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German law student chooses Indianapolis firm for unique internship

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During the early months of the year you might have found Andreas Wissman clerking at an Indianapolis firm, having dinner at a state appellate judge's home, observing a civil or criminal trial in federal court, or even paging at the Indiana Statehouse.

But the well-versed 28-year-old law student isn't a permanent part of the Hoosier legal community, even though it's now a foundational piece of his budding legal career that will soon take off in his home country of Germany.

Interning in a non-traditional role with LewisWagner since January, Wissman got a chance to not only view various aspects of the local legal community but a broader sense of how the American legal system operates. Now, that experience will help shape his professional life as he returns to his country.

"This is something very special to be in Indiana," he said. "As far as the experience, the people here are very polite and friendly and open-minded to people from other countries. Just being able, as a German, to look into professional lives of attorneys in another country is an amazing experience."

This experience has been part of the required legal education for prospective attorneys in Germany, and the man who's been studying the law for years chose a non-typical part of the United States to fulfill that requirement. He's traveled to 30 countries and has studied the law and shadowed various members of the global legal community, but the time in Indiana is his first experience of being truly exposed to the American legal system.

Wissman said Germany doesn't have a law school system like in the U.S. Instead, prospective lawyers typically study theoretical law at a university for five or six years before starting a two-year legal internship process. That involves different "stations" where the law student gets practical experience in various areas of the law: both criminal and civil law prosecutor or judge, two different attorneys, administrative, government agency, and a "town of choice" component where the person chooses where they want to study.

For that final part of the process, many students decide to shadow law firms in the U.S. to meet their requirements. But most look at larger areas, such as California, New York, or Chicago, Wissman said. Wanting something different, and because he has friends in Indiana and has traveled here in the past, Wissman decided he wanted to work in the Hoosier legal community.

"The purpose is to widen your horizons about what it's like to work in other legal systems," he said. "Many in Germany are working with a German attorney and some are going to another country. I've been to the U.S. eight times because we have friends here and we love it here, but I've always wanted to go to Indianapolis for this."

He reached out early last year to a handful of firms in Indianapolis, but it was LewisWagner that responded first and the most positively, he said. It took several months last year to finalize the details and travel logistics, but Wissman arrived in late December just before New Year's Eve. He started work Jan. 5 and will stay through March 19, when he returns to Germany.

Partner Sharon Murphy is the attorney who first received Wissman's e-mails and took an interest largely because she and her husband have sponsored about 10 foreign exchange students through the years. She persuaded the firm to bring him on board for a few months, and Murphy is pleased with how his time interning has turned out.

He's worked four days a week, taking Fridays off to study for what in Germany is the equivalent of the bar exam, Murphy said.

"We've tried to expose him to as many aspects of the American legal system as possible, but he's not doing normal clerk duties that someone we were hiring might be doing," Murphy said. "People who do this tend to go to the coasts, but Andreas may have done better here in Indiana than somewhere else. With a community of our size and not a lot of exposure to this type of thing, we have been able to treat him differently and give him more attention than what he might get from a large legal community."

In his time in Indiana, Wissman has attended a naturalization ceremony in the Southern District of Indiana, sat in on state civil and criminal trials as well as appellate arguments, observed the Marion County voir dire process in action, and shadowed various attorneys in proceedings, depositions, and mediations. He also had a chance to shadow a lobbying firm that shares office space with LewisWagner. Wissman also was able to connect with Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, and spent a day as a page at the Indiana Statehouse during the legislative session.

"I haven't studied American law, so my skills are limited," he said. "In Germany, we don't use precedent, and it's more focused on code laws. So it's been interesting to see so much case material available here and find similar cases that attorneys can refer to in cases."

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias had a chance to meet Wissman after the state's tour office called the judge and asked if he'd meet with the student. The two hit it off immediately and ended up having quite a bit in common. The judge's family has spent time in Germany near Lake Constance, where Wissman and his fiancée are from.

"Andreas is a terrific young man, and I'm confident he'll be an excellent attorney and political figure in Germany," Judge Mathias said. "I'm glad to be a part of that in some way. This doesn't happen that frequently in life, and when it does happen you're pleased to take advantage of the opportunity."

Once he returns to Germany, Wissman said he isn't yet sure what he's going to do. He is awaiting test results from his 40-hour written exam in December. He also has an offer to run for mayor in a town near his hometown. Wissman hasn't yet decided if he'll try working as an attorney for a couple years first, or possibly even work for one of the companies that some friends own. He is planning to get married in August, so that factors into his decision-making.

One possibility that remains appealing, though, is returning to the U.S. to work as an attorney here. If that happens, Indiana may indeed be a top contender on his radar. With his visit, he's already been converted into an Indianapolis Colts fan, watching the Super Bowl unfold during his stay.

"I'm very grateful for this experience and am very fortunate to get this chance here in Indiana," he said. "I've been to 30 countries, but none of them are like Indianapolis."

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