I have just returned from my first trip to Moscow, Russia. I was there as part of the inaugural Legal Education Exchange (LEX) conference, sponsored by the United States Russia Foundation (USRF). Four US law schools and four Russia-based law schools were invited to participate in this conference, with two professors from each school involved. The purpose of LEX is to bring US-based expertise with law teaching to law schools in Russia. This project was organized by Professor Marcia Levy (Cardozo), and Mira Gur-Arie (Federal Judicial Center) who is a member of the Rule of Law Committee at USRF.
The US law schools are the University of Denver, Emory Law School, Pacific McGeorge, and Georgetown Law Center. The Russian law schools are Moscow State, the Russian Foreign Trade Academy, Ural State, and Immanuel Kant University law school in Kaliningrad.
The conference had three components. First, the US professors presented on interactive teaching methods over a two-day conference, and there was much discussion and Q&A about those methods with the Russian law professors. Second, on the third day, each interschool partnership met for discussions about the nature of assistance that those professors thought they most needed, and set plans for their partner US law faculty members to provide that. Emory Law is partnered with Ural State, Pacific McGeorge with the Foreign Trade Academy, Georgetown with Kaliningrad, and DU with Moscow State. Third, there were several social events for all of us to get to know each other, including a breathtakingly beautiful evening dinner boat ride up and down the Moscow River.
Early on the first day, I gave an address summarizing the history and current challenges facing US Legal education today. This seemed to be well received; I think it may have broken down the “arrogant American” stereotype (if it was there), since I freely admitted that although we have many strengths in US legal education, we also have made some errors, and our system is in need of significant improvement.
The first two days of the LEX conference were hosted beautifully by the Foreign Trade Academy, around a large oval table with a dozen screens showing the PowerPoint slides (which had been translated into Russian in advance of our visit). Live translation was provided, both ways. Each participant was given a small iPod sized device with an earpiece into which live translation was being broadcast in English or in Russian (depending on which device you had).
On Friday, my DU colleague – Professor Celia Taylor - and I met with representatives of our partner school. These meetings began with a tour of the MSU campus, which includes at its center one of the seven massive Stalinist era buildings around Moscow (skyscrapers of the day – and quite beautiful), and their new law school building.
In our meetings we discussed what they feel like they need help with, and how we might be able to provide it. We decided to return in December for a series of “train the trainers” sessions, in which we will go into more depth on teaching methods that might be implemented in some of their courses, and work one-on-one with professors who choose to seek our help.
My take-away from the conference, simply stated, is that Russian law schools are (in terms of their teaching methods) about where US law schools were about 25 years ago. They have clinics, although they do not generally allow the kind of in-depth representation as US law school clinics do. But mostly their teaching is heavily didactic, with teachers talking and individual students taking notes. There is some question and answer format, but not universally, and not that much in each class. This is partly because of the nature of the Russian legal system, which is civil law based. Despite that, there are things that they could do in classes to more deeply engage their students, and the Russian law professors we worked with were clearly interested in learning more about how to do this, and do it well.
After the three days, my colleague and I had saved a day for sightseeing in Moscow. We had a tremendous day, walking nearly 12 miles of the city, and seeing Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Tretyakov State art gallery (which exhibits mostly Russian historical art), the Pushkin museum (where I saw their priceless modern art collection), and several neighborhood churches.
In sum, the LEX Conference was a priceless opportunity to meet and interact with our colleagues in Russia, and we discovered (as one often does when traveling to new parts of the world) that we have more in common than we have differences. I look forward to returning to work again with our new friends at Moscow State University.