PDF Developing a Cross-Cultural Law Curriculum (Legal Education Series)

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Human resource management has been flagged as a troublesome area for international intervention.

Mission Statement

Appropriately qualified professionals must be selected, given specific initial and ongoing training and properly managed throughout. However, some organisations, especially in the transitional justice sphere, offer contracts of very limited duration.

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Many organisations fail to offer them in-country ongoing training in areas that will enhance their effectiveness. Finally, if key management personnel are themselves interculturally ineffective — whether they are based in the host country or at headquarters — then the project is also likely to suffer. Inevitably some international lawyers may be insufficiently prepared for the challenges of their work.

What makes an effective lawyer in the domestic setting does not necessarily make them effective internationally. Attributes such as single-mindedness and tenacity, being a tough negotiator and having a confident, theatrical formal advocacy style may be well respected in Manchester or Paris, but transplant them to a rule of law or transitional justice project in Mombasa or Phnom Penh and the reaction may not be so favourable.

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Western lawyers, even those from a continental civil law background, are trained to be adversarial and direct. However, lawyers working on rule of law and transitional justice projects are likely to need rather more collaborative skills, as seen in the field of international development. One of the most commonly heard criticisms of some international lawyers is their poor knowledge of the local context.

Poor understanding of the local culture may result in unintended insensitivity.

A lack of knowledge of basic greetings in the local language, or basic comprehension of the political situation, may potentially alienate the national counterpart lawyers or the wider community in which the internationals operate. In terms of intercultural effectiveness, learning about a country and the relevant context should be seen as a process, which starts before deployment and continues throughout the assignment. Interculturally effective people are curious about their hosts and strive to develop a deeper knowledge of their new environment — through investing time and effort in attempting to understand different social groups, local structures, history and traditions from a variety of sources.

International lawyers should also seek to understand how the law and the institutions of justice are viewed in the host country.

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In many developing countries judges, lawyers and the courts are not afforded the same respect or position as they are in the west. International lawyers need to understand how law and its institutions function and how they are viewed by civil society, by the government and by the local media. Neglecting to take the time to understand customary or traditional law has been highlighted as another major problem for rule of law projects.

International lawyers naturally fall back on the systems of law with which they are familiar, and few will have spent their formative career in countries where traditional law co-exists with the formal justice system. As a result, rule of law projects may exclusively focus on the sometimes dysfunctional formal judicial mechanisms of a post-conflict environment without balanced attention to the places ordinary people go to settle their social, domestic or economic affairs such as informal dispute resolution mechanisms at the village level. It is unlikely that many international lawyers will be fluent in the local language, although developing the specific skill of communicating through interpreters will always be valuable.

Lawyers in the west and global north, especially those working in the justice sector, are admired for their independence and self-reliance. For the most part, trial advocates work individually, devising and implementing the strategy for each individual case independently. Although rule of law and transitional justice vacancies may call for candidates to be team players, even the most senior domestic lawyers may have had little experience working in teams, and even less in multi-cultural teams with professionals whose legal training may be very different from their own.

Many highlighted the problems caused by some internationals arriving at the project with unhelpful attitudes. Additionally, in order to work effectively with their national counterparts, internationals should cultivate an understanding of the educational and professional reality for lawyers. This includes an understanding of the state of legal education in the host country. In some post-conflict and developing countries, university law curricula can be out of date or poorly funded. In others, continuing professional development for lawyers, prosecutors and judges can be patchy or even non-existent.

One of the most challenging aspects of working in a developing legal system is the persistent and perennial problem of systemic corruption in the institutions of justice. Internationals may well find themselves working alongside national counterparts who are exposed to or engage in conduct that is unprofessional or lacking in integrity. The international lawyer will usually, but not always, receive some guidance from his or her employer on how to react to this.

In any event, he or she should also always seek to understand how the relevant legal and political institutions function in practice. Knowing the host country and culture will inform the way in which the international can reflect on how his or her personal preferences, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. One example came from an international lawyer who quickly realised that his direct, adversarial approach from over 25 years of work in a western legal system would not be appropriate for a rule of law training programme in South-East Asia, and adapted his own style accordingly, although in other parts of the world he felt that his native style would have been acceptable.

In an international setting where intercultural relationships are crucial to the success of the project, the self aware lawyer actually increases the chances of the project being more sustainable by being able to understand and anticipate issues of cultural misunderstanding.


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Undoubtedly, all these skills would enhance the profile of the international lawyer working on a rule of law and transitional justice project. When lawyers undertake legal development work in another country, how they interact and communicate with their counterparts and with others in the host country will have a considerable impact on the success of the project. Effective listening is a critical skill for international lawyers, but one that may not be particularly developed from their domestic practice.

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One of the problems is that lawyers are all egoists. Seeking collaborative working relationships and promoting mutual understanding of the methodology and main project goals will certainly improve both the working environment and the relationships within it. Most international lawyers will say that efforts to understand and use the local language and to participate in local cultural events is recognised and appreciated by their national counterparts. It may take some time, but learning another culture will enable the international lawyer to better understand the subtleties of communication in the host country.

This can only be beneficial for forming strong intercultural relationships that are so important in post-conflict and transitional environments. Good relationship building skills are central to any collaborative project. Lawyers working on rule of law and transitional justice projects will almost invariably be working in groups, often with extremely varied roles, interests and positions within the hierarchy.

The manner in which an international lawyer relates to local colleagues, both at and outside work, will determine the level of confidence and trust reposed in them. You must be logged in to Tag Records. Broken link? Online Table of contents Broken link?

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