Understanding Law in a Global Context
Last summer, Sophia Mire, now a second-year law student, traveled to Haiti for 10 weeks in conjunction with Loyola University College of Law’s various international outreach programs. Highly invested in the problems of the troubled nation to which she has been traveling since she was 14, Mire hopes to practice international human rights law upon obtaining her J.D. Because the College of Law programs reflect Louisiana’s mixed common law and civil law jurisdictions, the school inherently fosters an understanding of law in international contexts.
The varied international programs allowed Mire to complete an internship where she worked with Mario Joseph, the managing attorney at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port-au-Prince, who is likened to the “Martin Luther King Jr.” of Haiti, she says. The firm represents political prisoners, impoverished people, and victims of political violence. “[Joseph] is a visionary, and it was an incredible honor to spend time observing and learning from him,” Mire says.
Haiti, long marred by corruption and poverty, operates its legal proceedings in French, though the majority of the population speaks Haitian Kreyol, a language that Mire has picked up from her time spent there. She notes that because Loyola offers both international law courses and civil courses, “both of which are useful to human rights work,” her enhanced understanding of the law and the culture are critical to the legal work she wants to do in developing countries.
Tori Luwisch, international programs coordinator, says that the university provides ample opportunities for students who are interested in traveling, studying, and working abroad. In the past several years, the programs have sent hundreds of law students to far-flung nations across the globe to take courses in Budapest, Hungary; Vienna; Moscow; Rio de Janeiro; San José, Costa Rica; and Spetses, Greece, among others. To help prepare them for their time overseas, the university offers discounted courses in French and Spanish for students, professors, and alumni affiliated with the law school. “I think it’s a great thing that we do because our heritage is so wrapped up in French and Spanish – whether they take the class in preparation for a foreign program or just for future international work,” Luwisch says.
The College of Law has “enriched, depended, and broadened the international law experiences,” says John Lovett, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Academic Affairs. First-year law students often take introductory courses on international and comparative law pertaining to business, politics, human rights, and a multitude of other topics.
Mire’s valuable experience in Haiti is just one example of how the international programs at Loyola enrich students’ educations and, down the line, their law careers.
Rebecca Curry, a third-year law student, also plans to work in social justice and public service when she finishes her degree. After completing her first year, she embarked upon an independent internship in Cambodia, working with an international human rights non-governmental organization, or NGO, called International Bridges to Justice, based in Geneva. “I was able to learn how NGO’s utilize international law to promote human rights,” she says. “It’s tricky and complex.” The organization focuses on ending torture of criminal detainees and supporting proportionate sentencing by providing free legal representation.
Curry was placed with a defense team in the rural Ratanakiri Province, an 11-hour bus ride away from the country capital on the border of Vietnam and Laos. The team she worked with included a litigating attorney, an investigative attorney, and a secretary, all of whom are Cambodian citizens who are fluent in the Khmer language. During this trip, Curry visited imprisoned clients, advocated for women to receive separate prison cells, and observed trial proceedings. She enhanced her language skills by taking Khmer lessons for three months, and she also participated in weekly “street law training” in indigenous villages throughout the province, where they taught the community about what to do in case of arrest, about the importance of lawyers during the criminal process, and how to file claims in court.
A native of Houston, Curry says that in addition to learning about the law overseas, she learned a tremendous amount about another culture’s history, culture, language; Buddhism; and traveling on her own – including “how to drive the motorcycle I bought for $175 to get around.” She was also surprised to learn that the structure of Cambodia’s law is similar to Louisiana’s, given the shared history of French occupation.
Curry recommends the experience and says it is incredibly “valuable to put yourself outside the box. I have a view of law that is unique, and I truly understand the significance of many of the protections embedded in legal provisions. … I carved out a second home for myself in the world. I love Cambodia and can’t wait to get back.”
Lovett, who has extensive international experience, including a sabbatical in Scotland, where he studied the country’s property laws, emphasizes that the international law programs are a “two-way street,” because in addition to sending its own students and faculty overseas, Loyola also hosts international students and visiting professors.
Take for example, Loyola’s LL.M. program, which is a “master’s degree [program] in law for foreign students,” Lovett says. “Every year we have foreign students coming over here, and they work and study with the American students. It adds another nice component to our outreach to the world. Then they usually go back to their native countries after building a relationship with Loyola.” He also mentions that some foreign-born students, usually about 10 a year, come to Loyola from their native countries to do the three-year J.D. program.
Luwisch says one of the school’s most popular and longest-running programs – celebrating its 20th anniversary this year – is the annual two- to four-week program at the prestigious University of Vienna, which was started by Professor Patrick Hugg. (Luwisch notes that most students choose the four-week program.) In Vienna, students can take six to seven one-credit-hour comparative law courses. Subjects include Law of the European Union, Comparative Bioethics, International Commercial Arbitration, Law of the Internet, Comparative Copyright Law, International Environmental Law, and International Human Rights, among others. In this European cultural capital, students visit government institutions, and those who speak German often choose to serve internships at Austrian law firms. (See related story, page 30.)
“It has evolved in student enrollment numbers, and we’ve had students from all over the world to join us,” Luwisch says. “We regularly have students from Australia and Turkey – from our sister schools. They get credits at their own universities, so they are like any other visiting student.”
Of course, due to Vienna’s convenient location, students and professors in the program take the “most weekend trips of any of our programs” to places including Prague, Salzburg, and Venice, Luwisch says. Even for students who don’t plan to ultimately pursue a career in international law, the trip still provides an interesting and educational way to explore another country.
Another popular program is the trip to Budapest, Hungary, at the Eotvos Lorand University School of Law. This program presents a two-week, two-course comparative law offering for those interested in the political and legal landscape of central Europe in a country that just recently joined the European Union. The trip is complemented by visits to the Supreme Court, Parliament, and international law firms.
In addition to the international programs that are approved by the American Bar Association, Luwisch says Loyola also offers offer two field study programs. In one program, students travel to the European Union – Luxembourg, Strasburg, Paris, and Brussels – for one week. They don’t take classes; instead they write papers on their experiences for credit. Another field study trip brings students to Istanbul, and they make their way to Kusadasi, Turkey, and go on to Greek hotspots Athens and the island of Samos. During these field study programs, students also visit sites, attend lectures, and take trips to museums. These programs tend to be smaller, around 10 or 20 students.
Finally, back on American soil, in addition to its many international law courses, Loyola has the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Students argue as if they were before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, delving into topics such as expropriation, immunity, standing, and whether an obligation exists to admit a country into a multistate union. Students from more than 50 countries participate, with regional winners advancing to national rounds.
Regarding the overall opportunities that Loyola offers, Mire concludes: “Loyola is fortunate to have extraordinary professors, faculty, and extended community who have worked for social justice for many years. Their wisdom, encouragement, and support are invaluable.”