Academy For International Lawyers Encourages Out Of Class Lessons | KERA News

Academy For International Lawyers Encourages Out Of Class Lessons

Jun 25, 2019

More than 50 young lawyers from 25 countries are in Plano learning about the U.S. justice system and international trade. They’re also learning about American life and cultures of their colleagues.  KERA caught up with some of the lawyers at a recent class.

We're in a steeply banked, college-like auditorium classroom as Vanderbilt University business professor Tim Meyer lectures on international trade.

"So if the British pull out, if they ever get around to actually pulling out of the EU, it is going to be incredibly disruptive to the their economy because they will all of a sudden have no free trade agreements…"

Plano’s Academy for American and International Law has been hosting student classes like this on international trade for decades.

Mark Smith, the academy's Dean, says this five-week session goes beyond the classroom.

Mark Smith is the Dean of this Academy. "As valuable as the experience is from a classroom perspective, the greatest value comes from what the students learn from each other."
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

"We try to make it a 24/7 proposition," Smith says. "We house the people together, we do a lot of extra-curricular activities, and we think as valuable as the experience is from a classroom perspective, the greatest value comes from what the students learn from each other."

So while, yes, these young professionals are learning ins and outs about current events like newly imposed tariffs, or trade agreements that suddenly need re-negotiating, they're also learning older lessons that have stood through time. Business lawyer Shikha Singh from India says personal relationships, like ones forged in Plano, will help in contract negotiations.

"You connect with people, you are still working toward bringing the world together in a closer front," Singh says. "Because once I leave from here we all sort of become a family. We are in touch; we will ensure that we are in touch. It does help you do your business better."

Julio Robledo, who works for Procter & Gamble in his home country of Spain, says he's bothered by dense legal language that often seems to obscure instead of clarify. During classes here, he learned the problem seems to be universal, whether it's about contracts or the fine-print in advertisements.

"Honestly, my feeling is that we should speak plain English, or Spanish – whatever language it is — we should not be afraid of writing properly and make contracts that anybody could understand," Robledo says. 

He's one of many bothered by confusing legalese.

Georgios Karalis of Greece is bothered by something else. He hates the legal maze that mires the launch of any new business in his country. In the U.S, business owners routinely complain about the same thing — too many regulations. But Karalis likes the American system.  He says it's way more efficient than what he deals with in Greece.

Vanderbilt Business Professor Tim Meyer (l) talks with some students after class, international lawyers Claire Xu (center) and Georgios Karalis.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

"Here in the United States, it's possible for everyone to set his own business only in 10 minutes – fast, and easily," Karalis says. "Without all bureaucracy that tends to be the reality in my state and many other states." 

Claire Xu, who works in her native China, became enamored by an American negotiation technique picked up in Plano. She was taught the traditional, adversarial negotiating style: win the legal battle, whatever the cost.

"I think the big 'aha' or 'wow' for me are negotiation costs," Xu said. "The professor — he approached the negotiation like two parties collaborating together to find more common grounds, to find more solutions to meet both party's needs, and this is some kind of collaboration that we need in the business world."

The collaboration that created the 'aha moment' for Lebanese lawyer Ange Leteif had more to do with the world of her student colleagues these past few weeks than the business world. That's because they've all been to a ballgame together, and cooked their own special dishes for each other.  

"Being with other lawyers from each country, different cultures, different ways of thinking," Leteif said, "we have to speak a language that's different from ours. Each one of us has to be open to this." 

By the time this summer school for international lawyers is over, that’s the message academy leaders hope every student takes home.