Sylvie Goursaud 2007

Sylvie Goursaud '07

Photo: Dustin Ross

Most international students who arrive at Columbia Law School enroll in the LL.M. program. Yet because of the five years she spent working in international business, often in partnership with American lawyers, and because she had no foreign law degree, Sylvie Goursaud believed a J.D. from a top United States law school was the best course of study.

It  is certainly not her first graduate degree.   She has a dual M.A. in Business and Economics from Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris and the Technische Universtat in Berlin and was admitted as a Ph.D. candidate to Tokyo University with a Japanese Ministry of Education fellowship, though she spent the better part of her time becoming fluent in Japanese.   Looking back, Ms. Goursaud could have had a completely different international career.  From the time she was 12 until she was 18, Ms. Goursaud was a professional pianist, attending boarding school to accommodate a schedule that included seven to eight hours of practice a day, competitions, a nd concerts.

"In France, you can't really go back later and still get into the top schools, and I knew that if I wanted to do something besides music, I needed to make that choice at 18," she says. "Ultimately, I decided that six years [of piano] was enough. I just didn't want that life forever."

Once she had received her business degrees, however, she did allow herself one more entrée into the field.  In 2000, she received an M.A. in Music History with Highest Honors from La Sorbonne in Paris.  It was the high-energy arena of the telecommunications industry in Japan, rather than the concert hall, in which she decided to compete. Light years ahead of the rest of the world, particularly in the area of cell phones, Japan was an ideal setting in which to learn the art of international business.

Working first as a freelance consultant to Asia Market Intelligence and EGIS, Ms. Goursaud conducted market research on new technologies and facilitated partnerships between Japanese and foreign firms. She also assisted with the introduction of Internet cell phone service to France. Next, with the telecommunications company Vodafone, she became involved in the negotiation and procurement process internationally.  It was in this capacity that she began working with the American lawyer, Holly Gillis, senior counsel at Vodaphone, who would so profoundly influence her decision to return to the classroom.

"In France, when you are in business negotiations, the lawyers usually serve as a presence while the business people conduct the transaction. An American lawyer will go in and negotiate the deal," she says. "When Vodafone bought out J-Phone, a Japanese cell phone company, no one in Japan knew how to handle major international contract negotiations, and the help we received from our American attorney was invaluable.  Holly visited Japan often, and when she was back in the United Stated, I was calling her all the time for advice. It was at this point that I knew exactly what it was I wanted to do in the world of business."

Ms. Goursaud knew a law degree in her native France would not hold the same cache for an international career. An education at a top-tier American law school and eventually a job in New York City was the goal, despite the fact that only a vsmall number of law schools in the United States admit foreign students to their J.D. programs.  While in the United States to visit law schools, Columbia offered her a Peter Jay Sharp scholarship, one of the School's most generous and competitive awards.

After her whirlwind academic and work life, law school is a welcome change.

"I had to learn a new way to study here - reading a lot of cases and slowly beginning to understand the law - but professors have been so encouraging," she says. "After working in Japan and dealing with the language barrier, cultural bias, and a very political environment, it has been great to find so much support for my projects and interests."