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Symposium Highlights Trends in Teaching International, Transnational Law

October 15, 2012

Scholars explored emerging themes in education focused on international law at a daylong symposium, “Building Global Professionalism,” sponsored by the Drexel Law Review and the International Law and Human Rights Society on Oct. 12.

The symposium started with an overview of emerging trends by Larry Catá Backer of Penn State, Jorge Luis Esquirol of Florida International University, Vasuki Nesiah of New York University and Fernanda Nicola of American University.

Summer-abroad programs, transnational legal clinics, LLM programs for foreign practitioners and specialty courses and programs focused on international issues each pose potential challenges, Esquirol said. He noted, for instance, that summer-abroad programs can give students “a bubble-like experience” that bolsters preconceptions about foreign law and that transnational clinics can allow U.S. laws to eclipse those of localities.

To some degree, Nesiah said, the growth of international programs reflects a desire by law schools to position themselves competitively and generate revenues. Private universities have enormous advantages in this regard, she added.

Law schools face pressures to prepare students for professional practice at the expense of more scholarly activities, Nicola said, adding that protecting the rule of law should remain a core mission. While critics cite a waning influence of the U.S. legal system abroad, she said the widespread translation of American casebooks and citations of U.S. opinions by the European Court of Human Rights suggest the enduring power of American legal thinkers.

Backer distinguished between nationalist and internationalist models, noting that the former aims to promote U.S. models and market-driven competition to shape other legal systems while the latter seek to build a shared consensus between nations. Since those who favor production of wealth and efficiency will back nationalist models, he said, they carry more influence.

Sarah Paoletti of the University of Pennsylvania, Elisabeth Wickeri of Fordham University and Richard Wilson of American University explored efforts to globalize experiential learning. Paoletti discussed strategies for developing clinical programs that enable students to hone cross-cultural skills and avoid adverse impacts for clients. Given the human rights abuses in countries like China, Wickeri said, it is important to choose cases carefully and to partner with non-governmental organizations that know the lay of the land. Citing a case in which students helped gain the release of 22 men from a Mexican prison, Wilson noted that international clinics have the potential to advance human rights and that some programs grew from indigenous efforts.

Martin Flaherty, professor and co-director for the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham University, was the event’s keynote speaker. Flaherty’s presentation addressed the responsibilities of law schools operating in authoritarian regimes.

Major legal institutions are creating and promoting law programs in areas governed by authoritarian regimes while ignoring the human rights violations taking place under those regimes, Flaherty said. Flaherty claimed that it is incumbent upon institutions to establish and defend their core academic values while abroad. While Flaherty recognized non-action may be appropriate in some instances where challenging a regime could do more harm than good, he stressed that institutions must at least educate themselves about potential human rights violations and recognize their existence so that they are prepared to properly address any problems from within should the opportunity arise.

Following Flaherty’s keynote presentation, a panel of speakers discussed law school programs that use comparative approaches to legal education in “Learning and Working Across Legal Systems.”

Panelist Kerstin Carlson from the American University of Paris, spoke about the cultural importance of law, arguing that effective practitioners abroad must be aware of cultural nuances as well as technical ones to succeed.

Raquel Aldana from the Pacific McGeorge School of Law claimed that one of the most important benefits of educating American law students abroad is that a first-hand encounter with the legal struggles of those abroad fosters the students’ “critical self-reflection” and ensures that they are adequately prepared to engage new legal environments. Alana Klein, assistant professor of law at McGill University in Canada, added that teaching the competing systems of Canadian law had a similar effect on McGill’s students.

Holning S. Lau found similar benefits when teaching his Law and Sexuality class at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Lau’s class investigates sexual orientation law through the lens of foreign legal systems and cultures that have addressed similar issues.

Villanova University School of Law Professor Diane Penneys Edelman echoed Lau’s sentiments explaining that writing assignments which involve international legal issues foster unique perspectives on U.S. legal principles. Similarly, Leighanne Yuh, from Fordham University School of Law, noted that Fordham’s Korea program invites students to approach U.S. law from a different perspective.

Australian National University College of Law Professor Katherine Hall joined the panel via Skype. Hall emphasized that legal practice is becoming more and more global and, thus, in some ways, global lawyers, who are not tied to any specific government, must recognize that their responsibilities go beyond the international legal issues they investigate and influence the behavior of their multi-national corporate employers.

Professors Anil Kalhan and Pammela Quinn Saunders from the Earle Mack School of Law closed the day’s events with a discussion that provided an overview of the various panels throughout the day. Before panelists and guests proceeded to a post-event reception, Saunders thanked Kalhan and the school’s students for organizing such an intellectually enriching event.