Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Letter from Cali Colombia

Dear Colleagues:

Greetings from Colombia where Sue and I just spent four intense, edifying and poignant days at Javeriana the Jesuit university in the city of Cali, a sprawling metropolis of 2.5 million which, to the novice observers, mirrors the complexity of the country itself. I have no illusion of understanding the politics or economy of this country which, by the admission of its own people, is mired in corruption and autocratic rule. My take-away from our time in Cali is simply this: Jesuit education can be an inspiring means to connect the heart and mind and the classroom and the community; and, Javeriana’s mission and work, much like our own work at the law school, can be a powerful tool for the common good.

We came to Cali to discuss possible connections between Javeriana and USF. Our visit followed a visit by the Father President and Provost of Javeriana to USF two months ago. The specifics of that relationship are complicated by dangers that pervade the country (witness our visit to the Provost’s beautiful home where armed guards and tight security ring the compound), language barriers, lack of financial resources, and the questionable availability of faculty given our engagement in so many places around the world. That said, it would be difficult to find a more affirming venue for the value of our mission and the importance of our students’ engagement in the community. There are many stories to tell, but one image is particularly impressive: the seamless connection at Javeriana between the classroom, the scholarly research of its talented faculty and the plight of displaced persons, victims of family violence, and young orphaned children who live in the poorest of conditions in Cali’s Agua Blanca.

I heard about Javeriana’s ambitious clinical programs on our first day here during discussions held at their modern law school housed in one of the many red brick buildings that dot the campus on the southern edge of the city, creating an inspired sense of architectural unity amidst beautiful landscaping (each building is named after a tree that grandly grows at its entrance). All fourth and fifth year law students are required to take the clinic. (In Colombia, legal education is a five year undergraduate program.) However, it was not until we visited the clinic itself and one of the many community organizations with which it works, Paz y Bien in the Agua Blanca, that the centrality of student and faculty engagement became so clear.

The clinic (the Consultorio Juridico y Centro de Conciliation) is in the center of the city adjacent to one of the few remaining colonial buildings in Cali, the Hall of Justice. There, three or four full time faculty work with law students, handling a caseload that exceeds two hundred. The focus of the work often involves conciliation, mediation and arbitration on criminal, labor, housing and commercial matters, among others. The professors and students who hosted us described the more than thirty NGOs with whom they work to ameliorate every conceivable social ill ranging from transparency in government (Cali Visible) to the protection of fundamental human rights (Atencion Inmediata).

Paz y Bien Foundation is one of those NGOs. Its driving force is Sister Alba Stella Barreto Caro who has created a network of programs to empower women, care for orphaned children, provide micro loans to foster financial independence, provide mediation to stem violence, and educate citizens about their legal rights. Paz y Bien operates over multiple blocks in the Agua Blanca where one can visit nine homes that provide care for 500 children, nurseries, a community kitchen, a store that sells used clothing and other items to provide basic necessities, the micro loan ‘bank’, and a meeting place for displaced persons – those victimized by the left and the right and driven from their homes under threats of death. (On Peace Thursdays groups of displaced persons meet to share stories in facilitated support groups.)

Javeriana clinic students support the effort. So do Javeriana faculty in multiple disciplines whose research is frequently dedicated to support the work of Paz y Bien as well as other NGOs. Two professors, Alejandro (law) and Yvonne (psychology), were our guides during our three hour visit. They described student and faculty work tutoring and providing psychological and occupational counseling, holding workshops to educate residents about how to make claims to enforce their rights, and engaging in empirical scholarship to support mediation in the criminal justice system. The list could go on and on.

The most compelling moments during our visit on a rainy morning (punctuated by a 5.6 earth quake that fortunately was buried deep in the earth with an epicenter 25 kilometers from the Agua Blanca – you can take Jeff and Sue out of San Francisco, but …) came from the people themselves. 16 year old Alberto, whose sweet face and beautiful black dreadlocks belie the horrors of his story, described his journey from the violent streets to Paz y Bien. Alberto joined us in our discussions with Paz y Bien staff and, despite his own travails, expressed shock when I described USF’s work to eliminate the sentence of life without possibility of parole for juveniles – proclaimed Alberto in disbelief that such a penalty existed in the United States: “That would be the end of childhood.”

At the displaced persons house a block from Paz y Bien’s main facility, we met with Camilo, Barbara, Edema and Emma who took turns describing the violence that uprooted them from their self-sufficient lives and homes, terrorized they said by the government, the paramilitary and the guerrillas. Relating her story, Barbara, who travels from house to house nightly with her children to find shelter (Paz y Bien does not have the resources to provide housing for all those in need) intoned: “It takes a lot of work to live.” Camilo, in his serape and broad brimmed hat insisted on standing as he described going “from one hell to another” when he was forced from his land by threat of death. Estimates are that there are as many as four million Camilos, Barbaras, Edemas and Emmas in Colombia.

Despite the hardship, a sense of joy and hope pervades Paz y Bien. It was evident in the passion of Fannie who overseas the legal programs, and on the smiling faces of more than one hundred children eagerly anticipating a holiday puppet show and Christmas gifts in a large recreation room in one of the many buildings in the neighborhood devoted to providing social services.

The ultimate shape of any relationship with Javeriana is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the connection between classroom and community is deeply ingrained in the psyche of its students, staff and faculty. It was heartening to realize that the mission articulated on Javeriana’s web site mirrors precisely our own. It was heartening to be able to exchange stories with our hosts about USF’s efforts to make our mission reality and to hear the President and Provost explain how impressed they were with our sense of purpose during their recent visit. At the same time, it was challenging to contemplate how we can continue to achieve our ambitious aspirations.

That’s the report from Colombia. I look forward to seeing everyone after the New Year. Have a joyous holiday season.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Symposium: In a Down Legal Market, Law Schools Must Change Too

On Thursday September 17th, the University of San Francisco School of Law held a timely and informative symposium focused on navigating the changing legal employment landscape in the wake of the economy's collapse last September. Law students, lawyers, headhunters and media assembled, some seeking jobs, some looking to hire and all curious about what the new landscape means for the practice of law.

The symposium's timeliness and importance was evidenced by a packed house and riveting panels focused on the big firm environment, solo and small firm practice, alternative legal careers and future models for legal careers. The San Francisco Business Journal captured its flavor. http://sanfrancisco.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2009/09/debating_the_future_of_young_legal_eagles.html

But a funny thing happened on the way to the symposium: if the focus was legal employment post-graduation, which it surely was, another question kept presenting itself. What does all of this mean for legal education and for students before they graduate? And the answer is apparent: plenty!

Panelist after panelist raised questions and described emerging practices that must impact the way we legal educators conceive our work. For me, the 'aha!' moment came during a panel on future careers that touched on new law firm models emerging from the ashes of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of venerable and respected law firms such as San Francisco's Heller Ehrman. Panelists made it clear that the focus is shifting to hiring senior, experienced attorneys and that the traditional training grounds for lawyers -- the firm environment -- were fast disappearing.

The reason for this trend pierces the heart of the crisis, exposing the unsustainable way legal employment is currently structured: a partner/associate structure that depends on long hours for associates billed at very high (astronomical?) rates and a distancing of the partner from doing much of the actual work that the client expected the partner to perform. Associates were leaving firms in large numbers, unhappy with the environment, and clients, particularly in these economic times, have revolted. The upshot: emerging new models in which experienced lawyers are being hired at much reduced rates, often on a project-basis, to perform work directly for the client. Participants at the symposium, such as Paragon Legal and Virtual Law Partners (VLP), using such models reported big successes and booming business.

In the wake of this, the young lawyer and the new graduate will find a job market with more limited options along with training opportunities that may be hard to come by, reported many on the panels. It was time, Andrea Chavez, founder of VLP, for young lawyers to "adjust their expectations".

But it's not just the young lawyers that have to adjust. Law schools must too. Where will training be provided? Where will the basic skills be learned? Law schools must step up and enhance even more the skills training that we know must be a part of modern legal education, including the ability ferret out unethical conduct and to act professionally.

It is not enough for law schools to claim that "we do this already". Indeed, we do it now, but not enough. Just ask the Carnegie Foundation whose latest report on legal education recommends more skills and professionalism training. Just ask the AALS whose recent report on best practices in legal education paralleled much of the Carnegie recommendations. Both reports were published well before the crash, but the crash emphasizes the critical need to follow through on curricular reforms that will make skills and ethical training more front and center than ever.

The crash also highlights the need for law schools to do something that may be even more difficult -- maintain the spirit and passions of our students as they face the bleakest job market in decades. Our students are bright and motivated. They want to do the right thing. How else would one explain USF Law students engaging the community by the hundreds, serving meals and working with children and prison inmates? How else would one explain USF law students going around the world, around the nation and all over California this summer working in nine developing countries, in five southern states and here in San Francisco on projects ranging from war crimes to law reform to the fight against the death penalty to issues affecting migrant workers. These spirited students demand our commitment to create opportunities to feed their insatiable appetite to do good.

So as we look at the financial crisis, legal educators must not only focus on what is happening in the legal job market, we must also focus on what we're doing right at home in our law schools. We owe it to our students and to the profession. Indeed, a funny thing happened on the way to the symposium!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

USF LAW SYMPOSIUM -- HOW TO NAVIGATE THE CHANGING LEGAL LANDSCAPE -- KICKS OFF


The symposium on changes in the law post- economic collapse has kicked off. I offered introductory remarks that explain our hopes for the gathering. We're also on Twitter detailing some of what is going at this tremendously useful colloquium. The place is packed which is gratifying and also a statement about how complicated the times.

Introductory Remarks

MY NAME IS JEFFREY BRAND AND I AM THE DEAN OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL OF LAW. WE ARE HONORED TO PRESENT TODAY’S SEMINAR: “HOW TO NAVIGATE THE CHANGING LEGAL LANDSCAPE FROM THE GROUND”.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS GATHERING CANNOT BE OVERSTATED: A YEAR AGO ALMOST TO THE DAY, THE COUNTRY SUFFERED ITS BIGGEST ECONOMIC COLLAPSE SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION – A COLLAPSE THAT AFFECTED THE ENTIRE COUNTRY AND DRAMATICALLY CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AS WE KNOW IT. VENERABLE, RESPECTED FIRMS DISAPPEARED IN DAYS. OFFERS OF EMPLOYMENT WERE DEFERRED OR SIMPLY WITHDRAWN. THE PUBLIC SECTOR (WHAT WAS LEFT OF IT AT THE TIME THE CRISIS) FROZE JOBS AND ENGAGED IN LAYOFFS. LAW STUDENT CHATTER FOCUSED ON OPPORTUNITIES LOST AND DEBT INCURRED. LAW SCHOOLS REVISED BUDGETS AND CONSIDERED THE IMPACT OF THE CRISIS.

NO INSTITUTION, AND NONE OF US HERE, CAN CLAIM IMMUNITY FROM THE DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS. EVEN TODAY, AS THE MARKET REBOUNDS, THE CRISIS REMAINS, AND THE ULTIMATE IMPACT ON THE PRACTICE OF LAW REMAINS UNCERTAIN.

TODAY’S SYMPOSIUM IS AN EFFORT TO SURVEY THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE POST-LEHMAN BROTHERS. WE ENGAGE TODAY NOT SOLELY OUT OF HISTORICAL INTEREST – ALTHOUGH CERTAINLY IT IS OF INTEREST. THIS SYMPOSIUM IS ABOUT PRACTICAL WAYS TO NAVIGATE THESE UNCHARTED WATERS WHETHER IN BUSINESS LAW PRACTICE, SOLO PRACTICE, SMALL FIRMS, ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATHS OR IMAGING LEGAL CAREERS OF THE FUTURE. TODAY 15 OF THE TOP LEGAL PROFESSIONALS IN CALIFORNIA GATHER TO DISCUSS THESE TOPICS IN THE CONTEXT OF THESE MOMENTOUS EVENTS. TIME IS SHORT SO MY REMARKS WILL BE TOO.

FIRST HEARTFELT THANK YOUS:

· TO OUR USF COMMUNITY:

o THE OFFICES OF DEVELOPMENT AND CAREER PLANNING AND A SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO GO-TO, DO-IT-ALL ANITA AYERS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OFFICE.

o OUR BOARD OF GOVERNORS, ONE OF THE LAW SCHOOL’S GREATEST ASSETS THAT CREATES AN ALUMNI SUPPORT NETWORK WITHOUT EQUAL. THEY “GOT IT” AND DID EXTRAORDINARY WORK AND EXHIBITED GREAT SPIRIT CONCEIVING THIS DAY AND UNDERSTANDING ITS IMPORTANCE FOR THE LEGAL COMMUNITY AND OUR STUDENTS. I WOULD BE REMISS TO NOT SINGLE OUT ALUMS AND BOARD MEMBERS STACEY MILLER, TOM TROMBADORE AND OUR PROFESSOR HENRY BROWN WHO TOOK THE LABORING OARS.

· THANK YOU TO OUR LEAD SPONSOR WHOSE SUPPORT MAKES THIS DAY POSSIBLE. FOR THOSE OF US AT USF IT IS NO SURPRISE THAT IT IS STACEY MILLER WHO FOUNDED MILLER, SABINO AND LEE INC. LEGAL PLACEMENT SERVICES WHO DEAL DAILY WITH THE FALLOUT FROM THE CRISIS.

· THANK YOU OF COURSE TO OUR PANELISTS.

· AND THANK YOU TO THE MEDIA WHO ARE HERE TODAY. THE MESSAGE MUST BE SENT THAT LAWYERS AND LEGAL EDUCATORS RECOGNIZE THAT BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE; THAT THE CRISIS, AS PAINFUL AS IT IS, HAS US THINKING AMBOUT MORE THAN MAINTAINING – WE KNOW WE MUST LEARN FROM IT AND SEEK TO RETILL THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE IN WAYS THAT BETTER SERVE THE LEGAL COMMUNITY AND THOSE WE ARE SWORN TO SERVE.

AND, PERHAPS, IT IS THIS LAST POINT THAT BEARS THE MOST EMPHASIS. SURELY ECONOMIC POLICIES OF THE PAST ADMINISTRATION AND GREED ON WALL STREET CONTRIBUTED MIGHTILY TO THE NIGHTMARISH MOMENTS OF THIS PAST YEAR AND THE SUFFERING OF THE NEARLY 13% UNEMPUNEMPLOYED IN THIS STATE. BUT WITHIN OUR OWN PROFESSION, WE ALSO BEAR RESPONSIBILITY AS FIRMS OVER EXPANDED AND CREATED ECONOMIC STRUCTURES THAT ULTIMATELY WERE UNSUSTAINABLE -- WHILE, AT THE SAME TIME, THE PUBLIC SECTOR WAS DECIMATED, DENYING LEGAL SERVICES TO THOSE WHO DESPERATELY NEED ACCESS TO JUSTICE.

SO MY HOPE IS THAT AS THE DAY PROGRESSES, WE WILL THINK NOT ONLY ABOUT THE BEST PATHS FOR OURSELVES AND OUR LOVED ONES – A PURSUIT OF THE HIGHEST ORDER – BUT THAT WE WILL ALSO CONSIDER OUR PROFESSION AND THE LESSONS WE HAVE LEARNED.

YOUR PRESENCE AND PARTICIPATION IN THIS SYMPOSIUM, AND THE INCREDIBLE SUPPORT OF OUR STUDENTS BY OUR BOARD OF GOVERNORS IN PRESENTING THIS SEMINAR TODAY, GIVES ME HOPE THAT THE LEGAL PROFESSION, THOUGH BUFFETED BY THE CROSSWINDS OF A STRUGGLING ECONOMY AND FACING AN UNKNOWABLE FUTURE, WILL EMERGE MORE EXCITING, DIVERSE AND IN TUNE WITH THE LIVES OF THOSE OF US WHO CHOOSE TO PRACTICE AND TO PURSUE JUSTICE INTO THE FUTURE.

WELCOME TO THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO. IN THE SPIRIT OF OUR MISSION OF EDUCATING MINDS AND HEARTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD, I WISH US WELL ON OUR VOYAGE TODAY. WE ALL HAVE A LOT RIDING ON ITS SUCCESS.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Economic Crisis Doesn't Dampen USF Law Student Spirits

It's been too long since my last post. School is back in session (Orientation was last week and class for all USF law students got underway this week), and I'm back at it. It turns out that I don't have to go Cambodia and Vietnam to be inspired by our students.

The economic crisis continues despite emerging signs of a slow recovery, and the impact on law students across the country is undeniable. The law job market is suffering terribly (as today's article in the New York Times makes all too evident -- B1, August 25, 2009) and financial stress on students from even moderately rising tuition remains a critically pressing problem. And that backdrop brings me to my thought today.
Students may be under economic stress, but it has not dampened their spirits to do good works and to demonstrate that they intend to make a difference in the world. Two prime examples from USF could not make me more proud: one occurring last May and the other just last Saturday.

Exhibit 1: The 2009 graduating class raised over $100,000 to fund a scholarship for future generations of law students at USF. 100% of the graduating class participated. Talk about keeping their eye on the prize.

Exhibit 2: Last Saturday nearly 125 students from this year's entering class, along with faculty and staff, fanned out all over San Francisco to engage the community, serving meals to the homeless at St. Anthony's Kitchen and at Glide Memorial Church (where the Reverend Cecil Williams holds forth), packing food at the San Francisco Food Bank, and doing environmental work (OK, it was mainly weeding) at Crissy Field. The effort is part of the law school's Law-in-Motion Program that creates volunteer opportunities throughout the school year. Student photos below along with a photo of faculty member Professor Tristin Green who joined the students at Glide.




We talk a lot at the University of San Francisco about Educating Minds and Hearts to Change the World. It's wonderful to have a receptive audience of students who understand that the privilege of studying law carries with it the responsibility to consider ways to interact with marginalized folks to promote a more humane and just world. The response of this year's entering class reminded me of how much students want to do just that and how we, as legal educators, must provide opportunities to quench that thirst.

No question the economic crisis continues to reverberate through legal education and the legal profession, but if the response of our students at USF is any indication, the students' will to see it through and to realize their dreams as lawyers is as strong as ever.
Please also follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/deanbrand

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blogging Post Script: Blog, Blog, Blog or Blah, Blah, Blah?

Now in Hong Kong and heading home. Two weeks of inspiration (seeing my Cambodian friends who have done so well), frustration (mainly with network connections and technology failing to meet unrealistic expectations and levels of patience), surprises (the intensity of engagement in Hanoi with all sectors), pride (the thoughtfulness and maturity of USF law students in Cambodia and Vietnam), coincidences (being in Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and hustling myself sardine-like on the subway with my Twittering, photo-snapping phone to the middle of a candle light demonstration of 150,000 people in Victoria Park), joys (the Central and Russian Markets in Phnom Penh and sipping a gin and tonic at an outdoor bar cooled by a warm evening breeze), amazement (at progress made tempered by hurdles yet to be hurdled), and humility (why is it that we think we know so much when we know so little?)

And through it all I’ve tried to engage through new technologies, blogging and Twittering as best I can from wherever I could. I come away from the experience mixed. These are great (and still developing) tools to communicate and deliver messages about the work we do and the aspirations we have. The technologies create a real (indeed almost surreally real) sense of connectedness to community. They also provide a historical record and reality that is not likely to evaporate into the ether after coming home. And best case, the technology helps you think things through in ways you might not have had you not been putting fingers to keyboard. Diaries and travelogues on steroids, I suppose.

But all that said, it takes time and patience (some times too much of each). And, blog, blog, blog can too easily become blah, blah, blah. Twittering can too easily devolve to nonsensical syllables in a frantic effort to avoid the 140 character limit set by some now-retired twenty five year old who came up with the idea in the first place.

It distracts. I cannot count the number of people at Tiananmen Square, including myself, who were pecking away on phones or hammering out words on laptop keyboards while perched on fences, sitting at fountains or sandwiched between people right in the middle of the demonstration. If the point of travel is to experience, imagine, fantasize, pay attention, relax, and see the world through the eyes of others, then the tweeting and the blogging and the emailing and the texting may not be helping. Right now, I’m in a beautiful lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel with so many interesting people discussing this and that, but I’m staring at my laptop screen. At this particular moment, I might as well be at the French Hotel on Shattuck (oy!)

And this: the access of everyone in the world to our self-styled musings should give us all pause and make one wonder about the line between what’s private and what’s not. For example, I had intended this last blog piece to focus on my love of cities like Phnom Penh and Hanoi, in some ways more than the Paris’ and Londons of the world. That was until I started to think about the answer which involved sometimes sophomoric thoughts about a ‘simpler’ life, experiencing the unknown and unknowable, and other thoughts that I’d prefer not to share with myself let alone the world. (See also: when blog, blog, blog becomes blah, blah, blah.)

All that said, I would and will do again. It’s too much fun imagining who might be reading whatever and who might be having an imaginary coffee or drink with you as digital bytes fly around the world. Thanks for listening. To be continued.

Some "Engaging" Thoughts

Short vignettes. That’s what these blogs really should be. There is no way to capture every minute or experience. Who would want to? Have keyboards replace imaginations?

I’m thinking about this while I spend three whirlwind days in Hanoi after an overnight stop in Ho Chi Minh City (the site of my last blog entry at the powerful War Remnants museum). And here are two vignettes from Hanoi: One is about why I think we engage the world and the role that a law school like USF can play. The other is about the charm and warmth of cities like Phnom Penh and Hanoi that make them so compelling to me in ways that a Paris and London will never be. My trip is winding down. (I’m in Hong Kong today Thursday for meetings with the Hong Kong City University Law School to continue discussions about student exchanges.) I’ll end with these two vignettes today and tomorrow (when I come home) which explain a lot about why these trips are so important to me.

On Tuesday, I had plenty of experiences to help me understand why engagement is so important and what the law school’s role should be in developing countries. Through a series of serendipitous events I spent virtually the entire day lecturing, discussing, talking, engaging, challenging, being challenged, and working with four very different institutions in Hanoi: the Ho Chi Minh Academy which is the educational arm of the Communist Party; the Vietnam Diplomatic Academy, a new, prestigious law school in Hanoi focusing on degrees in international law; the Ministry of Labor with whom I’ve worked in the past and who invited me back; and, a group called the Young Lawyers of Vietnam, a loose association of recent law graduates, some of whom got their LL.M.s at USF, who are intent on discussing, planning for, and dreaming about the future of Vietnam and the role they can play. It turns out that coincidentally, I spent the day with the past, the present and the future of Vietnam. A few sentences and images about each:

You know you are at a party-affiliated institution the minute that you approach the Ho Chi Minh Academy housed in its French-style, open-courtyard building. How could you not know: there is a statue of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese flags to greet you. Once inside, a statuette of Ho sits approvingly in the table-clothed conference room where a sign announces the seminar we are about to begin on Administrative Tribunals in the U.S. and Vietnam. We begin at 8 AM. Present are my good American hosts who have arranged this visit, the Vietnamese lawyers with whom they work, and 50 or so members of the HCM Academy, male and female, seated around the table and in rows of seats along side it. For three hours we talk and talk as the circumscribed topic quickly morphs into ruminations about Guantanamo and abuse of power, about the brilliance of our system if it is working the way it is supposed to, and about why some Vietnamese around the table are concerned about the consequences of some U.S. governmental structures. We talk and talk. I find myself proud of what America can offer and respectful of Vietnam’s efforts to find its own way (certainly different than ours). They too are respectful of our ways in their polite, incisive and smart questions. We applaud each other as the session ends.

In the humid heat (it’s 90 degrees plus), I’ve shed my black sports coat, but my tie remains despite the fact that the Vietnamese men are tie-less in their shirt sleeves which is as much a uniform as the Western coat and tie. We head in a van to the Vietnam Diplomatic Academy. There we meet three women, two Professors and the Dean, each no more than forty and each educated in the West (Tuft’s Fletcher School for two of them). They run this impressive institution which offers international law degrees. I’m the Dean so they want to know about fund raising and sustaining their institution, but more critically they want to create partnerships and programs with us – an idea which intrigues me and which I hope will come to pass in ways similar to the relationships we have had with the Hanoi Law University and the Ho Chi Minh City University Law School. Pictures taken, conversation ended, we head to our next stop – the Ministry of Labor.

In 1998, USF (I and others) did a week long training of labor law judges. So I have visited the Ministry many times before and I am gratified that some remember me and the training. Now we sit around yet another conference table as a small group of lawyers, labor inspectors, directors of training and the like listen as I present an overview of American labor law and relate my own experiences as an Administrative Law Judge hearing disputes between growers and farm workers. They listen and ask question after question – good questions that reflect a sophisticated understanding of what I’ve been saying and an acute interest in improving their own labor processes. Again the photos and the handshakes mingled with a couple of hugs with folks I met more than a decade ago and with whom we now begin to plan future work.

Finally, an evening lecture and dinner with the Young Lawyers of Vietnam who meet informally, but regularly to network and to discuss issues facing them and the future of Vietnam. This is a very different setting. We are jammed into a small conference room. The formality of microphones and translators and table clothes has given way to my standing at the end of a table dodging cables and my own computer that is displaying a primitive power point on the screen behind me, a Diet Coke can holding the cable in place to make sure the image is clear. The topic tonight is legal education and lawyering in the U.S. and Vietnam in the midst of the economic crisis. Again, rapt attention, good questions, challenging retorts as we talk about the role that lawyers may have played in causing the crisis and the role that skilled, ethical courageous lawyering can play in making the future better for everyone.

And from these four experiences, I sense again what I already know – it is critical that the law school engage as we are trying to do. The thoughts are repetitive, complementary, obvious, and surely not original. But there they are, vivid in my head all day long. Here are my Top Five:

1. Engagement breaks down stereotypes: Yes, the HCM Academy is an arm of the CP in Vietnam. But that does not mean that these are not smart folks questioning the way they do things and wanting to make things better. In that sense, they are no different than we are.

2. We learn by engaging: At the HCM Academy I learn how much I admire our system (a fact I sometimes resist as the horrors of an Abhu Graib or Guantanamo unfold). And I learn from the Vietnamese perspective as they fairly critique our system, asking difficult questions about the separation of powers and the possibility of gridlock and as they reflect on judicial precedent in the context of perpetuating bad caselaw as well as good caselaw. The Vietnamese also learn. They learn about our system to better understand their own. The long session proves the obvious: The more you learn about others, the more you understand yourself.

3. We all have common hopes and dreams: As I lecture and speak a theme keeps recurring to these very different audiences. Our systems are very different, I tell them, but I also emphasize that I believe that we all have the same goals: a fair way to administer vast regulatory states (I say at the HCM Academy), a great way to educate students (I say at the Vietnam Diplomatic Academy), justice for workers (I say at the Ministry of Labor), and a desire to lead professional lives that are ethical, useful and balanced to promote our individual well-being and the common good (I tell the Young Lawyers of Vietnam). And this brings into sharp relief another proposition that is almost too obvious to state: if you stay focused on the positives and common dreams you can discuss almost anything as my sessions with the party members, the Dean and professors, the labor inspectors and the young lawyers demonstrate – hard questions emerge in all settings, but the discussion flows energetically and productively because no one is trying to proselytize or judge. Each session ends with all applauding at once – presenters and audience – an act of sincere mutual appreciation.

4. We have no choice: What is clear to me in all of these settings (as my phone sits next to me and I photograph and Twitter and connect instantly) is that engagement is not optional. We are all in this world together in ways we could never have imagined even 15 years ago.

5. Engagement is fun, exciting, adventurous, unknown, and sometimes risky.

We all pick our spots. Serendipity often writes the script. Engagement means different things to different people: a local school or institution? Work on a death penalty case? Work in Guatemala in a small town in need of medical care (as my remarkable young nephew does)? Work in Cambodia or Vietnam? We engage because of the excitement of working with others and the sense that we can make things a little better. We engage perhaps because of naive optimism that somehow we can make a difference. We engage as much for ourselves as for others.

I’ll admit that there are many moments on these trips when I wonder what I’m doing and why I’m in some random place. Tuesday’s lessons learned in Hanoi help me answer those questions. For me, they are lessons that I need to remember

To be continued!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Visit to the War Remnants Museum – Remnants of the War

Fifteen years ago I visited what was then called the American War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Its name has been changed to the War Remnants Museum, reflecting improving relations between the United States and Vietnam, and the building has been expanded, but the feelings of overwhelm and sadness remain the same.

The Vietnam War defined my generation and it continues to reverberate in our psyches and in our country. Inside this non-descript three story structure filled with photos and posters and artwork and accessed through a courtyard where captured U.S. tanks and helicopters and fighter planes sit as uneasy reminders of a war that took the lives of too many Vietnamese and Americans, all of the emotions and memories come flooding back: The Vietnamese resisting a foreign army yet again, images of napalm burning the flesh of a child running naked in the middle of the road, American soldiers with little choice, struggling to protect themselves and fighting a misguided war of three Presidents – Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon (and Democratic and Republican Congresses alike) and dieing on the battle field as the local news brought us daily body counts of ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’. There is Walter Cronkite first in a helicopter wearing a helmet and then coming out against the war. There is Johnson resigning. There are Kissinger and Nixon whose secret plans to end the war bring escalation and Christmas bombings. There is Madame Nhu and Diem and Westmoreland and General Giap and Ho Chi Minh and Tonkin Gulf and Senators-in-opposition Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse. There are the Oakland 7 and the Chicago 7 and troop trains and Canada and flagged draped coffins and draft boards and deferments. There it all is, in your head, as you walk though exhibits depicting destruction in Vietnam, opposition around the world, and art work spawned by war.

On this visit, all I can think about is the death on both sides. American and Vietnamese lives needlessly extinguished. So much has happened since: Vietnam is rebuilt, most of its people were not alive during the war, relations with the Americans have been ‘normalized’, but the war is still there. It will always be there and the War Remnants Museum it turns out is aptly named – the remnants remain.

Cambodia and Vietnam: Forty Minutes by Air and Worlds Apart

It is impossible to overstate the difference between Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodia to the Western eye moves slowly and painfully. At dinner the other night Virak Seng, the Director of the Cambodian Legal Education Center which USF proudly started, talked about economic progress, but also commented that we are “still at square one”. Indeed. There may be cranes and construction, but the feel of Cambodia is very much the same as it was fifteen years ago. Even the issues remain the same as the constant struggle to deal with the Khmer Rouge past continues to haunt the country.

Vietnam is only a forty minute flight away, but it is worlds apart. This is a huge powerful nation (population 85 million compared to Cambodia’s 13 million), poised, for better or worse, to enter the WTO with signs of an emerging wealth everywhere: huge high rise construction on the Saigon River and chain hotels (the Hyatt, the Marriott and all the rest), a new international airport, and auto showrooms that feature BMWs. This may only be a surface wealth masking Vietnam’s problems of poverty, repression of human rights and the struggles of its ethnic minorities, but the truth is that the minute you emerge from Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City and head to the hotel, the fate of the Japanese, the French and the Americans in Viet Nam is completely understandable. This is a very beautiful, tough, proud, and capable country.

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Dinner with Visal, Neam, Virak, Chuon, Pheap, Thannah, Kim Sean, Sokry, Kumnith, Sipahn, and Saray (Not a Movie)

This is way too a long a story to tell on a blog. After all, people have lives to lead rather than blogs to read. So here are a few punch lines:

  • 15 years ago USF began bringing Khmer law students to Cambodia whose legal education was interrupted by the KR horror or whose legal education began in refugee camps on the Thai border around 1989. 20 or more students have come to USF.


  • Today, virtually all of them are involved in important positions in Cambodia, seeking to rebuild a shattered, maimed country that despite apparent economic progress visible from the back of a motto, continues to suffer the ills of too little education, too few institutional resources (particularly the judiciary), too much corruption and too little money flowing to the right places (perspective: Alex Rogriguez signed a 5 year contract with the Texas Rangers for 262 million dollars. That same year, the entire GNP of Cambodia was 300 million dollars).


  • Last night we all gathered around a table outside in a Cambodian restaurant run by an NGO under trees pushed by a warm wind, toasting each other over bottles of red wine and Tiger beer (stick with the beer, trust me.)


As we sat around the table and my Cambodian friends thanked us for bringing them together, I could not help but think how gracious and giving they are. The truth is that they have given us at USF the gift of the privilege of peeking into their culture and tragic past. We are the ones that owe thanks.



I also could not help but think about the implications of this scene for legal education and our goals: We are all so focused on our work in the United States and the 'quality' of our students and our 'reputation' -- no doubt we should be. But as we go about our work, we must not lose sight of the good we can do by simply opening our doors, our minds, and our hearts to others with different perspectives, different goals and different ways of life. As I looked at our Cambodian friends, all now lawyers, all doing good work, I kept thinking: who would have ever guessed. Initially, we worried about their English skills, could they handle the work, could they do this or that...the reality is that in many ways they can handle almost anything -- including tragic losses at the hands of the KR -- they just need our resources and the ability to do what they think necessary for their country; not what we think important.



But I digress. Let me go around the table and introduce you:





  1. This is Klawk Chuon, his son, now a law student, is here also. Chuon is the oldest of the students and has been working at the Ministry of Commerce for 15 years. He got his certificate from USF and his law degree in PP at a law school we helped established. We call him Mr. Choun out of light-hearted respect. He hugs me when we see each other.


  2. To Chuon's left is Koy Neam who now works for the Asia foundation after a recent stint with the United Nations Development Program. Neam's education began on the Thai border. Of all of the student/lawyers, he is the "Dean", respected for his knowledge and intelligence (not traits that necessarily go with all Deans.) Neam once described to me and Sue how he was marched out of PP in April 1975, people being shot and tossed in the Ton Le Sap. Neam also asks me to get the IRS off his back. Yes, somehow during his time in the United States they claim he owes them 2,000 dollars. The world is collapsing and our government is going after Neam for 2000 dollars. I tell Neam that I will set the agent straight or at least have fun trying to set him straight.


  3. At the head of the table on my left, is Suon Visal, who is now Secretary General of the Bar. We discuss the number of lawyers in Cambodia, the need for them, and the struggles of those fighting the good fight as corrupt interests constantly try to fire and even imprison them. Visal knows first hand. When with the Cambodia Defender Project, he was almost jailed. The fact he is now Secretary General of the Bar is remarkable. The country now has 626 lawyers, he reports to me. Not enough.


  4. And on Visal's left is Som Sokry. What a story he is. He now lives in Washington D.C. where he has a position with Radio Free Asia (not under U.S. government censorship control he emphasizes.) He is back in Cambodia hosting a radio talk show and covering the Tribunal on the radio.


  5. And there is Run Saray. Another great story. Finally his deteriorating teeth have been fixed (dental care in Cambodia is not a growth industry) and on Monday he begins a new job as Director of Legal Aid of Cambodia. 50 some lawyers all over the country involved in cases ranging from family rights to land rights to criminal defense. He too bemoans the lack of legal infrastructure and the corruption in the Courts. He is concerned about the responsibility of his new job, but excited by the opportunity. I tell him that I wish I could be on his staff.


  6. Next to Saray is Roth Kumnith, the only one at the table in the private sector, working for more than fifteen years for the Bank of Canada. He talks of Cambodia's not suffering during the economic downturn like other countries ("when you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose"? Dylan, B.). He is so warm and affectionate and generous. The meal is ending and I go to pay the bill. He literally grabs me and says 'no'!. I don't argue.


  7. And there is Tuon Sipahn. You'll love this one. We talk about getting sick in Cambodia. He came to the U.S. in 1995 and got typhoid. Go figure! Today he is at the Council of Ministers in a very important position, negotiating foreign agreements around the globe. He just returned from Korea. Sipahn always intrigued me. Warm, soft, quiet, and posture bowed as you speak with him. Is it my romantic naivite? Is he standing taller tonight?


  8. I'll skip Choun's law student son for now. He has already asked for a scholarship to USF. To be continued on that one. :-)


  9. Pen Pheap is at the end of the table. He was part of the first group that came to the US in 1995, along with Neam, Chuon, Tey Sambo (who is not here tonight) and Mam Thannah, seated next to him. Pheap always looked more Western than the others. The same beautiful dark skin (would someone please explain racism to me -- would you rather have Pheap's complexion or mine? It's not close.). Pheap has been involved in various legal projects since he came to USF -- all focused on the rule of law in Cambodia. I ask him how his beautiful wife and children are.


  10. And there is Thannah. Of all of the students, he initially had difficulties adjusting, but has done so much since getting his certificate at USF and his law degree. He is now in charge of document filings at the Tribunal. No small job!


  11. Coming around the table, the two final folks. Not last or least. There is Seng Virak. He is the director of the Cambodian Legal Education Center. He is not technically a USF alum, but we have adopted him. We set the Center up in 1996 and, as I've mentioned elsewhere, it is now entirely Khmer and self-sustaining. He has been a remarkable Director, turning the institution from strictly classroom learning to activist lawyering around the country. The great combination of mind and active heart. He too has been targeted and attacked, but he carries on. He needs more lawyers desperately. His demeanor is so professional, compact, well dressed, the small trimmed moustache giving him a serious authority that somehow works. I am grateful to him tonight for taking the leading oar in bringing all of us together.


  12. And finally, the only woman present tonight -- there were others in the program -- is Kim Sean who remarkably informs me that she is a grandmother. Impossible. She too is doing good work with the East West Foundation that manages many Rule of Law Projects in Cambodia. She is I surmise the CFO of the organization which has budgets in the millions. She is smart, tough and beautiful. She also orders all of the food. 10 courses perhaps?


  13. And those not there: Youk Ngoy who runs the law school RULE and who I visited earlier that afternoon and watched the finals of the their Moot Court competition with hundreds of students present. Also missing is Tey Sambo who worked with UNESCO for years, whose husband is in the foreign service in Paris, and who is rumored to be in Seam Reap at the moment. And others are missed too.


It's now 9:30. I'm exhausted and folks need to get home. A final photo and lifting of the glass: To all of us, our health, our future and our dreams!



To be continued.