Classics

Cristian Nitsch ’00


After leaving Bowdoin, I managed to keep my major in Classics and Archaeology a little fresh by working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roman and Greek Antiquities Department as an intern. Although my role was at best at the lowest end of the pay scale, I participated in cataloguing new additions to the collection and assisted the curators in the preparation of new exhibits, including giving tours (except on Mondays when the museum of was closed to the public and you had the art to yourself). It was something else. However, by the time I left the Met, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer (another one!) perhaps because I had been intrigued by issues of cultural property law (who owns what and so on) but a lawyer just the same. In fact, the nexus between the Classics and the law is a known one, not only because older lawyers used to study the classics more deeply (including the Greek principles that would underpin our understanding of law, democracy and order) but also because Latin expressions still occasionally find themselves incorporated into judgments (a practice that is being phased out in some countries particularly as the public, and even some judges, sadly fail to understand what the expressions mean!).

However, when I last walked out of the main entrance of the Met, I did not have any concrete pre-law school experience (not even a single Government & Legal Studies course under my belt), which is something I thought that I might need to get into law school (though I came to realize later that it was unnecessary). So I decided to rummage around and find myself an internship in something a little more law-related. I joined a Spanish law firm in Barcelona as a translator and, after meeting a United Nations staff member, joined the UN’s office in Madrid as a press officer to help organize conferences. That gave me more of an “in” and I subsequently moved to Geneva to work as a consultant for the United Nations Initiative on [Natural] Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR), helping them set up an information clearing house for disaster reduction projects. However, while I did enjoy being part of the UN, I found the experience working for them to be mildly frustrating – I felt that the UN’s effectiveness had been watered down and its purpose answerable to too many participants. No international public law for me I thought.

I nevertheless decided to stay in Europe where my family was and applied to law programs in England, which I surmised might be more compatible with my American education (i.e., they might understand my Bowdoin grades). I managed to get into Cambridge as an undergraduate (law is generally an undergraduate course in the UK) and studied to be an English lawyer for the next few years. Thereafter, my transition to become a commercial lawyer was fairly swift, joining the London offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – an old stalwart in the City and one whose many lawyers had studied the Classics. I felt at home – there was a gravitas to the place (though it had its issues too). I thereafter became a litigator specializing in international arbitration, working for the next nine years in firm’s London, Beijing and Madrid offices (meeting my lovely Spanish wife, Rocio, along the way). By the time I left the firm earlier this year, I had dedicated myself to the energy sector representing oil and gas majors in disputes with each other and against States. Some international public law after all.  I have now recently taken up a position in Madrid as Senior Legal Counsel and Head of International Disputes for the gas business of Gas Natural Fenosa, a Spanish energy company.

Although I may not have generally opened up a Latin text since I left college, one could say that the rigor that I was taught to apply by Barbara Boyd when translating a Latin or Greek text or by James Higginbotham when pulling together a paper on Roman art is the same as the rigor that I have had to apply to interpret and draft legal documents. But apart from having a practical impact, what’s been most valuable to me about having studied Classics at Bowdoin is that it has given me access to a vast archive of history, language and art. That has made me a richer person, which is something that I care more deeply about. You could say that I’m a Bowdoin Classics man forever.

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