Issue Date: Feb 6, 2006
It’s a law program that accommodates future moguls dreaming of a career in global business transactions along with idealists who want to save the world – or at least pockets of it – from violence, poverty, environmental ruin and injustice.
The Global Legal Studies (GLS) program at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark offers courses on Islamic jurisprudence and protection of human rights, as well as international tax law. Founded in 2003 by its current co-directors, professors Saul Mendlovitz and Claire Moore Dickerson, the program strives for a blend of public- and private-focused scholarship and clinical training.
“This is truly a big tent,” said Dickerson, professor of law and Arthur L. Dickson Scholar. “If someone comes in and is interested only in becoming the best darned international private commercial lawyer they can be, that’s completely within this big tent. What’s different is that we recognize and stress the importance of social responsibility in the international arena.”
It’s a combination that sets Rutgers’ program apart, said Mendlovitz, Dag Hammarskjold Professor of Peace and World Order Studies Emeritus. “I call it ‘enriched eclecticism.’ ”
Dickerson and Mendlovitz developed the program three years ago to take advantage of a strong field of Rutgers-Newark law faculty members who were interested in international issues. A $20,000 2003-04 Academic Excellence Award provided seed money.
The 15 faculty members now affiliated with GLS teach courses that cover such topics as international environmental law, immigration law, international business transactions and legal controls on weapons of mass destruction. The program organizes workshops and conferences on international law topics and works closely with the Rutgers Division of Global Affairs so that students can take advantage of each other’s offerings. (The Division of Global Affairs, formerly the Center for Global Change and Governance, administers master’s and doctoral programs in global affairs.) Faculty members serve on boards or consult with the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and nongovernmental organizations. Many have backgrounds in international litigation and commercial transactions.
Karima Bennoune, associate professor of law, recently spent two weeks in Afghanistan observing human rights organizations there in her position as a board member of Amnesty International. Mark Weiner, an associate professor who recently won a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association, researches legal and cultural issues in Germany and Argentina. Associate Professor Sabrina Safrin, formerly a State Department legal adviser, received the 2005 Francis Deak Prize from the American Society of International Law for her research into how scientific advances challenge the international legal system. A clinical professor, Penny Venetis, won a landmark federal ruling in 2004 that helps protect detained political asylum seekers from abuse.
The program’s co-directors mirror the wide-ranging interests of the faculty. Mendlovitz is a founding member of Global Action to Prevent War, a coalition of organizations and activists from around the world that is working on a decades-long project to make armed conflict rare and brief. Before coming to Rutgers, Dickerson was a partner in the international law firm Coudert Brothers, specializing in international commercial transactions, and is studying business laws in West and Central Africa.
In an increasingly interconnected world, Rutgers-Newark’s GLS program has become a lure for prospective law students, said Fran Bouchoux, associate dean for admissions and career services. When Bouchoux is on recruiting trips at forums and campuses across the country, international law is the area most asked about, she said.
“This is a generation of young people who have grown up on the concept of a global economy and a global society, so international law is a natural focus for them,” Bouchoux said. An equal number express interest in the international private sector as in Peace Corps-type work and international human rights, she said.
Trina Sen, a second-year law student who earned her undergraduate degree in three years from the University of Chicago, hopes for a public-interest career at a non-governmental organization or the U.N. “GLS was key in my deciding to come here,” she said. Sen is vice president of the Rutgers International Law Society, which works with GLS to organize lectures and workshops for students.
Janet Lee is another second-year law student with an interest in social justice. Lee, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Juilliard and a master of divinity from Yale, worked with refugee resettlement programs in New York City and Washington, D.C., and then worked in refugee camps in Tanzania for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When Lee decided she needed to know more about international law, she enrolled at Rutgers-Newark. Last summer, she interned with the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which is training Cambodian officials and defense attorneys to apply national and international laws for the upcoming trial of surviving leaders of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
Although Lee doesn’t see herself working for a large commercial firm, she has taken a variety of business courses. “It’s really important to know about business and economics in human rights work,” she said. Both Lee and Sen said they would welcome even more course offerings of all kinds.
Rutgers administrators say the growth of GLS is inevitable. As law joins other fields with an increasingly global outlook, and the New Jersey economy – especially the pharmaceuticals and telecommunications sectors – becomes more dependent on foreign trade, GLS must keep up, said Stuart Deutsch, dean of the School of Law-Newark.
“Many people coming to law school understand that there are huge opportunities in international law,” he said. “It’s really going to be an important part of a law practice in the 21st century.”
Bennoune arrived at Rutgers a year before GLS was founded and hopes it will continue to grow. “We’re starting to get students coming to school specifically because of GLS, and we need to fulfill our commitment to them,” she said.
Dickerson would like to develop an endowment to support specific research projects and more regular and frequent workshops and conferences. Mendlovitz wants to see more collaboration with other academic departments.
The program is working with Global Action to Prevent War on an especially ambitious project: getting the U.N. to establish a rapid-response “emergency peace” force that will prevent atrocities such as those in Rwanda and Sudan. It will enter a country with thousands of troops to halt the conflict, staying long enough to give the international community a chance to intervene, he said.
“It will take another eight to 10 years, but it’s coming,” Mendlovitz said.
Rutgers School of Law-Camden offers several important international initiatives, including scholarly conferences and awards for international human rights champions, although it does not have a formal international law program, said Dean Rayman L. Solomon.
The Camden law school presents the William J. Brennan Jr. Human Rights Award. In 2004, it was presented to Martin C.M. Lee, the founding chair of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong and a vocal proponent of democracy in his country.
The law school has a close relationship with the South African Constitutional Court through a judicial exchange program. This academic year, two law clerks from South Africa’s highest court are clerking for the
U.S. Federal District Court of New Jersey in Camden while taking law classes at Rutgers-Camden. Meanwhile, two recent Rutgers-Camden law graduates are in Johannesburg to clerk for South Africa’s counterpart to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last fall, the law school hosted a scholarly conference observing the 25th anniversary of a major human rights decision that allowed the family of a Paraguayan torture victim to sue their son’s torturer for damages in the U.S. courts. The plaintiff in the case was among the speakers at the two-day conference.
The School of Law-Camden also has a longstanding faculty and student exchange program with the University of Graz in Austria.
This article was published in the Feb 6, 2006 edition of the Rutgers Focus and is available online at http://urwebsrv.rutgers.edu/focus/article/link/1747/