Skip to main content

Behind The Columns

by john h. garvey, dean

Dean John GarveyEmbracing a Global View

Curricular changes reflect the growing influence of international issues on legal thinking and practice.

There is a scene in the film Nurse Betty where Renee Zellweger, en route from Kansas to California to hook up with soap opera star Dr. David Ravell, stops at at bar in a forlorn Arizona town and strikes up a conversation with the waitress about her travels. The waitress relates how she too had always wanted to see the world, and tells of how she finally fulfilled her heart's desire by going to Europe. "Europe? The Europe?" responds Nurse Betty. Until not very long ago, that was the perspective we took at the Law School on matters international. From 1929 until the 1960s, our curriculum included only one course in international law. In 1980, we offered five such courses.

The world has changed alot since then. We now have sixteen courses that you would recognize as "international" by their names (European Union Law, International Trade Seminar, etc.). However, international law also spills into the ordinary things lawyers do. There are international aspects to tax, trade, intellectual property, human rights, labor law, environmental law, family law, and so on. James Rogers, who teaches Commercial Law, is helping draft a Hague convention choice of law for securities-holding through intermediaries. Zygmunt Plater, author of an environmental law casebook, has asked colleague David Wirth to join him on the next edition to deal with international issues. Larry Cunningham, who left Cardozo Law School this year to join our faculty, has written about issues of comparative corporate governance. Paul McDaniel, who has rejoined our faculty, is leaving his position as Director of the International Tax Program at New York University. Visitor Raymond Friel, the dean of the law school at the University of Limerick, will teach torts to our first-year students next year.

As you might expect, our more cosmopolitan curriculum calls for more polyglot teachers. About half of our faculty read, write, or speak a second language - including such European staples as French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, Russia; and more exotic ones such as Mandarin Chinese, Amharic, Hebrew, Afrikaans, Haitian Creole, and Latin. This year, Hugh Ault is working for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris; Charles Baron is visiting at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy;' Daniel Barnett is visiting at the University of Avignon in France; and Thomas Kohler took part in the annual Labor Policy Roundtable at the University of Frankfurt in Germany.

Our students are reaping the benefits of this expansion of knowledge at home. At the same time, we have expanded their opportunities to work and study abroad. The London Program, now in its thirteenth year, allows ten students to study at King's College and work in carefully supervised job placements every spring. In recent years, we have also offered some of our students the opportunity to study at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro, the University of Amsterdam, the Universite de Paris X, and Trinity College in Dublin. This spring, we gathered the reins for these many programs and activities in one place, when I appointed Professor Wirth the Law School's first Director of International Programs. In part, this action merely recognizes a contribution David has made since joining the faculty in 1999. But the growth in our international activities has been so explosive we needed a structure in place to anticipate rather than react to change.

I expect many of our alumni have seen comparable changes in the nature of their legal practice. The growth in international law is not the result of changes in academic fashion. It mirrors the world outside. Consider this simple example. After my second year in law school, I worked as a summer associate for Coudert Frees in Paris. I wrote my parents letters on lightweight blue stationery that folded into the shape of an envelope (with Par Avion preprinted on the outside), could be mailed for under a dollar and took about a week to reach its destination. Today I would email them at essentially no cost or call them on my cell phone from a part bench. These revolutionary improvements in communications technology, coupled with changes in transportation and politics, have made it incredibly easy to trade goods, services, and ideas across borders.

Not all international relations follow this amicable pattern, of course. In the aftermath of September 11, we have watched events in Afghanistan and Pakistan closely. We have taken an active interest in conflict in Israel, Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba, and the French and Dutch elections. Issues of international human rights grab our attention -- above all, I think, because we are more closely connected to the people involved. The world may be a smaller place than it used to be, but for members of the legal community, that means more, not less, work to do.