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International Rule of Law
International Rule of Law Dialogue

What advice would you give someone about getting involved in international rule of law work?

Ambassador George Bruno:
Travel, experience other political and justice systems, learn a second language, study our Constitution and Bill of Rights and make them work.

John Smagula:
In carrying out our Temple University China rule-of-law program work, I have noticed that many of our partners (judges, prosecutors, legislative drafters, and law professors) have a great interest in U.S. practice and procedure. They often can read U.S. laws and cases, but often do not have exposure to practical and procedural implications. Thus, I would recommend those interested in doing rule-of-law work to first gain a solid grounding in U.S. law and procedure, in any area of interest, to develop a larger perspective of how things work. Then, when exposed to other systems, the U.S. lawyer may be able to provide broad-ranging suggestions for those in other countries to consider, critique, and draw lessons from.

Justice Joseph Nadeau:
DO IT. Your professional and personal life will be enriched and you will have a new appreciation for the legal system in the United States.

Bjorn Lange:
Anyone interested in participating in the international rule of law should study the history, culture and language of any countries with which they plan to be involved. They should not assume that by virtue of their American experience and education, they have superior knowledge.

Michael Th. Johnson:
Americans are very good at getting things done.  We are not always very good and understanding why we are doing it.
 
An example of what I mean is the view of many American lawyers that our system is not perfect, but still it is the best system in the world because of all of our rights and procedures designed to balance the interests of the individual with the common values of society as a whole.  Though true in many respects, we nonetheless have difficulty explaining why the overwhelming majority of our cases result in pleas of guilty or why we incarcerate a larger percentage of our citizens than most other countries in the world.  Transferring our system, in whole or in part, to another culture can be very dangerous.
 
Therefore, my first piece of advice is to be a good and competent lawyer for your client.  After all, your ethical responsibilities are just as relevant to your professional conduct in a third-world legal practice as they are in New Hampshire.
 
To do so you must first know your own system well, not just as a practitioner, but also from a philosophical and administrative perspective.  Know not only what we do, but also why we do it.  Know the strengths and weaknesses of our system and how its processes are interdependent.
 
Do not pretend to do in their country what your own country would not let you do here at home.  Do not accept a post or an assignment unless you feel qualified to provide the expertise required.  Humility and competence go a very long way to both success in the mission and your own professional satisfaction. 
 
My second piece of advice is to know the society in which you work.  Assume that they are more knowledgeable than you are because they often are in matters pertaining to reform in their own system.  Learn from them what expectations they have and values they share.  Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Listen to them at all levels of society to find out the way their system really works.  You will be better prepared to find solutions if you do.  They often know well what is wrong but may lack the ability to fix it without your help. Remember that your advice must be knowledgeable and sound.  It will also have long-term impact.  They will feel the consequences of the reforms that you help to implement long after you are gone.  Make certain that you are right.
 
Do not judge the value of their system by its similarities with ours.  The confidence that we have in our government most likely is not reflected in their perceptions of their own government, especially after armed conflict. What works for us does not necessarily work for them.  The question should be, does it provide a fair and just process of conflict resolution that respects the ideal of universal equality in the context of their culture? We all have common interests and shared objectives in the process of providing justice, but justice must be perceived as such by the constituents of the system that administers it.  Like politics, all justice is local.
 
Next, I would encourage you to listen to your colleagues from other donor countries.  We are not the only good and civilized lawyers in the world.  The United States is not the only benevolent government engaged in supporting the rule of law abroad.  You will learn to be a better lawyer by understanding the other successful legal systems, which sometimes have much longer histories than ours.
 
Lastly, I would advise anyone engaged in international development or post-conflict reconstruction work to know when to leave.  It is very comfortable to be a privileged person in someone else’s country.  Remember, however, that the foreign donor money spent on you is not being spent on roads and schools and clean water.   Transfer the skills and knowledge that you bring to them as quickly as possible and let them run their own countries.  It is better that they are grateful that they themselves have achieved a stable government ruled by a rational, democratically determined legal structure than dependant upon you as someone who perpetuates a parallel power structure based upon your status as a foreigner controlling foreign donor support.  You will have succeeded when they do not notice that you have left the country because they are too busy with their obligations to maintain their own peaceful, democratic and free society.
 
Maurice Geiger:
Don't expect to get rich doing this work...Don't expect quick results... Keep your clarity about the ideal of justice.

 Robert Stein:
I would suggest that boning up on one's linguistic skills would be paramount. I would further suggest that one has to immerse themselves in the culture of European of civil law and code countries before understanding the nature of practice.  It is also important to understand that even our common law cousins, the British, the Irish, Scots etc., come from a very distinct view of the law and a distinct view of who becomes either a Barrister, a solicitor or a solicitor advocate.  There is a huge economic underpinning to those who are involved in the process and you really need to know the players, who you cannot tell without a score card.
 
 
Do you have a question or comment on this subject?
Please send to Dan Wise

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