In recent years, fragile states and countries emerging from conflict have captured worldwide attention – and prompted the aid community to redouble efforts to support democracy and the rule of law.
From North Africa to the Middle East and beyond, the international community is now helping to rebuild capacity and institutions for government and civil society. But this work presents a two-fold challenge: Local professionals often lack a full grasp of the complex challenges that come with democratic change, while foreign experts may not be fully aware of the necessary local context.
And too often, the sustainability of rule of law initiatives suffers where knowledge isn’t transferred sufficiently between foreign experts and local professionals.
To train the next generation of legal experts that can fill this gap, Loyola University Chicago created a unique Master of Law course last year that has already been making waves within the industry: the Program on Rule of Law for Development. PROLAW stands out from similar programs because of its practical approach and focus on the real-world challenges legal advisers face in the field.
“There is no other course in this field that is providing that kind of training,” said William Loris, PROLAW’s program director and senior lecturer. “All of us who came before learned on the job, and perhaps at a very high cost to our clients and organizations. PROLAW students are not going to make the same mistakes that we did.”
It’s little wonder, then, that the program has won the support and sponsorship of a variety of institutions, from government agencies to multilateral organizations and law firms – groups likely to employ the future leaders PROLAW is grooming. Their interest is in making sure that the rule of law work they finance will be sustainable, and PROLAW provides its students with the tools to lead the next wave of change without much outside assistance.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has backed the program with a $1.1 million grant, and the U.S. State Department and others have helped spread the word about it. PROLAW is also a founding partner of the World Bank’s Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development.
Hassane Cisse, deputy general counsel of the World Bank’s knowledge and research group, praised PROLAW as a trailblazer tackling the intersection of development and law, and suggested that similar programs in areas like global health and environmental law would gain in importance in the years ahead. There is a need for more lawyers who understand local context and can adapt and manage international cooperation accordingly, he said.
The 25 participants in PROLAW’s inaugural class, which first gathered last September on Loyola’s campus in Rome, Italy, seem well on their way. Their discussions in class are lively, informed and “extremely high-level,” said Loris.
Juan Carlos Botero was similarly impressed with the quality of questions and ideas raised by PROLAW students during his recent guest lecture, which focused on the Rule of Law Index his organization, the World Justice Project, compiles every year.
PROLAW officials say they want to make sure the knowledge and skills students gain will actually be applied on the ground, particularly in countries where they are most needed. To help build national capacities and reduce the dependence of developing countries on outside rule of law advisers, PROLAW seeks to recruit the maximum number of students from the developing countries.
“We are well past the time when we can impose our way of looking at rule of law,” said Barry McCabe, a member of PROLAW’s advisory committee who invested personally into the program. “We need to help developing countries develop their own approaches. PROLAW can help them do that.”
This year, students were drawn from Central and South Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceana. Students from OECD member countries are also participating in good numbers as they are looking to break into this exciting field.
PROLAW is looking at ways to expand its reach through the expansion of online curricula and other features – with the express support from Loyola’s School of Law.
“We could not be more pleased that Loyola University Chicago is reinforcing its commitment to global justice and establishing itself as a leader in rule of law advisory work through this innovative practice-oriented LLM degree program,” said David Yellen, the School of Law’s dean.
So how exactly does PROLAW groom future rule of law leaders? The program spans two semesters, with the first focusing on theory and the second on practice. The second semester includes courses on supervised research, project management, proposal writing and Sharia law, according to Bandini Chhichhia, a member of PROLAW’s current class of legal professionals.
“Without this skill set, you could be the most intelligent lawyer in the world,” Chhichhia said, “but you would not be equipped to do your job properly, with competence, confidence and humility.”
And according to Loris, who served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development before co-founding and leading what eventually became the International Development Law Organization, the skills and character traits PROLAW nurtures are among the first ones that employers look for in job candidates – “even before being a legal expert.”
PROLAW courses are taught by rule of law experts and practitioners like Rutsel Martha, the International Fund for Agriculture Development’s legal counsel; Thomas Mcinerney, IDLO’s head of research, policy and strategic initiatives; and Alexandre Cordahi, a seasoned Paris-based rule of law specialist deeply involved in reforms being brought about as a result of the Arab Spring. The program’s visiting lecture series features lawyers and development experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Commonwealth Secretariat, among others.
The “added value” PROLAW provides its students does not end with these networking opportunities. Chhichhia, for instance, said PROLAW has helped her to pursue research – which she discussed in a recent guest opinion for Devex – and secure an internship with FAO.
PROLAW may be an education program on the surface, but according to Loris, it’s more like a development initiative that tries to push students “as far out in the field as we can.”