Global Programs Blog

International Field Placement:
Marializa Kelly (JD '15), Vishnu Law Group, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

First Week Working in the Office -- Global Collaboration on Shared Goals

The morning after landing in Phnom Penh, I tried to fight jet lag and went into work Thursday morning. It was a nice attempt at what would eventually be my normal schedule, but I would recommend giving your body more time to adjust before diving into work!

The Vishnu Law Group’s office is in a beautiful two-story house in the middle of the city. The inside is full of intricate woodwork, and the main room has a nice open setup for productivity. As soon as I stepped foot into the office it was time to hit the ground running. Initially, I was supposed to listen to an overview of the project my first morning there. Instead, I ended up jumping right into a meeting about fisheries.

After lunch I went with one of my coworkers to a meeting in a coffee shop with a gentleman from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who is stationed in Cambodia. I was surprised at the casualness of the meeting. There we were, three people sitting in a coffee shop discussing Cambodia’s culture and civilian involvement in government and legislation. Less than two years ago I was still in law school and now here I am talking to professionals about the happenings of a foreign country. Dreams do come true!

After the meeting I received an email marked URGENT. The Legal Advisor at Vishnu met with the Minister of Environment and the Minister requested a memo detailing the benefits of the Environmental Code project. We had a meeting and everyone threw out ideas for the memo. We ended up dividing up parts everyone would research. I received everything and put the draft together for the Legal Advisor to review. After it was completed it was sent to the translation team to be translated into Khmer and then sent off to the Minister of Environment.

I spent Saturday exploring the city, but Sunday through Wednesday was spent in the office working on the code. The office has a nice collaborative atmosphere and the days were spent reviewing expert comments, researching, and adding provisions to the draft. Everyone at Vishnu is very open to ideas and welcome throwing out suggestions. The work environment is different than a typical law firm because there is much more group work and collaborative brainstorming on a daily basis. Depending on what I am working on, I also have the option to go setup at a coffee shop for research and solo drafting.

One of the first documents I read was about Cambodian legal writing. It is slightly different than American legal writing (no IRAC), but the “less is more” principle is still there. I am on the drafting team at Vishnu and some of my tasks include emailing experts to get clarification on their reports, updating expert proposal for the code, researching various laws (e.g. Cambodian laws on fisheries, international mining laws and co-management principles), and editing and formatting the next draft of the code.

Every day is different. One day I may keep myself busy researching while the next day I will work on multiple tasks and attend a couple meetings. It is a fast pace, and I am enjoying the work. The days go by extremely quick! Almost too quickly considering how much needs to be done in the next few months.

Working with experts all over the world means lots of Skype calls. One day after drafting my coworker and I were on a Skype call with an individual in the U.S. and another in Ghana. This project is the definition of collaboration with individuals working together from all over the world. Many of the experts assisting with the project come to Phnom Penh for a week or so to research, draft provisions, and give a presentation on their recommendations for the code.

My second week in Cambodia ended with a holiday. Pchum Ben is a holiday where many Cambodians travel back to their home to pay respects to their ancestors. Most places in town close for a few days to allow employees time to visit their family outside on town. The office was closed on Friday, so I went to a coworker’s house to work on the code. It was an odd experience to be sitting with my laptop and realizing I am helping work on the Cambodian Environmental Code.

That evening I went to dinner with another coworker to meet a potential expert and a few people from the Asian Development Bank and the Wildlife Conservation Society joined us. All together sitting at one table were individuals from Australia, Denmark, India, Italy, U.K., and the U.S.

So far, the best part of this experience has been meeting individuals from not only Cambodia but all over the world. Everyone is working together on one shared goal, and it is a neat experience to be one of those individuals.

I have only been in Cambodia two weeks, and I look forward to what the next couple months bring!

Cambodia Vishnu Law Group
Cambodia Vishnu Law interior
Cambodia Vishnu Law interior
Cambodia- Mari in the office

    In the office with coffee and bottled water --        my two basic necessities here.

Cambodia election newspaper

Following ​the U.S. election from Cambodia