English for Lawyers - A Global Endeavor
English for Lawyers (EFL) is an intensive summer program at Pitt Law that pursues global legal education for international attorneys in an individualized way. Since its inception in 1997, there have been many exciting developments for EFL both at Pitt and abroad. At first, we designed EFL as an immersion course in both U.S. law and legal English for international attorneys who wished to pursue graduate studies either in Pitt’s LL.M. program or at another law school. Soon, however, we also began welcoming international attorneys, professors, and judges who wanted to learn more about U.S. law, common law reasoning and legal English in order to more effectively practice or teach law in a global context. These participants would stay in Pittsburgh for the three weeks of the program and then return to their home countries. To allow the students to gain better insight into U.S. law, they also have the opportunity to visit many legal sites in Pittsburgh to meet judges and attorneys in diverse legal practices.
After teaching EFL for just a few years, we were delighted to discover that our course could also fulfill the needs of attorneys abroad who did not have plans to come to the United States, but needed an understanding of legal English and U.S. law and legal reasoning. We began to receive invitations to teach English for Lawyers overseas. EFL has now traveled to Belgrade, Serbia; Donetsk and Kiev, Ukraine; Reykjavik, Iceland; Tokyo, Japan; Lodz, Poland; Pristina, Kosovo; Ghent, Belgium; Kosice, Slovakia; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Manama, Bahrain.
Through the EFL abroad program, we have discovered that legal education is a global endeavor built one student at a time. We first taught EFL abroad at the University of Belgrade, Serbia in 2001. There had been few international visitors to the law school over the course of the war and the continuing standoff that was occurring with Slobodan Milosevic at that time. We had every reason to suspect that the students and faculty would be wary of visitors from a country that had participated in bombing their nation not long before. However, we were very warmly welcomed by both faculty and students. We listened to their stories of the bombing of their country during visits to bomb sites and heard their hopes for the future.
For our course in Belgrade, we had matter-of-factly planned an international research project for the students that required them to “meet” online for instruction with our international librarian, Linda Tashbook. Upon arriving in the law school, however, we discovered that there was only a very small room with only a few faculty computers and that the students did not know about online resources for their legal studies. Use of the faculty computer room was generously donated for our project to our great excitement and that of the students. The students learned about the many resources available to them in the virtual world, and many expressed the hope that computers might soon be available to the students in the law school on a regular basis. That hope is realized now. Several weeks after returning to Pittsburgh, we received an e-mail from one student stating that the message was his “very first e-mail in English and in his life,” and that the work he did in our class had inspired his family to purchase a computer.
We have had many personal and memorable experiences as we have pursued global legal education through the EFL program. We were hosted by one of our former EFL and LL.M. students who became a professor of law at the University of Donetsk, Ukraine. There, we heard stories of the many changes and challenges that are involved when a new democracy evolves in a country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Despite language differences, we had warm and friendly interactions with the dean and other faculty there, such as when a professor at a faculty dinner in our honor sang a touching folk song for us in Russian.
We find that while we are sharing the legal traditions of the United States, we are also learning about the legal traditions from which our students come. We have visited the courtroom of a judge in Iceland and learned about the legal traditions of that country from our students. We toured the U.S. Steel plant in Kosice, Slovakia and learned about international trade law from our students who were attorneys in the legal department of U.S. Steel. In the EU LL.M. program in which we teach at the University of Ghent in Belgium, the students are from many diverse countries with very different legal traditions. As we comparatively discuss U.S. legal culture with the students, they also begin to know and understand each other’s rich legal traditions.
In addition to the mutual learning that occurs with global educational endeavors, we have often been struck by how connected the global legal community is. For example, we listened to the goals of a young Ministry of Trade lawyer in Ethiopia to emulate the work of a renowned Kenyan scholar who unbeknownst to him had been a student in one of our first EFL and LL.M. classes in Pittsburgh. Also while teaching in Ethiopia, we received greetings from a student’s neighbor in Addis Ababa who had been a student in our EFL class at the University of Ghent, Belgium. And we also received greetings from one of our Pitt Law graduates working in Ethiopia managing a project for Doctors Without Borders.
Our experiences demonstrate that while globalization of law and legal education is a large and complicated concept, once embarked upon by both students and professors, it becomes a smaller and more personal process filled with mutual connections and warm feelings. As those involved in the international study and practice of law interact and learn from each other, the world with its diverse traditions becomes a more understandable and workable place in which to practice law. Faulty assumptions and disagreements about law and legal and social cultures can be set aside, if done in a spirit of cooperative learning. As we start our eleventh year in the EFL program, global legal education is a reality, and we look forward to the new challenges, adventures and friendships that lie in store for us, both at Pitt Law and abroad.