There are few law schools today (or universities, for that matter) who do not aspire to be “global”. But this aspiration is rarely elaborated in specific ways. It is used when law schools sign student exchange agreements with other schools overseas, and it is used when courses or conferences on transnational legal ideas are promoted. Is the goal of global simply an exercise in branding, or is it a substantive commitment to a particular set of institutional goals? In my view, the term has come to mean so much that it has come to mean almost nothing at all.
I suggest that there are at least three different senses in which law schools can and should seek to be global.
First, a constitutive goal of legal education is to understand legal ideas in their social, economic, political, and historical context. As globalization has reworked social, economic and political relationships, law has come both to reflect and reproduce those relationships. To take just one of the more obvious examples, how could one teach environmental law in Canada without incorporating environmental issues in other countries (cap and trade in the U.S., for example) or without exploring Canada’s commitments to and role in transnational initiatives such as the Kyoto Accord or the more recent Copenhagen negotiations? In other words, teaching law in an era of globalization requires, in some real sense, that a law school aspire to be global. This aspect of a global law school not only captures the reality of the global context within which law takes shape, but also makes claims about how law ought to be taught. For example, Osgoode’s first-year curriculum review recommended not just a standalone course on legal ethics, but to combine that material on lawyering and the legal profession with an introduction to how globalization interacts with the legal profession. Ethical Lawyering in a Global Community has now become the first course to which Osgoode students are exposed, setting the tone for the rest of the curriculum.
Second, the global law school is one which does not accept any easy compartmentalizing between the domestic and local on the one hand, and the comparative, international and transnational on the other. As Ann-Marie Slaughter has argued, the future of international law is local. That is, international law should not be seen as some discrete set of rules and obligations between states, but rather as a dynamic set of norms and claims which have their most significant impact in the application of domestic law. In Canada, recent Supreme Court cases have grappled with the implication of the precautionary principle in international law for the validity of a by-law, and the significance of international human rights norms in the immigration and refugee decision-making of Canadian officials. Is the challenge of extra-territorial application of Charter rights examined in the Hape judgment an issue of international or domestic constitutional law? I think the answer is both, and that is the point.
I’ve thought of teaching a course in the near future on the Global City, in which the point would be to explore some of the traditional concerns of international and transnational law – for example, trade law, labour standards, environmental protection, refugee protection, war crimes, civil strife in Asia and Africa – all through the lens of legal issues affecting the City. One of the most compelling administrative law cases to teach is the Shell decision, in which the Court considered whether it was appropriate for the Vancouver City Council to decide not to do business with Shell because it had not divested itself from apartheid-era South African holdings. To understand administrative law, it is necessary in that context both to engage with the domestic strife of a country half a world away, the global campaign to boycott the trade which sustained the apartheid regime, and the boundaries of municipal governance within a provincial statute.
Third, and finally, a global law school is alive to the world of possibilities which analogous places in other parts of the world can offer. Whether student exchanges with partner schools across the globe, or global law school alliances like the Association of Transnational Law Schools (ATLAS) initiative, or MOUs with emerging law schools like the Osgoode-Jindal partnership, all of these collaborative projects open up the possibility of seeing shared concerns and possibilities through distinct and different lenses. The result is unpredictable. Some initiatives thrive, others wither, and the reason is usually not at the meta level of philosophical coherence but in the weeds of whether the collaboration had mutual champions at the different schools, sufficient resources, and of course whether a shared conversation of some kind emerged. To be a global law school is not measured by how many such partnerships or alliances in which a law school participates but rather the openness and engagement of a law school with these opportunities when they arise.
I do not mean to suggest that the three perspectives on a global law school offered above are the only three possible perspectives, or even the best three, but hopefully, these serve as a point of departure for a broader discussion on what going global is all about. And, at the end of the day, I believe the choice is not between global and some non-global alternative, but really between what global means for each community within its context. The world, after all, is here to stay.