After spending two years with the Department of Justice in San Diego, Caleb Overstreet (JD ’10) relocated nearly half way around the world to Thailand where he now works for International Justice Mission dealing with anti-human trafficking issues.
Ever since he was a little boy living in the Middle East where his parents worked for an International NGO, Overstreet has observed injustice. The skills he learned while at TU Law are those he can use to impact these injustices.
“The critical thinking skills that I developed at TU are crucial to my current job,” he said. “One of my chief functions is to provide a different perspective on the cases for the Thai attorneys in the office. In addition, I am grateful for the writing skills that I learned at TU. Working in a cross cultural environment makes writing clear and concise extremely important.”
Because Overstreet is not licensed to practice law in Thailand, his work consists of a mix of consulting, coordinating with NGOs and government agencies, as well as some traditional legal work such as drafting contracts.
A new job means new obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest obstacles for Overstreet is the language barrier as he is only one of two non-Thai staff members out of the staff of 20. Another is that he deals exclusively with child sexual assault cases.
“Almost everything operates in Thai,” he said. “I spend an hour with a Thai language tutor every day before work. The other big challenge is that I am working exclusively with child sexual assault cases, which can be emotionally draining.
The culture, particularly the food is something he has had little difficulty getting used to. Although it isn’t every day you walk into work to find a cobra in the office. The biggest difference he has noticed is in the formation of relationships among the Thai people, where the culture is less direct.
“Thai culture is very relational so relationships often take priority over time and efficiency,” he said. “It takes a little longer to get things done, but you form some great relationships in the process. Also, Thai culture is less direct than American culture and not as confrontational, which is a big difference from American legal culture!”
While moving to a new country certainly provides some cultural differences, Thailand also has a different legal system, one that is code based. Some of the major legal differences are that the police have more power, all cases are heard by a judge and there is always the threat of corruption.
“The Thai system is code based meaning that there is simply a statute,” he said. “Cases, even Supreme Court decisions, are not binding on the courts, although they do carry some influence. This makes legal research much easier as you just have to look up the statute, but it makes predicting the outcome of a case more difficult because the absence of binding case precedent gives the judge more discretion.”
There are many different paths to working internationally. The more skills and experience you gain while working in the United States, the easier a transition to an international setting will be.
“For those interested in working internationally, I would advise taking a few years to invest in building skills and gaining experience in the United States in whatever field you want to practice in overseas,” he said. “It is hard to wait when you have a passion to be overseas, but patience and gaining skills will pay off with better opportunities when you make the switch overseas.”