Stanford Law School students will help design a law degree program for Afghanistan under a $7.2 million grant from the U.S. State Department.

The federal grant was directed to the school’s Afghanistan Legal Education Project, a student-led initiative launched in 2007 to promote legal training in that central Asian country. The project has already produced a number of law textbooks for Afghan students and helped to start a certificate in legal studies program at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

The money will be used to establish a five-year B.A./LL.B. program at the American University, a private university founded in 2006 on the U.S. model that offers English-only programs.

“The grant is important to students and faculty at Stanford and [American University of Afghanistan], to the expansion of legal education in Afghanistan, and, in some small but significant way, to the future of US-Afghan relations, as this successful education project will be implemented well beyond the 2014 scheduled ratcheting down of US military involvement in Afghanistan,” said Stanford law professor Erik Jensen, who heads the school’s Rule of Law Program and serves as faculty adviser to the project.

To Afghans worried about what happens after the U.S. military pulls out, the grant signals continued interest and support, he said.

American University launched its certificate program last spring, and about 200 students participated — a sign to administrators of pent-up demand for legal training, Jensen said. About 260 students have registered for the certificate program this year, approximately 20 percent of them women, according to the State Department.

The law degree program will build upon the existing certificate program and include many of the elements common to U.S. law schools, including practical training and professional responsibility. Students will spend their first two years completing a general liberal arts education, following that with three years of legal studies.

The program will draw upon a series of textbooks that Stanford law students have produced on topics including the interplay of secular with Islamic law; commercial law; criminal law; and international law. Another textbook on professional responsibility is in the works. The textbooks, some translated into Dari and Pashto, are available for free online and are updated and modified periodically.

Fifteen Stanford students are involved in the project. In addition to conducting research and producing textbooks, they travel to Afghanistan once a year, Jensen said.

This is not the first time the State Department has supported the project’s work. It issued a $1.3 million grant in the fall of 2010 to support development of training materials specifically for Afghan law students. The State Department also funds legal training at Afghanistan’s public universities; the hope is that those schools will adopt the curriculum developed for American University, Jensen said.

“Legal education is a critical element of justice reform, and [the project's] expansion ensures that U.S. support in this area will include [American University of Afghanistan] as a valuable private institution partner, together with our long-term partners in the public university system,” Thomas Hushek, director of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs office in Kabul, said in a prepared statement.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.