Columbia-Leiden-Amsterdam Summer Program

Teaching the World’s Lawyers since 1963
By Sonia von Gutfeld

Every summer since 1963, students from around the world go to the Netherlands for a one-month, intensive training in American law given by the Columbia Summer Program. Participants – practicing lawyers as well as students in an advanced stage of their studies – learn about the common law system, get a taste of the Socratic Method, and form relationships with classmates and professors that last a lifetime.

The program underscores the pioneering role Columbia Law School has played throughout its 150-year history in fostering global exchange among practitioners and scholars from a diverse range of countries.

“The program has had a substantive and pedagogical mission over the years,” said Columbia Law School Professor Edward Morrison, the executive director of the Columbia Summer Program for the past two and one-half years. “We want to introduce students to the elements of American law, and introduce them to a more interactive way of teaching and thinking about the law than many have experienced in their home countries.”

Columbia Professor Hans Smit founded the Summer Program in 1963 as a joint venture among Columbia Law School, where he earned a law degree in 1958, the University of Amsterdam, where he earned a law degree in 1949, and the University of Leiden. It alternates each year between the two sites in the Netherlands.

Smit’s experiences in Dutch and American classrooms inspired him to create the program.

“The American focus on fact-specific situations, and the challenge to probe the questions and provide appropriate answers was totally different from the memorization I experienced in my European studies,” he said. “So when I was appointed to the Columbia Law faculty, I said, ‘We should really expose the Europeans to American lawyering.’”

Smit took the idea of a summer program to his alma mater in Amsterdam and, at the suggestion of a former colleague who was a professor at Leiden, invited that university to participate as well. The University of Leiden signed on first and two years later the University of Amsterdam joined.

“It put Columbia on the map and gave us a real advantage,” said Smit, who led the program from its conception until 1988. “As far as Europeans were concerned, we were the international law school. We became the natural attraction point for people who wanted to study in the United States.”

The Leiden-Amsterdam summer program has helped Columbia draw competitive students to its renowned Master of Laws program, created in 1893. Originally an advanced year of study pursued by academics, by mid-20th century the LL.M. program drew international lawyers interested in American law training. Columbia continues to expand its international offerings, becoming in 1994 the first U.S. law school to establish a double-degree program, which gives participants both a U.S. juris doctor and a foreign law degree. 

As Columbia’s international offerings have grown, so has the reach of the summer program. The home countries of this year’s roughly 40 students included Brazil, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Taiwan and Ukraine.

Morrison began teaching in the program five years ago. He came to the Netherlands with a personal interest – his wife’s family is Dutch – and a desire to meet young lawyers from across the globe and try new teaching methods with an audience trained in different legal systems.

In addition to Morrison, the 2008 summer program faculty included Columbians Suzanne Goldberg, Jack Greenberg, Dan Richman and Peter Strauss. Professors Richard Brooks from Yale Law School, Marcus Cole from Stanford Law School and Jill Fisch from Fordham Law School also taught courses.

Professors gain insights by presenting their subjects to students from civil law jurisdictions – whose primary source of law are codes and statutes, as opposed to common law jurisdictions, whose systems place greater weight on court decisions.

This summer, Morrison found that teaching contracts to lawyers who, for the most part, did not have extensive experience in economic analysis gave him valuable practice in making economic analysis more accessible. He plans to incorporate a more explicit approach to this analysis when he teaches contracts this year to 1Ls at Columbia Law School.

Summer program students take three required courses – Constitutional Law, Litigation and Statutes & Regulations – and three elective courses. The program began as an abbreviated version of the standard 1L curriculum at U.S. law schools but has since evolved to include new courses, such as Comparative Venture Capital, which explores equity investment in emerging technologies and innovation throughout the world.

For students like Anna Katharina Wolf, the program was an opportunity to “get an insight on the common law system and get to know some of the Columbia professors.” Wolf, who earned her undergraduate degree in Germany, will spend this year working toward an LL.M. degree at Columbia studying antitrust, the World Trade Organization and corporate law.

The summer program also hosts a mock jury trial, an opportunity outside the classroom for students to become more familiar with the U.S. legal system. Professors serve as judges, while students play the roles of attorneys, witnesses and jurors. Arguing before an uninformed set of jurors – a hallmark of the common law system – gives summer students an experience quite different from the training most have in their home countries.

For many students, the summer program is also their first encounter with the interactive classroom that so inspired Smit. Professors typically avoid lectures and take advantage of the small class size to ask questions, encourage participation and give students ample one-on-one time. Morrison hopes the experience encourages young lawyers to be more inquisitive.

“Law is constantly evolving,” he said. “Our students come away with a keen sense that laws should be scrutinized.”

The bonds summer students form with professors are strengthened outside the classroom, through daily lunches at the university and afternoon activities, such as city tours, a trip to the Hague and visits with European law firms. Smit established the program with this collegial atmosphere in mind.

“I told the professors, if you come, you’ve got to come and do everything – it’s not just teaching,” Smit said.

“After just one week, you know professors academically and personally,” said student Michele Brosio ’09 LL.M. “You’re in a class with about thirty people, and the professors call you by first name. You also become familiar with their families through conversations, sharing meals and the extracurricular activities.”

Brosio, 30, and Wolf, 27, are among the six students who spent the summer in Leiden and are now enrolled this year in Columbia’s LL.M. program. Brosio, a University of Torino graduate who spent the past six years working with the law firm Allen & Overy in Italy, said he wanted to “get used to being a student again” before jumping into his studies at Columbia in the fall. Brosio found the relationships formed with professors helpful during summer pre-registration for his LL.M. program.

“I could get input from the Columbia professors in Leiden,” he said. “Is this going to be too heavy a course load? Is this a good class for me to take?”
The program’s location also attracts students.

“Leiden is one of the oldest universities in Europe and is very famous,” Wolf said. “It’s also a beautiful, very old town. You can really breathe in history and Dutch spirit. At the same time, the Netherlands has an interesting fusion of cultures and an international orientation.”

Professors alike relish the opportunity to teach and live in this setting. Some prefer Amsterdam’s more urban environment, whereas other enjoy the more traditional atmosphere of Leiden. One professor, who teaches every other year when the program is in Leiden, is known to ride his bicycle into the countryside and return with freshly made gouda.

The program boasts a prestigious group of alumni who have gone on to become partners at American and European law firms, professors at top universities, and members of government. These include former prime minister of Netherlands Ruud Lubbers, who later served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; former prime minister of Poland Hanna Suchocka; and Hans van Loon, secretary general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

Columbia Summer Program alumni, who live and work in different countries across the world, maintain strong connections and enjoy celebrating reunions for years after their time in Leiden or Amsterdam. So enthusiastic are participants that the program now has had eight second-generation students, which Columbia Law School Professor and past summer program director Eben Moglen calls “a remarkable outcome for a tiny program, indicative of the extraordinary role it has played in its students’ lives.”

Leiden-Amsterdam is one of several programs that have set Columbia ahead of the curve as the practice of law becomes increasingly global.

“I think Columbia has led the nation,” Smit said. “We led with the summer program, and we led with the double-degree program, and that’s the future.”