Jump Starting Legal Education in Myanmar (Burma)

April 15, 2016

REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

My law firm (DLA Piper) has an international pro bono affiliate called New Perimeter.   New Perimeter’s goal is to provide long-term legal assistance in under-served regions around the world.  I have been fortunate to participate in a groundbreaking project in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

New Perimeter has teamed with Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) to essentially jump start Myanmar’s legal education program.  After remaining relatively unchanged for decades, Myanmar’s eighteen law departments (housed in universities throughout the country) were eager to modernize.  BABSEACLE, which specializes in clinical legal education-based (CLE) programs throughout Asia, established a consortium that included DLA Piper/New Perimeter, law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

To date, the consortium has held four significant national events.  In 2014, there was a two-week kick off summer school in Taunggyi of close to 50 representative law faculty from each university.  The goal of the training was to introduce the teachers to experiential, CLE-based learning.  The teachers were incredibly motivated to learn and to take what they learned and apply it in the classroom.  The energy among the teachers was incredible.  Those of us who participated as trainers wore traditional Burmese clothing, including the very comfortable longyi.  In 2015, the 2nd CLE Summer School took place in Taungoo.

Following the success of the national training event, the consortium also organized two mock trial events.  The Inaugural National CLE Mock Trial Event (the first of its kind) took place in early 2015 and the Second National CLE Mock Trial Event was this past February.  Both events brought together students from each university to participate in training and the highly experiential Mock Trial.  The second event drew 25 international trainers that worked alongside Myanmar law teachers to make the training and mock trial event a huge success.  It was amazing for me to see the progress that was made between these two mock trial events.  The teachers have come so far in terms of their confidence and drive.  Their success in the classrooms (a demonstrated impact of this project) was easily spotted in the performance of the students.

This project is not just about national events, however.  National events are great opportunities to pull people together, but in between these events have been local trainings at each university, collaborative lesson planning, the placement of international lawyers for one month assignments, and BABSEACLE’s development of a local team.  The goal, of course, is to create sustainable programs that assist in achieving access to justice and rule of law.

It has also been an incredible time to be in Myanmar.  Just a couple of years ago, there was some reluctance to talk about politics.  However, after the national elections in November that turned out an incredible 80% voter turnout, I could feel the change is in the air.  My taxi driver from the airport was excited to tell me about waiting in line to vote and the pride of having a “finger dipped in ink” (a sign that he had voted).  Another sign of change is technology.  On my first trip, getting a WiFi connection was challenging (an understatement).  Today, it is more readily available.  Mobile phones are also taking off.

This has been a project of a lifetime for me.  I have never experienced a group of people so energized and engaged.  Seeing the impact on the students is very powerful.  After all, they are the proud representatives of the next generation that will lead this country.