Raising the Bar: US Legal Education in an International Setting

Article excerpt

Reforming legal education to best accommodate law schools and foreign students' interests is an excellent idea. This article, consequently, will concern itself with the reasons why the US legal education system needs reassessment and the channels by which this process may occur. This reform is particularly important because most foreign law students have been educated in the civil law tradition with methodologies that prioritize memorization of rules while generally excluding policy and ethical considerations from the learning process. In fact, the concept of what is "strictly legal" and, hence, belongs in the law school curriculum, is generally narrower in the civil law tradition than in the common law tradition.

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Foreign Law Students in the United States

There is a rich variety of reasons that attract foreign lawyers to the practice-oriented LL.M. programs in the United States. After studying the motivations of foreign LL.M. students, law professors Carole Silver and Mayer Freed identified the most common reasons offered as the following: an expansion of professional opportunities in the home countries, an interest in a substantive area of law, and a desire to improve English language skills and experience US culture. For those international students who do not wish to remain in the United States upon conclusion of their studies, one of the most crucial considerations is that a US legal education is perceived as a valuable credential back in their home countries.

Needless to say, this perception is not based solely on an evaluation of US legal education. It also clearly includes consideration of the importance and impact of the United States relative to the rest of the world. In this respect, crucial changes are taking place, for example, in terms of trade relations. It would be enough to say that the European Union as a whole, and not the United States, has become South America's most important trading partner and, as an individual country, China has surpassed the United States in its position as the key trading partner of numerous countries within the region. These developments require special attention, considering that foreign students seek professional and personal experiences abroad which will be relevant to their future careers back home. As a result, the increasing relative weight of other countries in international relations will result in more competition in attracting foreign lawyers to LL.M. programs.

Rising Status of Foreign Law Schools

The economic importance of a country is not the only factor to be considered in determining the attractiveness of its educational system; the reforms of other countries also merit consideration. In particular, due to Europe's development and legal culture, it is noteworthy to observe the processes currently taking place there. The Europeans have embarked upon an ambitious process to transform higher education, with the involvement of 46 countries, including 27 EU member countries and 19 non-EU countries.

In a symposium offered by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and summarizing the impact in Europe of the different initiatives to internationalize its legal education system, Julian Lonbay of the United Kingdom's University of Birmingham gives a thorough account of the rich discussion concerning the transformation of legal education in Europe. These efforts, according to Lonbay, are for the purpose of creating a EU higher-education area, with the aim of making the European Union the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. This process has resulted in a profound reassessment of legal education with the participation of numerous actors in the discussion, including the legal profession itself. The United States would do well to make its own reassessments, especially in light of the challenge from Europe.

The Europeans are not the only ones who should worry the United States. …