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Being an intern with the Zisman Law Firm in Dallas

After finishing law school in Germany it is necessary to work as a legal trainee for about two years in different legal fields before working on your own. During this time it is possible to stay a certain number of months abroad. I chose to spend this time in the United States and since the beginning of February I have stayed with the Zisman Law Firm as an intern.

When I came to Dallas I expected to be faced with a very different law system. Now I have learned that the differences are not in the content of law, but there are major differences in where the rules are based on. First of all we do not have case law in Germany. Reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts can not be cited as precedents and do not establish legal rules in the future on the same legal question. The court can cite an older case and can use the arguments written in there but only to state that the other court interprets the law in the same way. So we do have reports of cases in Germany too, but only to set an example of how to interpret the law, it is not binding for the lower courts. Instead of citing the cases, as in the US, in Germany we are rather citing the opinion from professors on how to interpret a rule, which is published in commentaries on German law or in articles and reviews.

During the time in Dallas I had the possibility to attend a Deposition, which was very interesting for me to see. In a civil case the lawyers in Germany do not have the possibility to take and record the testimony of a witness under oath in a place outside the courtroom before trial as a part of permitted pre-trial discovery. There are only some exceptions - if the witness is not available or too sick to come to court. But only the judge can swear in the witness, not a lawyer.

Another interesting experience was to see how Mediation is like. Mediations are not very common in Germany. But in some cases the parties first have to try mediation before going to court, but in most cases they are not successful. In recent years it has been getting more common and there are more and more seminars offered for Mediators.

On the other hand many lawsuits result in settlement. It is quite similar to the settlements reached in the US. But it seems to me that settlements in the US are often made between the lawyers first, without the presence of the parties and in places outside from the courtroom. In Germany most of the settlements are made in court, in front of the judge, and not only between the lawyers but also in presence of the parties. On the hearing date each party and their lawyers have the opportunity to make a statement. After that, it is common for the judge to tell them what is his first opinion - without knowing all the details or doing research in this particular case - and makes a proposal to settle the case. Judges usually encourage attempts to settle the lawsuit. Most settlements are achieved by negotiation in which the attorneys and the parties agree to terms of settlement. If the parties have reached a settlement, it is read into the record in court and approved by the court so that it can be enforced as a judgement.

Beside the legal differences, living and working in Dallas was different in an interesting way. So many metal detectors in court houses were unfamiliar to me, also the office hours - everyone finishing work at 5.30 instead of 8 o'clock or later, going to court in person to file something. Looking back, it was both interesting and exciting and I have learned many things, not only about a different legal field also about living in another country.

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Copyright 2001 Stephen R. Marsh
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