BY TIFFANY BENJAMIN
Beginning next year, Harvard Law students will have the opportunity to expand their legal education even further beyond Cambridge’s horizons.
As part of a three-year test plan, HLS has launched a legal study abroad program in which students can take one semester to study at a premier legal institution in a foreign country.
“We were thinking about ways to enhance international education at the Law School – for J.D.s here, to enhance the experience of our LL.M.s and S.J.D.s and to enhance faculty expertise in international areas, and one of the ideas that came up was ‘well, how about letting J.D.s study abroad for credit,'” said Gail Hupper, Assistant Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies and a member of the committee in charge of the J.D. study abroad program.
Each academic year, ten students will be allowed to travel abroad, with no more than four students permitted to attend any one institution. Students will permitted to select the country in which they would like to study.
One-L Lee Rowland said she is applying to study in Australia or New Zealand because they are two common law countries that have recently abolished the death penalty. “I’d like to study the policy language used to discuss the death penalty and the developments in law since its abolition. Is abolition an inevitability or is it still an open policy debate? I’d like to see how they talk about it now and if they see it as civil rights or human rights and then bring that knowledge back here and abolish it,” said Rowland.
Students like Rowland have already begun the application process for next year’s program. Last week, students submitted statements of interest to the committee. Within the next few weeks, students will meet individually with the committee, at which point the committee members will decide which students to encourage to continue with the application process.
Once they have been accepted, students will begin the arduous application process. In order to receive approval for their trip abroad, students must develop a plan, selecting their coursework and finding living arrangements for their time abroad. They must also find faculty sponsors both at HLS and at the foreign institution they plan to attend.
“It’s a lot to put together, but the idea is that we want a really coherent plan for when they are overseas,” said Hupper. “Learning a different legal system – that’s the great value of this. Sort of immersing yourself in a different legal culture learning how lawyers from other places think. I think that’s a really exciting thing for people to be doing.”
LL.M. Isabela Frascino said that learning a different legal culture is a valuable experience, but added that there a few difficulties for international students studying in American law schools. “If you go to class, the teacher is supposed to know that there are international students in class. They kind of forget that there are international people there so they say, ‘Oh I think all of you have a notion already of the American constitution that you’ve seen in college.’ They sort of forget that we haven’t had that,” she said.
Frascino also had advice on how to overcome the sometimes overwhelming work of studying foreign law. “Try to feel comfortable in other cultures, value other cultures, try to appreciate the differences, because sometimes they are seen as something negative, but sometimes you have to see it as different and positive. Open up your mind.”
Hupper hopes that the new program will expand the number of students going overseas and the overall exposure to international law at HLS.
“It’s a small step that we are taking now. Lots and lots of other schools in the U.S. have much more structured and ambitious programs in this regard than we do. I think this is the right kind of step for us to be taking now. I think it’s a wonderful step.”