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When he was a young lawyer, the study and practice of international law was an “esoteric area,” according to Professor Theodor Meron of New York University School of Law. But in the past 15 years or so, a quiet revolution has taken place among law students and young lawyers in New York — a city recognized by many as the epicenter of global law. Everything from Professor Meron jetting off to The Hague — as he did early last month, to assume duties as chief judge of the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia — to associates handling multinational commercial deals on their way up the ranks of private Manhattan firms. “Most students today want to do international law,” said Columbia Law School Professor Jose E. Alvarez, who has also taught at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Michigan Law School. “Each time I moved from one law school to the next, finally arriving here in New York, the interest grew larger. Nowadays, international law means — well, everything.” Dean Richard Revesz of NYU Law said lawyers with global interests see Professor Meron as a guiding figure in matters of justice. Born in Poland in 1930, Professor Meron immigrated to Palestine to receive his first legal training at the University of Jerusalem. He later attended Harvard Law School, earning an LL.M. and J.S.D., and Cambridge University, where he held the Humanitarian Trust Fellowship in International Law. After service in the Israeli foreign ministry — as that country’s ambassador to Canada and United Nations representative in Geneva — Professor Meron joined NYU Law and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. “He takes enormous pride in his work,” Dean Revesz said of Professor Meron, who will celebrate his 73rd birthday at The Hague. “He publishes a book every year, while at the same time being a very active presence on the international stage. He’s extremely devoted to his students. And his students — from all over the world — are enormously dedicated to him.” In an early March interview in his office at Vanderbilt Hall, Professor Meron spoke of responsibilities to come at The Hague. “We live in a world of bloody conflict,” he said. “The work of the [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] is hard. These are horrendous crimes. But we have some satisfaction in bringing some justice to the world. And we have broader social goals: reconciliation and reconstruction, universal justice and a reliable judicial record. “Here we are, the first such court since Nuremberg, with six trials going on in three courtrooms — three in the morning, three in the afternoon, not counting appeals,” he added. “One of the problems American lawyers would find difficult to understand is our slow pace. Prosecution involves entire military campaigns over several years’ time, and in several geographic regions. There is the difficulty of obtaining witnesses — and often, less than full cooperation of governments.” In fact, the day after Professor Meron arrived at The Hague, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated by a sniper in Belgrade. Arrests quickly followed the death of Djindjic, who was instrumental in toppling Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, accused by tribunal prosecutors of genocide. Recognizing the need to foster a concern for such violence and political instability among American lawyers, the Starr Foundation provided funds in 1996 to create the Center for International Law at New York Law School, with Sydney M. Cone III as its director and C.V. Starr professor of law. Professor Cone, a longtime partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton who since 1949 helped open several of the firm’s overseas offices, organizes heavily-attended seminars on international law at his school’s Tribeca campus. His latest seminar featured Howard A. Levine, a retired New York State Court of Appeals judge who is now senior counsel at the Albany firm Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna. “Judge Levine has been instrumental in administering [court] rules that have made New York a center for the practice of international law,” said Professor Cone. INSPIRED BY HEADLINES Professor Cone also counsels New York Law students in writing papers on topics inspired by headlines. “For example, I have a student really digging into the rather sensitive current question of whether a president of the United States can unsign a treaty that the U.S. signed under previous administrations,” said Professor Cone. “I have another student writing on international rules governing the looting of art objects, and taking them across national frontiers.” Professor Alvarez said his own students at Columbia Law find international questions exciting because “on both the economic and public side, there is such room for creativity by lawyers” due to the proliferation of new treaties and non-governmental organizations devoted to human rights and environmental matters. In private as well as public law, said Professor Alvarez, lawyers are increasingly involved in global questions. “International law is developing as many sub-specialties as domestic law,” said Professor Alvarez. “I look at my colleagues, and whatever it is they’re doing — everything from investment arbitrations to human rights work under older U.N. resolutions — I see some international or comparative aspect in their work. “Our students are becoming more and more aware of all this,” he added. “This is quite a revolution.” Dean Revesz agreed, and said further that the rising interest in international law among American lawyers would soon become a standard requirement for success in either private or public practice. “It is inconceivable to me,” said Dean Revesz, “that someone could be a leader 20 years from now without having a pretty good idea of how legal regimes interact, and how the U.S. economy links to the global economy.”

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