Three times a year, ICSID opens its doors to a group of graduate students from around the world for its internship program. Over 12 weeks, these interns become a core part of ICSID teams, helping to administer cases and supporting outreach to ICSID Member States and the public.  

As a new cohort of interns settles in this week, we spoke with Catherine Kettlewell, Legal Counsel at ICSID, about the program and how it is adapting to the remote work environment. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Why did ICSID decide to establish an internship program? 

Our goal from the outset has been threefold: to design a program that supports new entrants to the field of international investment dispute settlement; that has tangible benefits to ICSID as an organization; and, finally, that advances ICSID’s mission by disseminating knowledge that fosters the development of international investment law more broadly.

So, first and foremost, we want to provide students with an experience that advances their own professional goals. ICSID is the premier institution in investor-state settlement and administers the majority of all international investment disputes—and so working inside the Secretariat provides an unparalleled vantage point onto this field of international law. It’s a unique opportunity, whether interns plan to develop their career in private practice, civil service, or academia. 

ICSID undoubtedly benefits in the day-to-day support that interns provide. And, also, in that they view our work with ‘fresh-eyes’, so to speak, and can suggest new and improved ways of doing things.

Finally, by providing this experience to talented students from around the world, the program promotes diversity. Our Spring and Summer classes this year have included students from Austria, China, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Korea, Lebanon, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Peru, Ukraine and U.S. It also helps prepare the next generation of investment dispute settlement practitioners.

What qualities and expertise do you look for in interns—and why are these important to ICSID? 

Obviously, we have some practical requirements. Candidates must be graduate students currently enrolled at the time of internship and that would obtain credit or a stipend from the university. And they must be able to demonstrate knowledge and interest in international investment dispute settlement and investment law—through their coursework, for example, and other internships or professional experience.

A lot of interested students check these boxes, however, so successful candidates also bring something that stands out. This could be additional contributions to the field of international investment law, such as participation in specialized courses or an academic journal on the topic. 

A number of internship programs have been put on hold while organizations are in home-based work mode. Why did ICSID decide it should continue with its program?  

We understand the challenging times for students in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and we wanted to ensure this opportunity for professional development was not disrupted. We also knew that—practically speaking—we could run the program successfully. It has been very much ‘business as usual’ at ICSID over the last several months, despite working remotely. And if ICSID counsel, paralegals and legal assistants can collaborate effectively in the current environment, we knew interns could also join our teams in a meaningful way.

What are the challenges that you have encountered and how have they been addressed?

We had to consider how we would demonstrate the day-to-day work of ICSID and their roles within our teams. This is easier to do when everyone is in the same office. Therefore, the orientation program—as well as the ongoing process of assigning tasks and giving feedback—has been carefully planned for our virtual set up. Keep in mind that our interns our now located all over the world, so coordinating time zones is an added challenge.    

And, of course, networking is a big part of the benefit that interns derive from the program, both amongst themselves as well as the wider ICSID team. To that end, we have organized intern meetings through WebEx so that they can meet each other.  We are also holding ‘virtual coffees’ so interns can reach out to legal counsel for one-on-one meetings to ask questions about career opportunities or advice.

We have also had to ensure that they are equipped to manage confidential information. This has been addressed with restrictive use and access-to-information platforms, which allow us to assign certain case-related tasks to interns while also ensuring that confidential information is secure. 

Do you expect that the internship program will have the same impact—both for the interns and for ICSID—in the HBW context? 

I am confident it will be as effective as in-person internships. There are two fundamentals to the success of the program—the commitment of our legal counsel to teach and mentor interns, and the interest of our interns to take full advantage of the tremendous learning opportunity the program provides.

With those conditions in place, it becomes a matter of technology and working practices. And these—as with our other colleagues at the World Bank Group—we have honed over the last several months. 

Given your experience with scores of ICSID interns—what tips would you give a new intern on how to succeed?
Attention to detail is paramount in our area of work, so interns really need to be attentive and understand the task at hand. The flip side to this is—don’t be shy to ask questions. I think our counsel also appreciate it when interns are proactive and reach out to ask for tasks. And finally, all of us at ICSID are juggling multiple tasks, so time-management and an ability to assess priorities is very important. 

Anything special you feel they will need to do to have a successful virtual internship?

My biggest piece of advice is to not let the remote work environment become an impediment to communication with your team. Be proactive in staying in touch with your mentor as to status of tasks, reach out to other lawyers to offer assistance, and don’t miss our ‘virtual coffees’!