From Colombia to Cairo, new ways of training lawyers

High in the Andes mountains, five Harvard Law School alumni are changing the way law professors in Colombia are trained—and they are using HLS as a model.

The alums—all of them professors at Los Andes University in Bogotá—are adapting Harvard’s LL.M. and S.J.D. programs to their own school.

Their ultimate goal is to improve the quality of legal education not just in Colombia, but throughout Latin America. “It’s an enormously exciting project,” says Harvard Law Professor David Kennedy ’80.

Most legal training in Colombia takes place at the undergraduate level, involving five years of study at a university, usually without any additional graduate-level schooling. Law is mostly taught by practitioners who teach part time, and only one Colombian university offers a doctorate for those who wish to pursue the academic track. As a result, Colombian universities have had to send their law professors abroad for additional training, usually to European and American law schools.

That’s been the practice of Los Andes University, where, of the 32 full-time members of the law faculty, the nine who have doctoral degrees—including the five HLS graduates—obtained them abroad.

But if the Harvard Law alums at Los Andes are successful, there will soon be more in-country options for pursuing the legal academic track. They have already started up an LL.M. program, and if all goes well, the first batch of eight students will enroll in a new S.J.D. program this August.

Their programs of study are modeled on the HLS curriculum and will expose students to more legal theory than they would encounter at other Latin American or Spanish law schools, where the emphasis is on black-letter law, says Isabel Jaramillo Sierra S.J.D. ’07.

Students will design their own two- to three-year courses of study in fields such as legal theory or economic analysis of law, and they will take oral exams before beginning dissertations.

“We want people from other regions to come here, do their doctorate, benefit from us and go back to their regions and teach,” says Helena Alviar Garcia LL.M. ’97 S.J.D. ’01.

Kennedy says similar groups of alumni are helping change the way lawyers and law professors are trained elsewhere around the world.

In Egypt, at the American University in Cairo, Amr Shalakany S.J.D. ’00 and four other HLS alums recently started the first English-language law department in the Middle East—and the first human rights program in that country. More than 100 students—from Egypt and many other countries—are already studying in degree programs in international and comparative law and human rights law.

Says Kennedy, who recently evaluated the Cairo program for the United States Agency for International Development: “I came away very impressed with the potential. They are really working against the odds, founding something new. It could be transformative for legal education, law and training for national leadership in the Middle East.”