Alumnus Pivnichny Selected for Prestigious International Court of Justice University Traineeship Program

Former Harris Institute Fellow Douglas Pivnichny, JD ’13, has been selected to participate in the prestigious International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 2015–16 University Traineeship Program. He is the first Washington University School of Law graduate accepted into the coveted program and among only a small number of trainees world-wide.

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its University Traineeship Program seeks to attract outstanding law students and recent graduates who “have demonstrated exceptional interest and excellence in the field of public international law” to serve nine-month terms as judicial clerks at the ICJ. Trainees are selected through a highly competitive process in which invited law schools nominate candidates, and then the ICJ makes the final selection of clerks. Eighteen universities proposed 33 candidates for the 2015–16 program, and the Court ultimately selected 15 individuals.

“Participation in the ICJ Traineeship Program is open only to a select group of universities around the world, and the invitation to our law school reflects the strength and reputation of our international law programs and training,” says Leila Nadya Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute.

Admission into this prestigious group of nominating schools four years ago marks Washington University as one of the leading universities in the world for the teaching and study of public international law. Typically, each invited school nominates several candidates; however, this year, Pivnichny was the law school’s single nomination. This year’s program will run from September 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

“Receiving this opportunity is the capstone in my training as an international lawyer,” says Pivnichny, who served as a Harris Institute Fellow in summer 2014 and is currently studying at the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. “The chance to hone my skills at the International Court of Justice will be the perfect complement to my previous studies and will hopefully facilitate a smooth transition from student to practitioner. I am thrilled that Washington University is able to support this program and hope that I will be the first in a long line of graduates to benefit from this experience.”

For Sadat, nominating Pivnichny was an easy decision, and she couldn’t be more delighted with the outcome. “I am thrilled that Douglas was chosen by the International Court of Justice for their judicial trainee program,” she says. “He is a brilliant and thoughtful young man and will be a real asset to the judges in their important work. Being chosen to work at the Court – which is the Chief Judicial Organ of the United Nations – is a once-in-a life-time opportunity for a recent law graduate, just as being chosen to clerk at a national Supreme Court would be. It is an unparalleled experience that permits a young lawyer to do research and writing that can assist the Court in deciding the very difficult cases that are submitted to it by States every year.” 

“Douglas not only worked very hard while at Washington University in his coursework, on the Jurisprudence Review, and on the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Team, but he also excelled in his studies at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. For the most competitive jobs, law students nowadays need not only a first law degree, but often a second or even third specialized degree.”

Pivnichny has long had a passion for international affairs. An active participant in his high school’s Model UN program, he says that program was a formative experience in the development of his interests. After high school, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford, where he continued to participate in Model UN on a global level.

“Directly after undergrad, I came to Washington University for my JD,” he says. “I knew when I enrolled that I was interested in international law, particularly competing on the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition Team. It was at Wash U that I got my first real exposure to international law: I took every course in the field.”

Pivnichny says that the opportunity with the ICJ would not have been possible without the tremendous assistance of Washington University School of Law, particularly Professor Sadat. “The extent of the Harris Institute’s support has been incredible,” he says. “The Institute has already sent me to the Hague once, for the 2012 Hague Academy of International Law Summer Course. This course exposed me to how international legal thought differs among legal cultures and allowed me to begin building a truly global professional network.”

Then as a Harris Institute Fellow, Pivnichny immersed himself in several in-depth research projects in international law. “Working closely with Professor Sadat gave me the opportunity to hone my research and writing skills in a familiar, yet challenging environment,” he adds.

Pivnichny also credits Professor and Associate Dean Michael Koby, his 1L Legal Writing professor, for teaching him how to “really craft a legal argument,” and Professors John Drobak and Melissa Waters “whose excellent courses on Property, Antitrust, and Foreign Relations Law challenged me to develop my legal reasoning skills and understand how lawyers use cases to craft arguments.

“Finally, I would not be where I am today without the support and friendship of Adjunct Professor Gilbert Sison and my Jessup teammates,” he adds. “The Jessup experience was fundamental to shaping not only how I research, write, and deliver compelling, legally grounded arguments, but also to developing my confidence as a member of an elite legal team and as a legal professional.”

Additionally, Pivnichny has kept in touch with former Associate Dean Michael Peil, now a consultant at the Royal Institute of Law in Bhutan. “He continues to serve as a crucial resource for advice and ideas, and to facilitate my increasingly deep involvement in the Jessup competition worldwide,” says Pivnichny, who was involved in writing the bench memorandum for this year’s Jessup competition. He also served as a judge in the Jessup’s national rounds in Russia, China, and France, as well as in the international rounds in Washington, D.C.

With the encouragement of Sadat and Peil, following his graduation from Washington University, Pivnichny enrolled in the master’s degree program at the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies (IHEID).

Judy Uelk, Spring 2015