Law students aid Ugandan legal training

Trip aimed at developing educational opportunities

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Six University law students with the Black Law Students Association joined in training judges and lawyers for nine days in Kampala, Uganda to update the city’s old educational programs. Working with the International Law Institute’s African Centre for Legal Excellence, the group also developed programs for new legal domains.

Having always been interested in public service, first-year Law student Jessica Douglas said she was excited to go to Africa.

“I thought the opportunity to go to Africa was important,” she said. “I had never been to Africa and neither had any of my family. This was an excellent opportunity that I have never had before. It was an opportunity to practice and to see what international law process is like.”

Douglas said that upon arriving in Uganda, she and the students had a chance to explore the city before learning more about the ILI’s goals to help African countries compete on a global scale by enhancing their law, finance, government and project management systems.

Soon after, the students began working to improve the ILI’s available training programs in Kampala by individually researching topics that had been assigned to them. Douglas worked on courses involving legal writing and research, as well as business transaction law. First-year Law student Amber Strickland said she worked on a course involving human rights law.

While the group was able to incorporate into the courses what they knew from American law, Strickland said they also had to learn about Ugandan law.

“Some of us had a slight background in what we were researching,” Strickland said. “We were researching leadership case studies that had been done. This involved an intersection of what we knew about and how the concepts were incorporated in a different legal systems in Africa.”

Strickland said she and the other students had the opportunity to see the training progress in person and hear back from the judges and lawyers participating; she said it was an eye opening experience to hear their stories.

“It was a good chance to hear...about the practical reasons why the judges wanted to participate,” Strickland said. “In most cases, their bosses aren't mandating them to do it. It was enlightening hearing about the practical issues that the people in Uganda were facing.”

Associate Law Prof. Mila Versteeg, who teaches comparative law and human rights law, said she believes that these service trips are important in the any law student’s education.

“I think that it’s tremendously important for students to get exposure to different countries’ legal system,” Versteeg said. “It can be very important to look at your own law system in comparison to others and to have an understanding of how law works in different countries.”

Versteeg said students can bring back experiences which are helpful in the classroom and can be shared with their peers.

“I think that it is good for people to be able to draw from foreign experience,” Versteeg said. “They can bring foreign experience in the classroom. They are able to share their experiences with other students.”

Strickland said the student experiences gained on these trips are important for students who are considering entering public service. She also said it gives students interested in joining a law firm a good opportunity to give back before leaving school.

“I think that the trip gave a great opportunity to engage civil service work for those who want to go into law firms. It gives them a chance to give back,” Strickland said. “Students who want to work in public service got a chance to engage in that on a very real level.”

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