Building Peace through the Legal System

Better Commercial Courts Will Resolve Disputes in the Developing World, Say Two Experts in a Feb. 29 Discussion With Columbia Law School Students
New York, March 9, 2016—Though dozens of their judges have been assassinated, Iraqis remain focused on rebuilding their legal system, said U.S. federal judge and longtime Columbia Law School lecturer Jed Rakoff, who talked to students about his work to help strengthen Iraqi commercial courts, in a Feb. 29 discussion.
The rule of law can only be defended by stronger courts, said Rakoff, who was joined by Stephen Gardner, chief counsel for the U.S. Commerce Department’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP), which provides legal training and consultative services to countries in economic transition. Their insights were offered to students in a presentation on “Careers in International Legal Development,” sponsored by Social Justice Initiatives (SJI). The event was moderated by Rachel Pauley, SJI’s director of government programs.
Economic development is a key to world peace, said Rakoff, a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, who has worked with Gardner in Baghdad as part of the CLDP. But when trade disputes emerge, a forum is necessary to resolve those conflicts.
That’s where the CLDP steps in, explained Gardner. Established in 1992, the program supports transformational diplomacy in developing and post-conflict countries by helping to revise and update their laws, regulations and business practices in a manner that encourages international trade and investment. CLDP enlists experienced judges, business leaders, and attorneys from both the public and private sectors to visit foreign countries at the invitation of governments, where they set out to learn what is necessary to build a legal foundation to encourage economic development and an apparatus to hear conflicts. Experts such as Rakoff advise local legal authorities.
The local authorities face not only threats but acts of violence, said Rakoff, who described the Iraqi judges he worked with as “true heroes” in trying to build an international commercial court, though “49 of them have been assassinated.” Rakoff said terrorist and political opposition groups target the judges and the courts because they represent a source of stability.
Gardner stressed that not all the regions where the CLDP works are subject to violence; in fact, many stable nations welcome the organization’s assistance.
“We are diplomats,” said Gardner, adding that many developing nations want their economies to participate in “constructive engagement with neighboring countries.” The CLDP encourages such practices. “When nations have reciprocal economic arrangements, they are less likely to go to war with each other,” Rakoff said.
Gardner said CLDP experts have been working with the government of Tunisia, another nation that has been opening up politically as its economy develops, leading to improved conditions for the general population. “Commerce is going to lift everybody up,” Gardner said. “We do believe a rising tide lifts all boats.”
The CLDP is actively looking for students interested in working overseas, said Gardner. Immersion in a foreign culture is an important factor in recruitment, he said, and law school is an ideal time to develop that background. He advised students who were interested in a foreign-service career to learn as much as they can about the languages and cultures of other countries by accepting internships and pursuing programs that offer exposure to other nations.
“Almost everyone at the CLDP speaks a second or even third or fourth language,” he said. “Use any opportunity you can get to go overseas and learn a foreign language and customs.”
Law firm “refugees” are particularly welcome, said Gardner. Lawyers who have spent a few years at a big firm are likely to be better equipped for the challenges they will find overseas, agreed Rakoff, especially in civil procedure.
While he acknowledged that graduates who become public servants may not make enough money to afford more than a closet-sized apartment in New York, he said it doesn’t matter because they wouldn’t be spending much time at home anyway. “You will be traveling all over the world,” he said.