get a foothold in this new field of law. Entirely in keeping with Bayer’s key claim – “Motivated to make an impact? At Bayer you’re expected to be” – I had a chance to get involved in daily workflows and not just watch.
Law firm versus a company
Naturally I also wanted to find out from this assignment how working in a company legal department compares with working in a law firm. One special aspect is that the client looking for an answer to a legal question is figuratively or literally in the same building. The legal department is not an external service provider, but an internal partner. As a result, an advisor is included in ongoing processes at an early stage. An in-house client can draw on advice from the legal department at any time, free of charge, rather than first considering if it is financially worthwhile for him to seek legal advice as would be the case with an external lawyer. The collaboration is intensified as a result and the legal department often has the chance to take action before it’s too late. In contrast, an external lawyer is often not consulted until damage has already been done.
Overall, I got exposure to a lot of new things during my time at Bayer. To anyone who envisions working in a legal department in the future, I heartily recommend taking advantage of the opportunity and getting insight into what it’s really like during their legal clerkship. Bayer offers good opportunities in this regard, because the legal departments at the various sites are very broad-based and they make sure legal clerks are assigned to areas where they can really get hands-on experience.
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