Legal education without borders
Tracy Wood has always had an interest in international issues and has traveled to numerous developing countries.
But the second year law student was unprepared for how spending three months completing a legal internship with the Documentation Center of Cambodia last summer would change her life.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Wood said. “Once you live in a country that has been so devastated that it’s unbelievable how far reaching the effects are, it really changes your perspective. After living there, I can never, ever complain about anything in my life. It really changed me. It’s made me a much better person.”
Wood hopes to return to Cambodia next summer and is more committed than ever to working in international law. She encourages other law students to take advantage of opportunities to work overseas.
“It will make them better lawyers. When you work in a legal system like Cambodia’s, not only will it have an impact on you, it will have an impact on your practice,” Wood said. “When you see a broken system, you know we don’t want to be like that.”
“The law school’s commitment to social justice has no borders. We want to create a rich learning environment for our students, which encourages them to see beyond the walls of Sullivan Hall to their communities, and indeed, to other parts of the world. This only enriches and enhances the legal education they receive.” – Dean Kellye Testy
Professor Ron Slye, director of International and Comparative Law Programs and the director of the law school’s new Center for Global Justice, said Wood’s reaction is powerful, but not uncommon.
“One of the most valuable educational experiences a student can have is to work overseas in a completely different legal culture,” he said. “It exposes them to something new, and I hope it leads them to see their own life and their own country in a new light.”
And from a professor’s point of view, it benefits law students in practical ways.
“The world is getting smaller and smaller,” Slye said. “Good lawyers need to be educated about the world and to be familiar with foreign and international law.”
Wood is just one of the students who has grown from Seattle University School of Law’s expanding international programs. The School of Law is fast becoming a leader in global legal education by expanding its international reach to offer students and faculty a greater world view. The law school is creating new partnerships with outside faculty and institutions, both in the United States and abroad. It aims to promote the understanding that in order to be a competent professional in today’s legal world, lawyers must be conversant in both global and national legal developments.
“The law school’s commitment to social justice has no borders,” Dean Kellye Testy said. “We want to create a rich learning environment for our students, which encourages them to see beyond the walls of Sullivan Hall to their communities, and indeed, to other parts of the world. This only enriches and enhances the legal education they receive.”
Law school expands international programs
As part of the growing emphasis on international programs, professors are conducting research abroad, students are securing internships in remote countries, the law school is sponsoring study abroad and exchange programs, and it is developing a comprehensive curriculum in international and comparative matters.
Courses recently offered include International Environmental Law, International Tax, International Intellectual Property, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, Law and Development, and Comparative Law of the Middle East.
Seattle University School of Law established the first international human rights clinic in the Pacific Northwest and one of the few such programs on the West Coast. Students work with experienced human rights attorneys to represent individuals and organizations claiming violations of international human rights law. The clinic has worked with some of the premier international human rights law firms in the United States, including the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, on cases and projects involving human rights violations in South America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
This year, the law school is launching a new program focusing on global social justice and advocacy in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the University of the Witwatersrand. It will combine courses on substantive areas of the law with a course on legal writing and oral advocacy before international tribunals.
Slye has been at the forefront of many of these efforts. He teaches, writes and consults in the areas of public international law and international human rights law. Slye spent the spring and summer in South Africa, as the Bram Fischer Visiting Professor in Human Rights, which is part of The Mandela Institute at the law school of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He has authored and co-authored books and articles on international law, human rights, environmental law, housing law and poverty law and is writing a casebook on international criminal law and a book on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its amnesty process.
His roots in international law are deep. He studied international law in college and was always interested in global justice and human rights issues. He became involved with issues related to homelessness and low-income housing, which grew into interest in global issues such as Apartheid.
He has been an assistant professor and Robert Cover Fellow in the clinical program at Yale Law School and associate director of the Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale. He co-taught Yale’s international human rights law clinic. He was a visiting professor at the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa from 1996-97 and, while there, served as legal consultant to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also was a lecturer at the Legal Training Project in Cambodia.
“I went to law school thinking the last thing I wanted to do was teach,” he said.
But after his experiences teaching at Yale, he knew he wanted to continue. He joined Seattle University School of Law as a visiting professor in 1997 and joined the faculty in 1999. He is pleased the law school has put such commitment into international issues.
“It’s very gratifying to see it institutionalized,” he said. “This law school is a very intellectually engaging place for me to be.”
Faculty members’ work takes them around the world
Slye is not the only professor with a passion for international issues. Many have researched and published in the area.
Professor Carmen Gonzalez spent the summer teaching in Brazil, where nearly 30 students from SU School of Law studied international and comparative environmental law, international trade, cross-cultural dispute resolution and environmental law in Rio de Janeiro. She is in the UK this semester and will teach in China in the spring on a Fulbright Award. She also was one of the organizers of the LatCrit South-North Exchange, an international scholarly conference that took place in Bogotá, Colombia, in May.
Professor Henry McGee has given talks in Mexico and brought speakers from Uruguay and Mexico as part of the growing Latin America-U.S. Program for Academic and Judicial Exchanges he leads. The program brings academics and judicial officers from Latin America to the United States and sends U.S. academics and judicial officers to Latin America to teach and learn about each other’s legal systems. The program exposes students to some of the most important scholars from Latin America, emphasizing the importance of transnational relationships in legal education and providing essential tools for the solution of bi-national challenges such as immigration, terrorism, environmental protection, and resource conservation.
Professor Russ Powell will conduct research in Turkey, Clinic Professor Raven Lidman works in Nicaragua, and Professor Margaret Chon attended a workshop in Geneva.
Legal Writing Professors Laurel Oates and Mimi Samuel have traveled to Uganda on two occasions to work with attorneys, judges and law students. They will teach in Uganda and South Africa in Spring 2007. They will train magistrates in Uganda, host a conference for law school professors in Kenya, train judges in South Africa, and join Slye in teaching in SU’s new summer program in Johannesburg.
Samuel has taught the foundations of the American legal system to Russian law students at Far Eastern National University in Vladivostok and effective writing to lawyers in the Ugandan Inspector General of Government’s office. She says their work in Africa has been rewarding beyond words.
“It’s a place where we can make a difference,” Samuel said. “We have skills they need.”
Echoed Oates: “It has been life-changing for me.”
Law school creates more opportunities for students
Every year, the law school is offering more opportunities for students to go abroad to study and work.
Wood was one of 10 legal interns from around the country who worked with the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Since its inception, DC-Cam has been at the forefront of documenting the myriad crimes and atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era (1975-’79).
DC-Cam has two main objectives: to record and preserve the history of the Khmer Rouge regime for future generations and to compile and organize information that can serve as potential evidence in a legal accounting for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
A former Seattle police officer, Wood created international law training manual and held sessions for police officers in the highly corrupt Cambodian force, teaching them interviewing and investigative techniques, and incorporating ethics throughout.
She volunteered at an orphanage, which is home to children of all ages who previously lived in a garbage dump; went to outlying villages, many still littered with bones and skulls of those killed during the massacre, to hear residents’ stories; and visited women in prison.
While Wood was the only SU law student in Cambodia, other SU law students got a taste of international law in the school’s first-ever study abroad program in Rio de Janeiro last summer.
Bonnie Nannega-Combs, who has a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology, entered law school immediately after completing her graduate work in breast cancer research. Her primary interest is intellectual property law, especially biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and she took the opportunity to study international trade law as part of the Brazil program.
“I learned a lot about Brazil and its legal structure,” she said. “I gained a better understanding of the challenges facing Brazil as a country and also how those challenges influence how Brazil forms its policies nationally regionally and globally. The experience in Brazil gave me a much better appreciation for some of the issues that are of major importance outside the U.S.”
“The world is getting smaller and smaller. Good lawyers need to be educated about the world and to be familiar with foreign and international law.” – Professor Ron Slye
The summer abroad program in Brazil is the product of a consortium of Seattle University School of Law, Georgia State University College of Law and the University of Tennessee College of Law.
“In an increasingly globalized society, it is extremely important for law students to be exposed to international and comparative law,” Gonzalez said. “The summer abroad program in Rio de Janeiro introduces students to these areas of law and provides them with both a U.S. and a Brazilian perspective on some of the major challenges confronting the international community.”
Nannenga-Combs said she’s grateful for the broader understanding she gained there.
“It is easy to limit the scope of your understanding of the law and how the law should work based on the U.S. legal system,” Nannega-Combs said. “My experience in Brazil allowed me to think more about the differences between our legal system and other countries’ legal systems.
“That experience is invaluable in terms of gaining a broader perspective on the very diverse culture and value systems that exist in the world and the need to realize how these play into the policies and politics of countries as we interact as a global society.”