August 31, 2015

Back to School Special: Legal Education as a Key Component of Rule of Law Development


By Elizabeth Andersen
Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative

August 2015

It’s back to school time for those of us in the northern hemisphere. So, as minds turn to the new school year, I would like to highlight how we work to strengthen the rule of law through investments in legal education.

While we feel a great urgency about rule of law reform, we know that such change is often a long-term—even generational—project, and strengthening the education of the next generation of lawyers may be our best strategy. Accordingly, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has long focused on strengthening legal education by supporting regulatory reform relating to law schools, promoting cutting-edge clinical education and other forms of experiential learning, introducing new curricula and teaching resources, and increasing access to legal education. Here are a few highlights of our capacity and current work in these areas:

  • As the organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting body for U.S. law schools, it’s natural for the ABA to support education ministries and law schools in setting and meeting new standards throughout the world. Drawing on ABA and international standards, ABA ROLI’s Legal Education Reform Index is an invaluable tool for assessing a country’s legal education system and mapping the road to reform. ABA ROLI’s 2011 Legal Education Reform Index for Mexico laid the groundwork for what is today a comprehensive program of assistance to Mexico’s law schools. Programs include teaching manuals and training for professors on interactive teaching methods; a national mock-trial competition involving 221 law schools and more than 1,300 students, strengthening skills critical to the country’s on-going transition to an adversarial criminal justice system; and support for nine law school clinics providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants—a rule of law “two-fer” that not only strengthens students’ educational experience but also increases access to justice for underserved populations.

  • Throughout the Middle East and North Africa region, legal education is a critical focus of our work, introducing curricular reform, interactive teaching methodologies and clinical legal education. In Egypt, ABA ROLI has trained law professors from nearly all of the country’s public universities on interactive teaching methodologies and on curriculum development, helping them create interactive and problem-solving exercises to weave into their traditionally lecture-based classes. ABA ROLI is now assisting some of those professors as they lead similar trainings for their colleagues at other universities.

  • In Jordan, ABA ROLI programs have made interactive teaching the norm, institutionalized skill-building student activities and developed cooperation among law schools and local organizations that provide extracurricular training opportunities—including externship—and legal clinic support. In late 2014, universities’ interest in legal clinics culminated in the formation of a Jordanian clinical legal education association.

  • ABA ROLI is supporting the University of Bahrain’s efforts to increase understanding of human rights among students. With our support, in 2013, the university established Bahrain’s first clinical legal education program, which focuses on juvenile justice and children’s law. This year, we are supporting the introduction of a mandatory human rights course for all of the university’s students.

  • Investments in legal education are a natural and important complement to rule of law programs that develop the capacity of other justice sector actors in a variety of substantive areas. Thus, for example, a recent ABA ROLI program aimed at strengthening the capacity of Pakistani human rights lawyers also included support for the University College Lahore (UCL) School of Law and The Institute for Legal Studies (TILS) to improve the quality of education on international human rights law. With our support, UCL has established a student-led human rights journal and organized two national moot-court competitions focused on protections of human rights in national security-related cases. TILS also established an international law and human rights journal and integrated international human rights law into an existing advocacy skills course. Similarly, throughout the Europe and Eurasia region, ABA ROLI programs aimed at supporting criminal procedure reform include a legal education component aimed at building students’ relevant skills and substantive knowledge. In addition to our years-long support of clinical legal education in six Kyrgyzstani universities, this year, we assisted with the establishment of a legal clinic association to standardize the legal clinics’ training. We also helped the association host a client counseling competition. In Tajikistan, we are helping law professors revise course materials and develop new teaching tools, and we held a mock-trial competition for students.

  • Women make up only approximately 15% of law students in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but each year, ABA ROLI makes legal education a reality for aspiring women lawyers there through its Legal Scholarship Fund. Established in 2011 and supported by a number of generous individuals and foundations, the fund has provided scholarships to 30 law students at universities in Goma, Bukavu and Kindu. Scholarship recipients are selected based on both their academic performance and their commitment to fighting for women’s rights and empowerment in the DRC. The program covers tuition, fees and related expenses for the scholarship recipients’ entire legal studies, enabling the young women to devote themselves fully to earning their degrees. In addition, scholarship recipients have the opportunity to gain practical and professional experience by working on human rights issues while completing two internships at local civil society organizations, courts and ABA ROLI’s own legal aid clinics in eastern DRC. To learn more about the Fund or make a contribution, visit http://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/donations.html.

These are but a few examples of dozens of programs and initiatives that ABA ROLI supports to strengthen the next generation of lawyers, our best bet for the rule of law. Please do not hesitate to contact me for additional information or with any questions about this important work.