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May 31, 2012

Ask an Alum: Patrick Costello

May 2012

How did you get involved with ABA ROLI (formerly ABA CEELI)?

My colleague Neil Franklin was a legal specialist on several ABA ROLI programs, and he and another Idaho lawyer, Jack McMahon, got me interested. I thought the work they were doing sounded fascinating, and that I would really enjoy it.

In what countries did you serve, and what was the focus of your work there?

So far I have served in Jordan (2008) and in Kosovo (2010)—both legal education reform programs. For my work in Jordan, I helped the University of Jordan Law Faculty develop a professional responsibility course; while in Kosovo I helped the University of Prishtina Law Faculty modernize and expand their clinical program.

What was most memorable about that time?

It is difficult to pick just one moment, but I spent a memorable day in Mitrovica and in North Mitrovica with an Albanian Kosovar attorney and a Serbian Kosovar attorney. There, I saw vestiges of the war, and heard first-hand about friends and relatives that both attorneys had lost. They shared stories about attending law school clandestinely in professors’ homes during the period Milosevic had closed the University of Prishtina, and life in general during Serbian rule. No less powerful was meeting Palestinian refugees I met in Jordan, and hearing about their lives in the West Bank, Gaza and in Jordanian refugee camps.

Has your career changed as a result of your service?

Before I worked for ABA ROLI, I was a law professor, and I continue to teach. When I retire in 2013, I hope to spend more of my time on international development projects, including longer-term ABA ROLI assignments.

What do you find most challenging about your work today?

Supervising law students representing impoverished clients is a joy, but having to reject so many worthy would-be clients can be hard. In most cases, people who come to us for legal services do not have anywhere else to go for representation, so when we have to turn them away I often feel lousy about it.

What have you learned from your service?

Probably the most important thing I gained was a greater appreciation for the U.S. legal system, with all its imperfections. I also was proud to see the good work being done by members of our profession abroad.

It is also helpful to provide a broader perspective on legal education and the rule of law as they exist in other places—it enriches my teaching. Further, the colleagues I have met from other cultures through ABA ROLI are a wonderful resource for my teaching and clinical work.

Why is this type of work critical for improving the rule of law globally?

I think the value we place on the rule of law in U.S. society is one of our best qualities—and sharing that with people who may have based their impressions of Americans on less appealing aspects of our culture garners much goodwill. By building bridges to judges, lawyers, law professors and law students in other societies, ABA ROLI is changing what people think is possible and giving them hope that legal systems can be fair and accessible. It seems like a very effective way to leverage resources to improve lives.