How strategic partnerships help improve global learning in law schools by Aaron Ghirardelli, LLM and JSD Faculty Director, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
We live in a globalized world. Companies, even the small ones, have business partners from all over the world: a U.S. seller may have buyers in Italy, a U.S. manufacturing company may purchase widgets from a supplier in China. In addition, single individuals have relationships with other individuals or companies from other countries: a traveler may reserve a room at a hotel in Spain, a U.S. based book collector may purchase the international edition of the last volume of Harry Potter from a bookstore in Japan. Even more, cybersecurity and data privacy issues highlight the challenges of a globalized market: companies providing online services may collect information from users living in other countries, and this might subject them to data privacy and data collection rules in force on those foreign countries.
A globalized world requires lawyers to get ready to assist clients in transnational matters, whether this is a litigation case for a breach of contract, a personal injury case for an event happened during a trip in Italy, or whether this is a business transaction (e.g. a purchase of equity in a corporation) between parties from different countries. For them, the biggest challenge is to suddenly realize that the rules they have learnt in law schools are only a small portion of the rules that apply to transnational matters. This does not mean, of course, that a lawyer needs to be fluent in all legal systems, but it means that a lawyer must develop fundamental comparative legal analysis skills that will allow her/him to promptly understand when a transnational matter presents itself and that will guide her/him in researching on that matter and properly assist the client.
A globalized world also requires law schools to change curricula, improving global learning by making sure that students are exposed to different legal systems and cultures.
Strategic partnerships play a fundamental role in helping law school achieve the above goals. This post suggests ways to improve current partnerships and create new partnerships so that they can become important tools in the toolbox of law schools interested in preparing their students for a globalized world.
The Problem With Traditional International Partnerships
Law schools, as many other institutions in other areas, traditionally enter into partnership agreements with other institutions in different countries. This is usually done by signing a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) that briefly illustrates the principles regulating the partnership. This type of MOU usually sets some generic goals, such as the increase in the collaboration between institutions, the importance of cultural exchange, etc. Schools tend to think that the more MOUs they have, the more internationalized their campus is. This assumption is often misplaced. An MOU is per se insufficient to improve global learning and internationalization of campuses. In order to properly function as a tool increasing global learning, partnerships must be nurtured by continuous contacts with the partner institution. In addition, partnerships must be enriched by the creation of programs that fully execute the core intent of the MOUs. Quality of partnerships is definitely more important than quantity.
What follows are some examples of ways to improve partnerships for this specific scope.
Use Currently Existing Programs and Expand Their Effects
Many law schools usually include student exchange programs in their international partnership agreements. These programs allow students of country A to visit the institution in country B for one semester, enroll in courses, and transfer credits from these courses to the institution in country A. These programs are an interesting starting point in increasing global learning, but they usually fail on two sides: (i) first, it is very common to have a one-direction flow of students, usually from foreign countries to the U.S., while the opposite is difficult to implement due to a lack of interest of U.S. JD students in spending one semester abroad as exchange students; (ii) second, given that the majority of student exchange programs are tuition neutral, the hosting school is not incentivized to provide learning opportunities to foreign students more than a basic set of options.
One way to fix this is to take advantage of existing international programs, such as an LLM program, and create hybrid programs with the foreign partner institution. One idea could be to create an LLM program where students spend one semester on campus in country A and a second semester on campus in country B. The outcome would be a dual LLM degree from both the institutions, the one in country A and the one in country B. Proper tuition sharing agreements between the institutions might help create the incentive for schools to focus resources and staff on the programs and the services provided to students. Obtaining a master of laws degree from different countries could be sufficient to incentivize a bi-directional flow of students.
Increase Faculty Engagement
In order to develop global learning, law schools should not focus on students only, but should focus also on faculty members and create opportunities for them to be exposed to different cultures, teaching methods, and legal systems. Strategic partnerships become an important way to do so. Here are some of the programs and initiatives that MOUs may include in order to help schools achieve this goal.
Joint Research Projects
One fairly easy way to increase global learning through partnership agreements and exposure for faculty members to different legal systems is to incentivize joint research projects between professors from different institutions. This can be done by hosting conferences on campus, offering calls for papers, and inviting foreign faculty from partner institutions to submit their works, present their papers at workshops, etc.
This level of interaction between faculty from country A and country B is sufficient to generate basic exposure to different legal systems and culture, thus advancing the final goal of a partnership agreement.
Visiting Scholar Program
MOUs might include opportunities for faculty from foreign partner institutions to come and visit campuses of U.S. institution for one semester, with the goal of pursuing research interests and network with colleagues and alumni. This helps both foreign and domestic faculty in increasing their exposure to different legal systems, teaching methods, etc.
This type of program also allows visiting scholars to develop a deep bond with the hosting institution.
Visiting Scholars might also take this opportunity to develop joint research projects and audit courses to experience new law teaching methods from colleagues from a different institution.
Establishing New Programs
Leveraging current programs, as explained before, is definitely one option to use partnerships to increase global learning. Another option is to create brand new programs that fully take advantage of these partnerships. For example, schools may create courses taught by one professor on a campus and stream the classes live to the campus of the partner institution.
Schools may even attempt the creation of more complex courses/programs, such as one where students from two campuses are enrolled at the same time in the same course, taught for one half of a semester on one campus by that campus’ faculty, and for the other half of the semester on the other campus by that campus’ faculty, with students traveling abroad for half of a semester.
The sky is the limit and the nature of the partnership and the level of participation of the partner institution might be crucial in designing these new programs.
Expanding The Type of Partners
Another option that law schools should consider is to expand the type of traditional partners. As said before, traditional partnerships are usually entered into with foreign institutions in the same field. This is fine, but there are many other institutions and organizations that would be more than happy to establish partnerships with U.S. law schools and that would definitely enrich the international culture on campus and help the law school increase its global learning efforts.
For example, international bar associations might become important partners. These associations include lawyers from all over the world interested in expanding their legal knowledge and network over to other countries. These associations are the perfect partners that could help a law school expose its students to global practitioners by way of inviting them on campus for workshops, expanding international internship opportunities for students, and creating a communication channel between current lawyers and future lawyers.
It is time for law schools to fully understand the importance of training lawyers for a globalized market. Future lawyers can’t focus exclusively on the domestic market and domestic client. They need to expand their knowledge to foreign legal systems and be ready to assist clients in transnational matters. This is important not only to allow future lawyers to be more competitive in the market, but also to make sure that future lawyers comply with fundamental ethical rules related to competence and preparedness. International partnerships, with foreign institutions and new players in the market, can become fundamental assets in the hands of law schools’ administrators and faculty and can help to properly increase global learning opportunities for students. In order to do so, partnerships must be properly structured and nurtured to create a deep connection between institutions and, as a consequence, between faculty and students.