20TH & H: Crossroads of the World

GW Law’s reputation as a global hub is quickly expanding.

Last year, when Olivia Radics, LLM, ’13, looked around her classrooms, she saw peers from Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Pakistan, Germany, Israel, France, and the United States. When she listened to them, she heard the most creative thinking about how to address climate change, environmental treaties, and energy policies in the poorest countries.

The Hungarian student treasured those discussions in her courses on international environmental law, international climate change, and trade and sustainable development. Her fellow students, she says, always surprised her.

“While our nationality necessarily influenced what we said, coming from a developed or developing country didn’t predetermine anyone’s opinion,” she says. “It was always a very open discussion, more like sharing experiences and insight into the background of a policy decision in a country.” Many classmates “voiced critical assessments of their own countries,” she adds.

In Hungary, Ms. Radics says, the conversation would have been very different. “The debate would be much more one-sided and less nuanced,” she explains. “There are issues, opinions, and experiences that would be lost or not heard if there weren’t people who represented them in the classroom.”

These types of discussions in the Law School are helping define the entire GW experience. The university is putting in place a new strategic plan, “Vision 2021: A Strategic Plan for the Third Century of the George Washington University,” which mirrors some of Ms. Radics’ experiences. According to the new strategic plan, the world is becoming a place where “ideas, people, and capital circulate more extensively than ever before. Problems afflicting one part of the world will inevitably affect other parts of the world.”

GW Law has been a center of global issues and perspectives for years and has “helped set the agenda for the strategic plan,” says Donna Scarboro, associate provost for international programs. “The Law School has to be commended for its leadership in focusing on long-range international commitments, not those that last for a week, a month, or a year.”

In many ways, this outward viewpoint is not new. GW offered a course in international law in the late 19th century. The subject was taught by Justice John Harlan, Justice David Brewer, and John Brown Scott. In the 20th century, GW Law became a leader in educating students from the United States and abroad to respond to a world where issues and problems jump borders and time zones, and lawyers work across multiple legal jurisdictions. The school itself is geographically located near organizations with global influence, just blocks from the U.S. Department of State, the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization of American States, not to mention scores of foreign embassies.

“International law has gone from being a separate field of law, a boutique corner of the law school curriculum, to being an aspect of every field of law,” says Ralph Steinhardt, the Arthur Selwyn Miller Research Professor of Law. Professor Steinhardt is the co-director of the Oxford-GW Program in International Human Rights and has been at GW since 1986. “No course in contemporary law can fully ignore international standards and practices. Anyone who thinks American law stops at the border today is doing a potential disservice to students and clients alike.”

With that in mind, the school has built a faculty of world-renowned scholars and practitioners in disciplines that range from human rights and immigration to international trade and Chinese law. Faculty members include leading international lawyer Thomas Buergenthal, a former member of the International Court of Justice and former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Dinah Shelton, the past chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Sean Murphy, a member of the U.N. International Law Commission; and members of the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law, including Professors Buergenthal, Shelton, Murphy, Steve Charnovitz, and Michael Matheson.

Most law professors have had extensive careers in the international arena outside of GW. For example, John Andrew Spanogle Jr., the William Wallace Kirkpatrick Research Professor of Law, has helped Poland, Eritrea, and Trinidad and Tobago write commercial financing and consumer laws. He co-authored one of the most extensively read casebooks in its field, International Business Transactions. Karen Brown, the Donald Phillip Rothschild Research Professor of Law, knows the ins and outs of international taxation.

Law students work with professors on international projects located in foreign countries, and study in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, and at Oxford University in England. In turn, law students from more than 45 countries attend GW; the largest numbers come from China, South Korea, India, Japan, Brazil, and several European countries. “These students add immensely to the intellectual life of the Law School,” says Susan Karamanian, associate dean for international and comparative legal studies.

That is precisely the point Ms. Radics, the student from Hungary, makes about her GW peers. “The topics we discuss include cross-cutting issues,” she says. For example, “while we consider climate change an environmental law problem, it raises human rights and public international law issues. Rising sea levels will affect the status of certain islands—they might cease to be an island. So we discussed the same issue from several approaches. Since many of the professors teaching courses are leading professionals who teach in addition to their full-time jobs, we get the benefit of both worlds: practice and theory.”

In practical terms, the Law School offers more than 50 courses in international and comparative law. JD students are encouraged to get a firm grounding in core U.S. laws and not to specialize. But “a student who intends to work in corporate matters should probably be well-versed in the law of the European Union and the law of China, international business and international trade, international banking, and foreign direct investment,” Associate Dean Karamanian says. “A student who intends to work for a government or international organization should have a solid grounding in public international law, U.S. foreign relations law, human rights law, and the law of international organizations.”

Students could eventually represent clients not based in the United States, where the law to resolve a client’s problem is not U.S. law, she adds. “In fact, our own graduates are likely to be practicing outside of the United States.  And if a matter goes before a tribunal for resolution, there is a good chance that the body will be situated in a foreign country.”  

Mark de Barros, JD ’12, came to GW to be a human rights lawyer. He studied with professors such as Dinah Shelton, the first woman appointed by the United States to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Michael Matheson, who helped establish the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the U.N. Compensation Commission for the Gulf War.

Mr. de Barros was an editor for the journal International Law in Domestic Courts and spent a summer studying human rights at the Oxford-GW Human Rights Program.

But he says his most influential experiences came while he was a student attorney with the International Human Rights Clinic, run by Professor of Clinical Law Arturo Carrillo. Mr. de Barros, who is American and Brazilian, was part of the legal team that represented Colombian journalist Richard Vélez. The journalist was abused by the Colombian government, as well as its armed forces, and forced into exile.

“Working on the case and the brief, and having contact with the victim and his family, put everything in context of real life and brought to life the work I was doing on the weekend, at the clinic, or at home,” Mr. de Barros says. “Working with Professor Carrillo taught me how to be a lawyer.”

The case ended in the journalist’s favor in 2012. After years of litigation, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Colombia was directly responsible for persecuting and threatening Mr. Vélez and his wife, Sara Román. The court ordered Colombia to pay $250,000 in damages.

“The International Human Rights (IHR) Clinic offers students a chance to practice law in an international setting, and exposes them to the dynamics of legal advocacy in a globalized environment,” says Professor Carrillo. In 2004 he founded the IHR Clinic, which takes domestic and international cases pro bono. Before entering academia, Professor Carrillo served as a legal adviser in the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Observer Mission to El Salvador. “The IHR Clinic is a natural complement to GW’s nationally ranked international law program.”

Mr. de Barros assisted in another high-profile case after his second year of law school: working on the Muammar Gaddafi Arrest Warrants case while a law clerk in the chambers of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. The clerkship spanned April to October, which meant Mr. de Barros had to take final exams early at the end of his second year and miss significant class time in his third year.

“No student had really made this kind of request before—to leave early and return really late, but Dean DeVigne worked with me to make it happen,” Mr. de Barros says. “It was an unforgettable experience.” After receiving his law degree, he worked for Human Rights Watch on another prominent case against the former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré. He is now a professor of law and Fulbright Scholar at Panthéon-Assas law school in Paris.

Time spent on actual law cases is formative, says Alberto Benítez, professor of clinical law and director of the Immigration Clinic. Each semester Immigration Clinic students do the hands-on, real-world work of a lawyer, from the mundane tasks of filling out paperwork to the more heady experience of representing clients in court. Students learn courts do not stop for clients who don’t show up or for briefs filed late.

“I am a classroom professor,” Professor Benítez says. “Students sit down; I talk; they ask questions. Then everyone goes his or her own way. In the Immigration Clinic we represent real people with real problems. Clients are not from the United States; they probably don’t speak English.”

In his last year of law school, Cleveland Fairchild, JD ’13, won asylum for a man who was a client at the Immigration Clinic. Mr. Fairchild argued before the Arlington Asylum Office that his client was continually harassed and threatened in his home country in Africa for speaking out against the government. He said the man would never find a moment of peace there. The court agreed.

“I really wanted to experience the ins and outs of immigration—how to file a motion, how to keep an organized file, how to return calls,” Mr. Fairchild says. “The clinic gave me all those skills. Now I have a job lined up as a presidential management fellow with the U.S. Department of Labor.”

GW Law professors continually create opportunities for students to put theory into practice. For example, the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 elected Professor Sean Murphy to the International Law Commission (ILC), which meets during the summer in Geneva. Last fall he advertised for research assistants, and 20 students applied. This summer two GW students—Anthony Kuhn, JD/MA ’15, and Josh Doherty, JD/MA ’14—were hired to assist him, while two others—Casey Rubinoff, JD ’14, and Marija Dordeska, LLM, ’13—were placed by Professor Murphy with ILC members from Colombia and Slovenia.

The commission’s mandate is to codify and progressively develop international law. Professor Murphy, who is the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at GW, has argued cases before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and represented the U.S. government before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. This summer he is proposing that the commission draft a multilateral treaty on crimes against humanity.

“I want students to know that one person can make a difference,” he says. “It’s easy to feel like you are in this huge world and there isn’t anything that one person can do to affect it all. As a lawyer on a commission such as this, one or two people can carry the day. You can change the world.”

In her corner in Africa, Sarah Adwoa Safo, LLM ’05, is trying to alter how government and industry do business in Ghana. She was the youngest Ghanaian admitted to the bar in 2004. She founded her own law firm in 2009 and now is a member of parliament and a ranking member of the foreign affairs committee.

She says she learned to challenge the norm in part from her GW peers in the classroom. “I was surprised by the candid presentations and discussion, especially from the U.S. students,” she says. “Where I come from, it was traditionally wrong to dispute an assertion by an elderly person. But, with the U.S students, they were bold in putting forward diverse and in some cases contrary ideas to that of their professors.”

At GW, she specialized in government procurement, which helped her earn “a job as the first legal officer of the Public Procurement Authority of Ghana, which had just been established in 2006,” she says. “I own my own law firm that specializes in government procurement and offers legal support to government agencies and private contractors. In my capacity as a senator or legislator of the Parliament of Ghana, my knowledge in procurement has a bearing on governance and the fight by government against corruption.”

Daniel I. Gordon, associate dean for government procurement law studies, teaches how good practices with government contracts can make or break a company, domestic or international. One bribery or breech of privacy scandal can end a firm’s ability to win government contracts.

“Governance issues are very hot right now,” he says, what with domestic and foreign bribery scandals as well as ongoing questions about contractors and their behavior. If the U.S. awards about $500 billion in contracts, “how are those half a trillion dollars of tax dollars going to be spent?”

He believes government procurement is the “intersection of law, public policy, and business.” He worked for 17 years in the Office of General Counsel for the Government Accountability Office. He currently collaborates with a wide range of participants, from U.S. government agencies to industry groups, and with institutions around the world, including the World Trade Organization, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, and the World Bank Group.

For his recent seminar on procurement comparative law, one student compared how the United States and Tanzania handle bidders’ complaints. Another wrote a paper, a version of which is now being published, comparing anti-bribery legislation with comparable laws in the U.S.

His students find work in government and the private sector. “The job market is tough, even in the world of government contracts,” Associate Dean Gordon says. “But procurement lawyers get jobs with the military services and civilian agencies, as well as with law firms. GAO just hires government procurement lawyers. They have to have them; the work is not disappearing.”

If a good business climate needs good practices, it also thrives from competition and antitrust laws, says William E. Kovacic, director of GW’s Competition Law Center. He and his students are researching and tracking which countries have antitrust laws and how those laws work. They’ve stored their findings in a database accessible to the world.

“A good competition policy system can generate tremendous improvement in economic performance in a country,” says Professor Kovacic, who was recently appointed a non-executive director of the Competition and Markets Authority Board in the United Kingdom. “More hospitals, better roads, better airports, and better infrastructure boost the economic well-being.”

When he graduated from law school in 1978, fewer than 15 countries had antitrust laws. “Today the number is over 120,” he says. And he predicts 10 more countries will have laws on the books by the end of the decade.

Professor Kovacic asks each of his students to give him a résumé at the beginning of the semester. Every time he is amazed by how many have either studied or worked overseas. At least half of his students have a good command of a language other than English, he says. One of his students, who had spent a year translating for doctors in the Andes mountains, spoke such good Spanish that Professor Kovacic invited him to attend a seminar on competition law in Mexico this past spring.

Learning is often two ways. “One example that stands out for me is a Fulbright scholar from China,” he says. “I was his sponsor and adviser at the Law School. We met for a one-hour, one-on-one conversation. It was a tutorial for me about how the system worked in China. He knows so much about actual practice and told me things that do not appear in print.”

Adding to the depth of expertise in international antitrust, public international law, foreign relations law, and contracts, Professor Edward Swaine keeps a foot in the State Department. He worked there as a counselor of international law before coming to GW in 2005. Now he is on the Advisory Committee on Public International Law at the State Department. He writes widely about these areas for many law journals and consults on treaty law, antitrust, intellectual property, and international litigation and arbitration.

Every year Donald Clarke, the David Weaver Research Professor of Law, has seen enrollment in his Chinese law classes grow with students from the U.S. and overseas. While many have solid backgrounds in the language and the region, he says, “they are surprised by the thing that is most different about the Chinese legal system. It is very deliberately designed not to be independent of political forces. Students then jump to the conclusion, therefore, that the law doesn’t matter. One has to know more than the written law.”

Energy is perhaps the most rapidly evolving industry in the country, according to Lee Paddock, associate dean of environmental law studies. The Law School recognized this and more than five years ago began to expand its energy law program.

“The number of students interested in energy law at GW has grown significantly over the past few years, and we are in a great position to provide them with a full range of classroom and practice opportunities,” he says. “We like to say that we work at the intersection of environment and energy. Every energy source has its environmental impacts. We want to graduate students interested in energy law who understand the environmental impacts of energy and environmental lawyers who understand the energy field.”

Associate Dean Paddock wants his students to have a good understanding of energy issues both in the United States and in other countries. Toward that goal, he has forged a relationship with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Fundação Getulio Vargas, a university in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These relationships have allowed students from all three universities to compare how their countries address energy issues such as emissions trading, carbon capture and storage, deep-water drilling, and regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

One aspect of the law that is truly not bound by borders is intellectual property. “Every pharmaceutical company, Google, and chip company has global strategies,” says John Whealan, associate dean for intellectual property law studies. “Money flows, and intellectual property flows. If you are a patent lawyer, you need to know something about international patent law as well. Most technology companies manufacture and sell their products throughout the world. As a result, they need global IP protection.”

For a world view of intellectual property, the Law School linked up with distinguished German institutions, such as the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law, to establish the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center a decade ago. Munich is known as the center for European IP law, and one of the premier centers for European science and technology, Associate Dean Whealan says.

Associate Dean Susan Karamanian is ever watchful of these legal trends, hiring adjunct faculty members when needed to fill a niche of growing interest. A case in point: Islamic finance. She helped recruit Ayman Khaleq, LLM ’94, who is a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Dubai. A few times a semester, he flies in from the Middle East to teach the course. “The growth of the faculty over the past decade or so has been the result of a focused effort to identify trends and areas of need and recruit the most highly qualified individuals,” Associate Dean Karamanian says.

That attention to hiring just the right professors with the depth of international expertise and admitting students from around the world shows up in the multidimensional and vibrant discussions generated in the Law School’s classrooms.

One of the most popular classrooms is the comparative constitutional law class taught by Professor David Fontana. The class is based on the discussion of constitutional issues from a comparative perspective, exploring U.S. constitutional law and the constitutional laws of other countries. The class examined abortion, for instance, and how Roe v. Wade compared with a German decision on abortion. And when a new constitutional issue crops up, as it did with gay marriage this past spring, the students turned their attention to the constitutional law of marriage around the world.

“One of the best and worst things about a legal education is how constraining it is,” Professor Fontana says. “What I try to do in my class is to enable students to think outside of the box within those constraints, to think differently, to think creatively. This is about solving problems that come up in the law. The class also allows law students both domestic and foreign to dissect and discuss fundamental constitutional issues that arise in many countries around the world.”

by Laura Hambleton