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The single most dramatic change today in the law school curriculum is the surge in classes and lectures that aim to increase students’ exposure to international, comparative and transnational law. “Lawyering in today’s world increasingly involves transactions that cross borders. Legal education must come to grips with these developments by educating students on comparative, international, and transnational law and legal processes,” says Alexander Aleinikoff, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center and a leading immigration law scholar. It’s easy to see the trend everywhere: The newspapers are full of articles about the differences between Asian and Western cultures in their ways of resolving disputes, or how concepts of property ownership and divorce are different in Islam’s Shariah system of law. Inevitably, a much higher percentage of law school graduates in future years will need to understand other cultures and legal systems. The need for this understanding will not be limited to graduates representing clients engaged in international business, although that will of course be important. Even lawyers whose practice is primarily domestic might be representing clients who have emigrated to this country and still have family in other countries, or those involved in a dispute with someone from another country. To provide adequate representation in a matter that involves people from different cultures or legal systems, it will be critical to understand that the client’s motivation may differ from the motivation of a U.S.-born client. The flow of goods and services across international boundaries occurs more than ever before. Multinational corporations and nonprofits engage in international commerce and other activities. Journalists and academics frequently work abroad. There are marriages between people from different countries with different laws and customs regarding marriage, and varying laws on divorce, property and child custody. THE CHALLENGE How are law schools responding to the challenge to teach the concepts of international, comparative and transnational law? The type of international law that has been taught in law schools for many years has traditionally been divided between public and private international law. Although the distinction is becoming blurred with the enactment of laws like the North American Free Trade Agreement, public international law governs relationships among nations and treaties that regulate those relationships, such as the United Nations Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights. Private international law regulates commercial transactions between citizens of different countries, such as the U.N. Convention for Contracts for the International Sale of Goods and the Convention on International Financial Leasing. Comparative law, on the other hand, is the study of different legal systems and their differences. In U.S. law schools, comparative law courses have typically covered the difference between common law and civil law, but in recent years these courses have begun to include study of Islamic and customary law systems. Transnational law is a newer term. To some, it means representing clients who do business across international boundaries. Others use a broader meaning that includes, for example, comparing media law, civil procedure, or family law in different legal systems. The larger understanding of transnational law was recently the focus of a three-day conference, “Educating Lawyers for Transnational Challenges,” sponsored by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Representatives of 47 countries, including both developed and developing countries, discussed what should be included in the curriculum for a law school seeking to prepare its graduates to meet “transnational challenges,” whether they arise in human rights, environmental law, commercial law, or criminal law. Of course, it is impossible in a three-year legal education to teach more than a small amount about even U.S. law. In fact, the goal of a legal education has often been described as teaching to “think like a lawyer.” Our goal as legal educators is to teach students how to approach a legal problem and do the research to obtain information to represent the client and resolve the problem. In today’s law school, students must understand that they may need to know more about the laws and culture of a country other than the United States. SURVEY FINDINGS A 1996 survey conducted by the curriculum and research committee of the AALS found that international and comparative courses were the classes most frequently added in the past five years. The results of an updated survey, soon to be published by the American Bar Association, show that the trend continues. Eighty-four percent of schools in the 1996 survey said they had added at least one international law course in the past five years, and most had added at least three. These included courses in international trade, business and banking; international environmental law; European Union law; international arbitration and dispute resolution; human rights; and immigration or refugee law. Almost all schools added at least one comparative law course, generally focusing either on the law of a particular country, or on a particular substantive area of law in multiple countries. Commenting on the importance of such courses, Kurt Schmoke, dean of the Howard University School of Law, and former mayor of Baltimore, says, “We encourage our students to view themselves as future leaders in the law for America and the global community. We emphasize the increasingly global nature of the practice of law through courses in public and private international law and through overseas study experiences.” More difficult to document, but certainly equally important, has been the recent inclusion of concepts from other legal systems in courses that focus primarily on domestic law. For instance, at American University’s Washington College of Law, I have transformed a traditional U.S. media law course into a comparative media law course that includes defamation law, prior restraint law, and the law regulating a reporter’s privilege to protect confidential sources. Materials for this course now include cases, statutes and law review articles about the law of other countries and multinational bodies in Europe, Africa and South America. In a paper for the AALS conference, professors Oscar Chase and Helen Hershkoff of New York University School of Law describe their development of comparative modules in a basic civil procedure course. “The global lawyer must have a sophisticated sense of how current or future disputes would be handled in a relevant foreign legal system,” they write. “Adding a transnational component to the study of civil litigation highlights the reality that procedural systems are the product of choice — there is no universal consensus on how best to serve the values of accuracy, fairness, and efficiency. Exposure to the choices made by some other systems will help students (and professors) think critically about the status quo and will present alternatives to consider.” Participants adopted a resolution endorsing the formation of a new international association of law schools. A planning group of 18 people from 16 countries representing the diversity of the world’s legal systems and cultures is preparing the charter document for the new association. Claudio Grossman, dean of the Washington College of Law, American University, and a member of the planning group, says, “Today’s law school graduates must acquire the skills to function as facilitators and problem-solvers in international transactions. They must also be able to act as liaisons for communications between and among formally organized legal systems with differing national histories, customs, and experiences.” The mission of the new association will be to improve understanding of the world’s varied and changing legal systems and cultures as a contribution to justice and a peaceful world. The association will also contribute to the better preparation of lawyers who may one day have a transnational or global legal practice. The activities of the association will include enhancing information exchange among member law schools; preparing guidelines for curriculum content and teaching methods to prepare graduates for transnational practice; providing opportunities for law professors to deepen their understanding of global legal trends; and facilitating faculty and student exchanges. Law schools are not just educating the next generation of lawyers. They’re also teaching those who will become world leaders. It is critical that law schools educate their students about different cultures and legal systems so that, as world leaders, they will act with sensitivity and understanding. Carl Monk is executive director of the Association of American Law Schools, based in Washington, D.C.

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