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Inside the 3L Year: Q&A on Access to Justice in the Middle East

In this Q&A, Professor Speedy Rice discusses the Access to Justice practicum and the class trip to Israel and Palestine that occurred in late November. 3L Hannah Shtein, who compiled the Q&A, will report next on the students’ experience on the trip.

Q: Tell us a little about the Access to Justice practicum–what’s the purpose behind it, how is the course structured, and what do you hope students walk away with when the class is complete?

Rice: The Access to Justice Practicum is designed to allow students to experience work in post-conflict/conflict developing countries. Students with a career goal in international human rights, development work and/or foreign diplomacy get an introduction to the law and the situational complexity of legal work in less than ideal conditions. The key structure and an essential component is our partnering with a local law faculty and students for a semester long educational experience by videoconferencing, followed by travel to and actual work with local law students in the partner country.

This year we are partnering with Law Faculties in Hebron, Ramallah and Jenin in the West Bank of Palestine and with Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The videoconferencing this semester gives us the ability for a depth of subject study with both schools and the students in Hebron Law School and at W&L Law to meet on line and exchange their different views on common legal issues. The actual visits create the hands on experiences essential to understanding how to solve problems in an international setting.

Our goal is for students to walk away with a better understanding of the course subject matter, the practical issues of implementing law in post conflict/conflict areas, to be better prepared for the legal issues of a globalized world with its kaleidoscope of cultures, legal systems, languages and capacities.

Q: What sort of work will the students be doing on the West Bank trip this semester?

Rice: Each semester there is a variation in the work as legal, political, social and economic issues are all factors that influence our joint projects. This semester there was an initial goal of joint community legal workshops and trainings but circumstances in Palestine have made that impractical this semester. We adapted to joint programs on comparative legal demonstrations regarding the common law legal system in the US and the civil law system in Palestine. At each university, W&L students will do a 90 minute US trial demonstration and the Palestinian students will do a 90 Palestinian trial demonstration before the student body, faculty and community legal leaders, followed by an open colloquium on the different trial systems. W&L students will also spend a day at the Palestinian Juvenile Detention Center working with the institutional managers and the youth detainees on social projects to improve conditions for the kids detained at the Center.

We will also visit with criminal defense clinic law students at Hebrew University and do a joint video discussion with them and W&L law students in the criminal defense clinic at W&L. Finally, since a core belief in our program is law and history are intertwined, the two week trip has some additional time to explore the history of the area and its current legal/political complications.

Q: Where have you done the practicum trip in the past, and what are your plans for it for the coming years? (not just for location, but generally–where would you like to see the course go)

Rice: Our Practicum recently concluded 7 years partnering with the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, in Monrovia, Liberia. The recent outbreak of Ebola in that region caused a number of serious disruptions (martial law, closed schools) and an unacceptable health risk to W&L students. This led to the program in Palestine and Israel. We need to focus for a couple of years on successful development of this new location but in the future we hope to develop programs in both Ukraine and Myanmar.

Accompanying our Access to Justice program, we currently offer students a Tribunals Practicum, where students provide direct legal assistance to lawyer in the defense function of the International Criminal Court and the Military Tribunal in Guantanamo. The European Court of Human Rights Practicum, partnered with Union Law School in Belgrade, Serbia (offered in the Spring Semester), and the Anti-Corruption and Good Governance Practicum in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (offered in the Fall Semester).