June 28, 2010
Teaching law in Afghanistan and other developing nations, Stanford Law School makes legal education a global goal
By Adam Gorlick
Morgan Galland entered Stanford Law School in 2008 after spending a few years doing environmental preservation work in Laos. The overseas experience helped forge her passion for public service, but it left her with conflicting views about Western involvement in developing countries.
"I saw so many well-intentioned people causing harm instead of doing good," she said. She wasn't sure what kind of project might be the most worthwhile when it came to global development.
Then she learned about the Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP), a program started in 2007 by two Stanford law students who wanted to help train lawyers in the war-torn country. Students involved with the project have since written and published three legal textbooks covering an introduction to Afghanistan law and a more detailed analysis of the country's commercial and criminal laws.
By her second year at Stanford, Galland was writing chapters for a fourth textbook, slated for publication this fall, that focuses on international law from an Afghan perspective.
And this year, she will be ALEP's student leader, coordinating work by nine other students that will likely result in the translation of the English textbooks into Pashto and Dari. She'll also be at the helm as a fifth textbook gets under way, expected to examine constitutional law. All the textbooks are free and available online a decision ALEP made to ensure equal and easy access to Afghan law.
"This project is all about taking students with knowledge of legal education, applying their skills in a place where other people aren't and creating a product that's desperately needed and really appreciated," Galland said. "I was missing an international focus and being able to do something practical. You don't get a lot of that in law school, so this has been a great opportunity."
ALEP has inspired similar projects in the developing countries of Bhutan and Timor-Leste. And depending on funding, student interest and the quality of ideas, more may be on the way.
"What I'd like to see in the long run is a center on the rule of law and legal education," said Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School. "Countries are pouring billions into rule-of-law projects without anyone paying any attention to the fact that there aren't people around to run them. You can build a new court system, but what happens when there are no more lawyers trained to handle the law?"
In Afghanistan, Islamic and tribal laws continue to play strong roles in shaping society. But the country's constitution became the official law of the land when it was approved in 2004. Until ALEP was founded, there were no books to train lawyers on how to apply secular laws and show how they might co-exist with local customs and religious rules.
"The textbooks aren't designed to just give all the right answers," said Erik Jensen, co-director of the Law School's Rule of Law Program and an adviser to the ALEP students. "We raise a number of questions and hypotheticals to teach the reasoning that gets you to the right answer that matters."
The Law School's involvement with Afghanistan's legal system goes beyond textbook publication. Through a partnership with the Kabul-based American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), ALEP is helping build a legal studies curriculum that more than 60 students have completed and another 76 are enrolled in. Next year, AUAF students who complete all the classes will receive a Certificate in Legal Studies.
"These students are the next generation of lawyers and leaders in Afghanistan, and they want to buy into a system that follows the rule of law," said Raaj Narayan, who led ALEP this past year with fellow student Max Rettig. "If they lead their society in that direction, they have a better chance for economic development, peace and security."
But the students realize that teaching the law isn't always enough.
"The success of our project is reliant on so many factors," Rettig said. "We need a lot else to go right. We can look at the students who have taken our courses and used our materials and say we've made a contribution. But if security in the country unravels or corruption is still strong, there's only so much we could do."
In Bhutan, Law School students are lending their expertise in mediation and conflict resolution to help train judges, lawyers and business leaders.
Tucked into the Himalaya Mountains, Bhutan is one of the world's most isolated countries. But its recent and rapid effort to modernize has raised legal questions and challenges for the only 74 lawyers in the country. The Law School's Bhutan Law and Policy Project is working with Bhutanese officials to develop a mediation system that can handle issues arising between landowners and developers in a country where building and construction disputes are snowballing.
"It's such a unique environment," said Chris Wells, one of the student founders of the Bhutan Law and Policy Project, who graduated this month. "They just ratified their constitution in 2008, and they're finding a lot of disputes that need to be resolved quickly in order to keep up with their development plans."
The Law School also started the Timor-Leste Legal Education Project in December, with an aim to provide legal education materials to the Southeast Asian country.
"We're trying to prepare students to operate in a global context," Kramer said. "Any chance to operate outside of the United States and get exposed to wildly disparate cultures and ways of approaching legal problems is valuable. And we're trying to develop a sense of social responsibility. And that doesn't just mean on the domestic front. Now, it's the world."