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At Home Abroad, continued

Beyond living abroad, many students want to work in the United States on international issues. Part of the rationale for exposing students to the international is that it helps them think more reflectively about what they do at home.

"By offering courses that instruct students in the international or comparative aspects of the very same subject matters that especially interest them in U.S. law," said Todd Rakoff ' 75, dean of the J.D. program, "we are trying to make international or comparative law a part of the everyday law school experience, rather than a specialty that only attracts a small segment of the student body."

Alford says he has sought to promote this phenomenon because "it both builds on the faculty's strength and has the potential to infuse the international pervasively into the heart of the curriculum." In particular, he hopes to create more opportunities for colleagues to immerse themselves in international work early in their careers as part of a plan to further internationalize the law school. That plan, he said, includes "utilizing foreign visitors more fully, mapping out a faculty-approved experiment that would permit J.D. students to spend a semester abroad, generating a range of new international activities on campus and strengthening links with foreign alumni."

Martha Minow
Professor Martha Minow

In addition to teaching courses that focus specifically on international or comparative issues, many faculty now include comparative elements in their basic courses. "You cannot responsibly teach the subject of civil procedure without dealing with international issues," Minow said. "The nature of the caseload, the nature of the docket of the federal court has changed in the past 22 years that I've been here."

Jackson has found the same to be true in his field. "It used to be that one of the standard legal issues was whether things should be dealt with at a state level or a federal level," he said. "Increasingly, we're now asking whether regulatory issues should be addressed on a bilateral or even multilateral basis."

There are limits, of course, in classes that focus on U.S. law. Professor Mark Roe ' 75, who teaches Corporations, says he saves most of the comparative dimension for a separate course--this year a seminar on current topics in comparative corporate law. But even in the introductory course, focused on the American corporation and Delaware corporate law, he finds that some issues cry out for comparative comment. "It's too easy to assume one mechanism is the only mechanism," he said. "For example, we have elaborate rules on tactics in takeovers, rules that contrast with, say, the British."

Roe says he began thinking about comparative corporate governance when he was writing about corporate governance in the United States, examining whether financial institutions could and should play a larger role. He found that abstract arguments weren't nearly as compelling as the examples from other nations where financial institutions do play more of a role. This led to his 1994 book, "Strong Managers, Weak Owners," and he's continued this exploration in his most recent work, "Political Determinants of Corporate Governance," published in December. Roe examines why most U.S. companies have dispersed stock ownership with managers who effectively control the company, as opposed to companies in other parts of the world, which are more likely to have a controlling stock owner.

"The explanation I'm selling in the book," he said, "is that one can't get a complete explanation without looking at the sharp political differences between the United States and, say, continental Europe--most of them revolving around labor politics. The American polity is much more friendly to shareholders, and these differences help to explain differences in ownership structure and can induce differences in corporate law rules."

Professor Carol Steiker '86 says she now includes a small comparative element in her basic criminal law class and her advanced class on criminal procedure. "It's not a huge amount," she said, "but it's judiciously placed to remind students that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the resolution of these issues." An expert on the death penalty, Steiker has also been exploring a comparative question in her own research. It came up, she says, after people asked her again and again why the United States is alone among peer countries in retaining capital punishment. Steiker has written a paper on the topic in which she looks back to the early ' 70s, when the death penalty was temporarily abolished, and explores reasons why the abolition didn't last, including high homicide rates, cultural issues, American federalism, populism and race relations. Steiker says this paper will become part of a book she is working on with her brother, University of Texas Law Professor Jordan Steiker '88, on the American approach to capital punishment.

In Steiker's first-year class, two S.J.D.s (one a criminal lawyer from Argentina and the other a former Israeli public defender) lectured on an issue in American criminal law that's handled differently in their countries. In addition to providing perspective, Steiker said, she wants "to let the J.D.s know early on in their career that there is a great resource at the school--LL.M.s and S.J.D.s, who can really enrich their understanding of the world of law."

Jackson, who is associate dean for research, praised the opportunities for graduate students and J.D.s to work together in research programs as well as the classroom. In the international finance concentration he's started with Professor Hal Scott, he recalls an American J.D. and an LL.M. from China who both wrote papers on Chinese financial reform. They came at the topic from very different perspectives and reached different conclusions, and the class got to hear both sides.

White says an important part of the advocacy project in Ghana is providing opportunities for collaboration among people living in very different parts of the capital. When they first started, most of the Ghanian law students had never set foot in this desperately poor area of Accra and had no desire to do so, she says. Now the legal services organization and the university that are partnering with Harvard on the project have formed their own ongoing relationship.

When it comes to her students, White's objective is to get them to bring home what they learned. "My personal goal in terms of teaching is to give students a different lens for looking at social equality in the U.S.," she said. "In Ghana, power differences, racial differences are so enormous that you have to face them. And I think you come back with a sense that because you cannot escape those issues, you have to work through them."

Many of the students who went to Ghana continue to work with White in the ongoing Kitchen Table Conversations Project, which brings together a group of low-income women in East Cambridge around issues including access to health care. Joy Radice '02 was one of White's students who participated in both projects. "The way things worked in Ghana taught me so much that I was able to bring back and use here," she said. "It was integral to my learning about how lawyers can do organizing work from the bottom up."

Radice helped community members organize to improve sanitation in the neighborhoods, where trash in overflowing bins sat uncollected. She also contributed to the community meeting that brought hundreds of residents together. She took the experience back to East Cambridge, and now she's brought it home to her native New York City. She grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Queens where it seemed people had no power to make a difference. She wanted to change that. She still does, and one of the places she learned how, thanks to Harvard Law School, was 5,000 miles away.

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