As the legal profession becomes increasingly globalized, an important issue remains the education of a new generation of lawyers who can deal effectively with the challenges of a global legal and business economy. Legal educators around the world need to be thoughtful about and attentive to the demands of a global legal marketplace and how to prepare students for those demands.
It is beyond dispute that globalization has had a transformative impact on the practice of law. Today's global economy demands legal professionals with international exposure and expertise. There are few if any legal subjects that in practice are still purely domestic in nature. A lawyer who does not possess at least a basic knowledge of other legal systems operates at a significant disadvantage.
Legal educators are thus confronted with the challenge of how best to prepare students to compete effectively in today's global legal marketplace. The dramatic changes in the legal landscape require an educational process that embraces international, comparative, and foreign law perspectives. This necessitates the development of specific programs (examples of which are discussed below) geared toward the development of certain core competencies that modern lawyers should possess.
First is the matter of language ability. Legal English has become the lingua franca of the international legal and business communities, and the ability to speak and write effectively in English is increasingly important for lawyers who plan to play a role in the global market. This must go well beyond basic skills and must include the ability to speak and understand the discourse of professional and in particular legal English. It must also include the ability to appreciate and manipulate the subtleties of language, including the ability to make strategic language choices. It is also important for native English speakers to develop proficiency in other languages.
Global lawyers must develop the ability to be imaginative in their problem-solving approaches to legal issues. Such creative skills need to be able to reach across legal systems and cultures, across legal fields, and along multidisciplinary axes. Lawyers also need to have a cultural sophistication in dealing with professionals rooted in different legal systems — some understanding of how a legal professional in another system would approach a problem and the underlying assumptions that such a lawyer would bring to his or her work.
Growing evidence suggests that knowledge of U.S. or U.K. law is at a premium for international firms, given that U.S. and U.K. LL.M. holders make up a substantial percentage of the staff of such firms. This is hardly surprising in light of the importance of U.S. and U.K. law to capital market, corporate, and merger and acquisition work.
There are numerous ways to retool the legal educational experience to integrate international and comparative perspectives – a number of which have already become more or less commonplace among institutions of legal education. Much, of course, remains to be done.
Institutions of legal education should be open to student exchanges. The Erasmus-Socrates program provides an outstanding model for intra-Europe interchanges. Post-graduate, dual degree, joint degree, summer, and other study abroad programs of varying duration provide opportunities for immersion in foreign legal study. Even while at home, students can be exposed to global legal knowledge through curricular reform that includes international, comparative, and foreign law components; courses taught by visiting or permanent foreign faculty, individually or jointly with their domestic counterparts; legal language training; and varieties of distance learning made possible by today's technology. In addition to foreign faculty members, law schools should encourage the growth of communities of foreign students and visiting scholars and researchers. For their part, law professors can also engage in collaborative research efforts and become active in international peer groups, such as the European Law Faculty Association and the International Association of Law Schools.
There are myriad other ways in which law schools can, with a modicum of creativity (and, to be sure, some resources), rethink their traditional programs of legal education to meet the demands of today's global marketplace.