Law School Deans from Around the World Discuss Globalizing Law Education

Deans representing law schools in China, Brazil, Canada, and France gathered at Harvard Law School on Friday to discuss the pressures facing law schools to reform curricula in response to globalization.

The deans also focused on how the changing relationship between common and civil law will figure into the future of legal education.

According to Christophe Jamin, Dean of the Sciences Po Law School in France, there have been no official changes in the way law is taught in France. But certain trends have emerged in legal education—more students than ever before are pursuing double degrees at multiple European law schools and within their own university.

“The members of the bar seem to be very happy with the way we teach law in France,” Jamin said. “The pressure comes from in-house counsels [of corporations]. Globalization is very important for them...They want students to be able to speak with someone in China in the morning and with South Africa in the evening.”

A number of the deans said that they are concentrating on integrating common and civil law education—two areas of law that are historically distinct but are currently being reevaluated as law schools attempt to bring their curricula into the 21st century.

For example, Daniel Jutras, Dean of Law at McGill University, said that McGill has created a program to integrate civil and common law, but not as a response to the pressures of globalization. Rather, McGill recognized the need to reform its curriculum to reflect political and cultural transformations in Canada that were contributing to the decline of applications from Anglophone students.

McGill is a primarily English-speaking institution located within the French minority province of Quebec.

“This is really what any law school should do—define oneself and one’s program in ways that make sense internally, not in global positioning of laws schools,” Jutras said.

Jutras added that he has noticed that other schools are reforming curricula as a marketing device, a way to raise money, or to respond to pressures from segments of the Bar Association.

Harvard Law School Professor David B. Wilkins questioned whether one of the pressures to reform curricula is stemming from the Americanization of legal education and lawyering on a global scale.

Both Dean Joaquim Falcão of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School in Brazil and Jamin rejected this idea.

Falcão said that large Brazilian law firms feel threatened by the prospect of American law firms expanding into Brazil.

“They will fight up to the last moment,” he said. “Blood, sweat, and tears.”

In France, Jamin has noticed that French law students are interested in international law—but not specifically American legal practice.

“They are fascinated by facilities, by earning money, but I know a lot of our students who spend four or five years in big law firms and then came back to more traditional, French law firms,” Jamin said. “It’s a very complex situation.”

A number of audience members asked the panel why one should go to law school when one can practice law in France or China without having taken the Bar exam or receiving a law degree.

Dean of Harvard Law School Martha L. Minow said that some states allow people to take the bar exam without a legal education, and that other states are exploring the possibility.

“It’s an interesting question,” she said. Law schools in America control “a certain kind of access to an elite profession.”

In the last several years HLS has implemented a series of reforms to its curriculum for the first time in 150 years, emphasizing problem-solving, experiential learning, and practicing law in global contexts.

—Staff writer Juliet R. Bailin can be reached at