Authors In Conversation: Susan Bartie

Tell us about the genesis of this book—what made you decide to edit and shepherd it?

We had both been working on research projects about law professors who had studied in the US and then brought Legal Process ideas back to their home countries (Australia and Canada).  These Australian and Canadian professors had been inspired by Lon Fuller, Henry Hart and Al Sacks, mixed their ideas and teaching models with features of their home countries and created distinctive and enduring law textbooks. 

This led us to wonder how our individual studies fitted within a broader global context of American ideas being transported to, and then altered within, various countries.  Were the experiences in Australia and Canada unique or were they part of broader movements throughout the 20th century?

The project raises some fascinating questions which include but also extend beyond our initial musings.  For example, were American models being used to encourage nations to adopt American styles of governing and laws?  What does this say about the relationship between legal education and politics?  Were new or old ideas being transported and applied in foreign countries? 

While there has been a great deal of writing about legal education, and the history of legal education, in the US, it is not common for scholars outside of the US to conduct similar studies.  We wanted to bring together and strengthen the community of historians of legal education beyond the US.  Examining a common thread – the attempt to ‘Americanize’ legal education – allowed us to compare experiences and educational systems, improving our knowledge of legal education in general.  Our aim wasn’t to place American legal education on a pedestal.  Instead, we wanted to examine its potential to, for example, undermine local initiatives, challenge English traditions, create hybrid models, and be used as a vehicle by American educational missionaries to spread American ideas and forms of governance.

As US law schools experience periods of crisis, leading in some instances to declining student numbers, it seems like the perfect time for law schools across the world to re-examine their incorporation of American ideas and practices.

What were some of most surprising things you discovered in the course of researching and editing?

With the exception of perhaps the Philippines and countries which have adopted models of global legal education (most notably, Brazil), it is not possible to say that American legal education has been wholly transplanted to any country. It doesn’t seem as though any country outside of the US has adopted the prevailing American model at any particular time.  This might seem surprising to some.  We certainly expected to find more examples of successful transplants than what is presented in this collection.  It seems that many countries have been resistant or hesitant towards the adoption of American models and even those who have been more enthusiastic have not wholly embraced the American ideas and models.  Some countries have even found the American models to be inferior to their own.

We hope that those reading the work will see that to understand the role, relevance and merits of certain educational models it is important to understand their history.  The way that legal education evolves and its position in particular countries can depend on the role of the state in legal education, the prominence of certain local legal scholars and/or the power and resources of countries and their relationships to one another.  So much writing in the field of legal education tends to be either based entirely on the experiences of a particular region or consist of sweeping generalisations about ‘global’ education.  This can mask some of the most important features of legal education.

Do you see the spread of American legal education as a positive development?

Whether the spread of American legal education is positive depends on three key factors: the country, the American legal educational model in play and the criteria used.  For example, during the early years of modern Australian legal education, Australia law professors made appeals to the American model as a way of signalling their desire for large and richly resourced law schools which engaged in dynamic teaching.  Law professors wanted to communicate their dissatisfaction with the didactic and more conservative English model of legal education.  This might be viewed as a positive development in the sense that the Australian law professors wanted to give students a better education.  However, appeals to make the law school more elite and therefore exclusive obviously have major shortcomings. Also, the concentration on American ideas, rather than the local context, meant that some aspects of the Australian environment were neglected. 

To take another example, in the Philippines, Emily Sanchez has shown, through her empirical study of women law graduates, that the Socratic methods adopted there have created a highly competitive environment that has been experienced as hostile by many women.

Examining how the American models were received provides some rich insights into the central values and politics of law schools in particular regions.  The chapters on China and Ghana provide strong examples of this. Whether the embrace or rejection of American ideas in these and other regions was positive depends on how one views the political relationships between the US with those regions.

What were the upsides and challenges of wrangling work from a number of contributors?

It was wonderful to bring such a strong group of legal theorists, legal historians and historians together to talk about the legal education of their regions and also hear leading US law professors reflect on the case studies.  We are both amazed by the scholars who signed on to this collection.  It really was a dream project.  It helped enormously to have a clever group of research assistants to help with the many drafts and edits and to help with a symposium in Toronto where we discussed our central ideas.  We are very grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the American Society of Legal History and the law schools who helped fund these activities.

We probably underestimated the work involved in bringing a collection like this to fruition. However, the contributors did not slow us down and required very few reminders.  The benefits have certainly outweighed the costs!

How do you hope this book shapes debate in legal education and international study going forward?

We hope that it makes a strong case for more critical historical studies of legal education in regions beyond the US.  And for more comparative studies of legal education.  We hope it encourages more scholars to sign up for these kinds of projects.  Law Schools and universities are changing dramatically and rapidly – at a pace that simply could not be imagined in the 20th century.  Critical and theoretical work which takes into account a range of experiences is essential for those academics who wish to play a leading role in shaping these changes.

Susan Bartie is Lecturer in Law at the University of Tasmania. She has won a number of awards and prizes including a Dean’s Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence for her PhD, a Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning from the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training (national award) for her teaching and she was awarded a British Chevening Scholarship to complete a Masters in Law at the University of Cambridge.Her recent book, Free Hands and Minds – Pioneering Legal Scholars, reveals the central ideas that underpinned the birth of modern Australian university legal education.

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