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Center for International Legal Studies

Teaching Tips from Senior Lawyers for Senior Lawyers

Note: The below tips have been compiled by US visiting professors. If you are from a country other than the US, some suggestions may not apply, yet most of them are universal.


You are what you are. Some of you may have very little experience in teaching, but you do have a wealth of information and experience both professionally and personally. You have achieved varying degrees of success and all that is involved in relation thereto. Teaching is not only a process of conveying information, stimulating ideas, giving instruction and assistance, but it is also a means of connecting, reaching out and establishing personal relationships. If you just concentrate on relaying information and legal principles, you won't be nearly as successful as you will be if you connect to your students on a more personal level.

If the opportunity arises, choose the most remote location. Choose where you never have dreamed of wanting to go. It will probably be the BEST experience of your life, and potentially much more gratifying than choosing Budapest, Warsaw or Sofia.

STEP program by the US State Department

It might be helpful to Senior Lawyers on assignment if they register their trip in advance with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP program) of the US State Department. I have done this on past assignments and found it to be helpful / reassuring to know that State Dept would contact me or my relatives in case of an emergency. Sometimes the info passed along to you from State Dept. may simply be info on an upcoming street demonstration that you may want to avoid.

Take Initiative

Establish initial contact with host institution

Follow up

And finalise contact

Making contact with the designated law school can be very challenging. Start early and be persistent. If email is not enough, call. But make sure to check the spam filter of your email! Also consider contacting the Senior Lawyer Administration at CILS if you do not already cc them on your university communications. Sometimes your messages do not reach the university but are filtered out as spam, and the SL Admin's are not.

After contact with the liaison faculty representative is established you could request the opportunity to speak to the Dean or an Assistant Dean to introduce yourself and to talk generally about the subject matter of your course or courses and your teaching schedule.

Do NOT become aggravated or frustrated because of a lack of a prompt and meaningful response.

If you know already that your emails are not caught in their spam filter system, but reach their destination, work on the assumption they have been read and acknowledged. When you suggest your course dates and you do not receive a response, it may well be, the dates have been noted, and the contact does not realize the necessity to re-confirm. It helps for your own state of mind to send such messages with a read receipt. Keep communicating with CILS at any time.

Also, bear in mind that your course may not be the most important topic on your contact's agenda (especially if you establish contact for a course that would be scheduled a year later, rather than the next semester). Important to consider are university holidays, the bureaucracy, and the potential lack of funding, i.e. your host contact may be an international relations admin, while at the same time vice dean, or professor, or student coordinator.

Do not expect that the host law school will take the initiative in setting up your schedules, course subject matter and related activities. If they do, great, but you may probably have to take the lead and suggest, propose and work out the structure and details of your teaching experience.

Find out number of students and the level of education.

Some hosts also have assignment opportunities for spouses (English language course, music or theater, et. al.)

Ask about visiting the court house (if you are in a city with a court house).

Be flexible

Your hosts may have the best intentions; however, organization may be lacking. Simply go with the flow with a smile. Most, if not all, of you will find out that you will have to be somewhat flexible once you arrive at the host law school. Advanced planning in great detail and specifics is possible but rare, and sometimes difficult because of the distance involved and the difficulty of communication. Therefore, it is important, again, to keep in mind that the personal relationships, friendships and good will that you establish are probably more important than the actual teaching of legal principles. This does not mean that your presentations and instructions should not be scholarly, but only that the most important part of your experience will not be the imparting of legal doctrine. You will find that the students are much more interested in how you practice law, the American lifestyle and you as an individual than they will be in any erudite and academic legal doctrine.

Suggest that you are available for guest presentations in two or three of the law school classes, or as a speaker at a law school event.

Assist with the law school's Moot Court Team (no matter what your expertise), students will be happy to have the opportunity to do a training session with a native speaker of English. If the university participates in exchange programs, offer to help students with their interviews for their semesters abroad (if English will be the main language).

Your Course

The subject matter of the course you teach will depend on your particular areas of specialization and on the desire and needs of the host. Keep in mind, however, that the most interesting thing to your students will most likely be your practice of law not the legal principles involved. Some institutions may have a definitive curriculum where your course will be worked in, but most may be looking for course suggestions from you

Suggest that you can teach your course to Erasmus students as well as to the local student body.

Some of your subject matter may be presented in special seminars or lectures independent from the general course that you teach. You may also be asked to visit different law school classes to give presentations. For example, even though you may not be a family lawyer you may be asked to give a short presentation in a family law class about the practice of law in the US.

Teaching in English to Non-Native English Speakers

Try to introduce yourself in their language. That should be a nice ice breaker.

Remember students are not lawyers. Your language is not their mother tongue.

In addition, undergrad law students at your host university will be of the same age as an undergraduate COLLEGE student in the US. For most of us, therefore, there is an even greater age difference to US law students. You will need to be able to relate to these younger people and project your personality to that age level.

The American judicial system is something foreign to them (probably only known by virtue of television shows). Therefore, teach simple, and straightforward.

Most European schools teach school children British English, so for starters, students may be more familiar with 'litter' than 'garbage', 'queue' than 'stand in line', or live in a 'flat' rather than in an 'apartment'. Test the speaking ability and comprehension of your students. Most often the comprehension level is much higher than the speaking level.

At the beginning of your first class ask students to tell you about themselves, where they are from, how old they are etc.

You need to speak slowly. When you think you speak slow, think again, and speak even more slow. Be sure to speak loud and clear (without shouting).

Ask them if they understand your explanation. It is always appropriate to go back and repeat. Do not use complicated words, slang or academic terms. Keep your vocabulary simple.

They may not be aware of 'backhanded compliments', or may take 'he's in the doghouse' literally with a man sitting in a dog house.

Again, speak slowly and clearly. Use simple words and go back and restate.

If you are required to use interpreters it is very helpful if you have a written outline to accompany your presentation. Also, if possible, you should arrange to meet with your interpreter in advance and go over the materials with him or her and establish a protocol. Once again, a straight lecture type approach (especially with interpreters) will not be as efficacious as a more informal presentation. The informality engenders more of a personal bonding with the students and they are more likely to pay attention and contribute if this personal connection is present.

And lastly, yes, again, speak S.L.O.W.L.Y.

Course Materials

Students will not read your materials in advance. Provide on CD and in hard copy (or download)

Provide basic source materials for your program, e.g., CISG, NY Convention on Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Paris Convention (IP), US/Country Treaties, Hague Conventions, include a section on US Law, US Constitution, US Court System, F.R.C.P and/or State Rules of Procedure; Outline of lectures in PowerPoint English

Teaching Style and Methods

One of the keys of success is making sure that all of the audience starts at the same point you are at with respect to making your presentation. Therefore, simple introductions and basic reviews are absolutely necessary. You cannot presume that the students know from whence you are beginning. You need to lay the proper foundation. Do not take yourself or the subject matter too seriously.

The level of student participation is much less intense (especially if an elective course) and students are pretty much used to the lecture method only. Because of the language barrier, it is important that you be relaxed, speak slowly and clearly and interject some fun and levity into your presentation. It will be helpful to have a written outline to which the students can make reference because often their reading comprehension is better than their listening comprehension. Do not necessarily expect students to read your materials BEFORE class though.

Interject personal stories and lots of examples. Students seemed to be enthralled and extremely interested in them.

Ask your spouse to make a short presentation to the class about their experiences in their jobs, their lives.

Suggest to the host institution to award a certificate of participation to those attending your lectures. You may want to make up the certificates yourself in advance here in the United States and bring them with you or have them shipped. It will be something that the students will greatly treasure and it will help to keep your attendance consistent.

Host Country and University - Be Prepared

Learn something about the history of the country and university. Try to find out as much as possible about the culture, geography and weather of your designated host country and law school. If possible, try to speak to someone who has either visited or is from the location to which you are going. If you have a Bulgarian, Latvian, Hungarian ... community in your home town, make contact with them.

Do you need a visa? if you are assigned to an EU Country, you will not, only a valid passport (3-6 months minimum validity - be sure to check)

Do you know what the EU countries are? Currently, there are 28, but not all of them are part of Schengen Area.

Contact the country's embassy if you are uncertain or ask your contact at the institution about the need for a visa. You are most likely not the first SLVP they host and they will have established a procedure for sorting your visa out. Make sure your travel and teaching dates are correct in the invitation letter, in all relating documents!! Otherwise, your visa may not list the same dates as your teaching dates.

Research, research, research - for instance - customs regulations what to bring and what not (EU, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine may all have varying customs regulations). Consult the SLVP Bulletin Board, and read the posts from SLVP's who have been to your host university. Read them ALL. Get lots of ideas.

Make sure you know how to get from the airport to your housing; Typically you are met at the airport but not always!

Do NOT mistake 1.05 with 1.05pm! 1.05 is 1.05am. 13.05 is 1.05pm. Many of your host countries use the 24 hour clock/time system. After arriving at the airport realizing you are 12 hours late for your flight, you will know the difference! And it is not a pleasant experience!

If you can, familiarise yourself on google maps with your daily trip from housing to the Institution already from home. Can you walk? Do you need public transportation? If yes, know if you can buy the ticket in the bus/train or only outside the vehicle, will they take bills or will you need coins, are there pre-paid tickets available at all (if yes, where), Day passes are usually cheaper than single tickets, weeks passes cheaper than day passes.

Try to find out as much as possible in advance about your living accommodations. Accommodations tend to be far from luxurious, but certainly adequate and clean. Most hosts are supposed to provide living accommodation at no expense to you. Some may deem their accommodations inadequate and they opted to provide their own accommodations in a hotel. One of the considerations of where you live is how far it is from the law school. Again, advanced planning is important. If you do not get enough specifics by e-mail, use the telephone.

Food is usually very reasonably priced and very good. It is important for you to make contact in advance with someone who is either from the host country or who has visited there so that you can find out more about eating habits, the style of food and its availability. Sometimes finding vegetarian dishes may be a challenge.

Check the University website: Many universities are new or much different since the 1990s, if there is no English version of the website google the university and law faculty; Find out about the setup for your course (access to internet/intranet, computer or office for you to use, with or without student assistant, powerpoint, copying facilities, library, et. al.

What to Take

Cash is king, credit cards (with pin for ATM machines), US Dollars and Euros.

Make sure your clothes are season appropriate

Pack your usual toiletries, and enough of any prescription drug for duration of trip, cold/flu remedies, antibiotics prescription from your doctor, stomach remedies; Drug stores are well equipped and pharmacists much more useful than in US (if you have a translator) still best to take what you normally use and know

Electronics: Chargers/converters, laptop/tablet, skype/facetime, Outline of lectures in PowerPoint, Blackberry, Cell phone (check with provider if it will work in the host country), GPS, i-pod

Flashlight and Alarm clock

Other things: Peanut butter (US specific food, tea or other that you cannot live without), Swiss Army knife, Several sets of plastic cutlery

Books, basic office supplies (letterhead, pens, paper, etc., business cards)

What NOT to Take

Any new item in original box

Coffee maker or tea pot (Learn to make "cowboy coffee")

US local cell phone

Too much cash

Whatever you cannot take due to customs regulations

Suggestions for Gifts (for faculty coordinator, students, other contacts)

Book of your hometown; books for children (you may want to inquire if your faculty coordinator or dean/assistant dean has small children)

Bring something unique to your home area

Law book on subject of interest

US brands of alcohol (Bourbon; California Wines; )

Fridge magnets, flash drives, pens, baseball hats, scarfs of your favorite sports team et. al.

What Attitude to take

Teach your world - Live in their world

Be open - Be available - Be humble - Be flexible

Don't Stress - Enjoy

Some general points

For your first class, and your first appearance at the university make sure you are appropriately dressed in business attire! (Ask your contact to be sure). The dress code for faculty is more formal than the US, and, if you are a man, make sure you know how to tie your tie!

Blue jeans are not considered adult attire for the instructing professor in most of the host schools

Remember CILS sends you not only as a visiting professor, but as an ambassador. You are from one of the leading economies in the world - dress like it and act like it. It is expected.

Point out several sincere good things about the host country, people and local area. Do not make unfavorable comparisons between the US and the host country; Express gratitude for students' study of English and compliment them on their speaking ability; Do not criticize (too harshly) or make light of their national and local problems.

By all means be proud to be American, but at the same time express admiration and respect for other cultures and people and acknowledge the US is not perfect. Stay out of the political arena as much as you can. Endorse American democracy, free enterprise and capitalism, but do not get specific about US politics or the host country's politics.

If you tip in restaurants 10 or even 15 % is considered too much usually. It may suffice to round up. Consult with your travel book, your university contact or SLVP alumni.

If you go to a country where the Cyrillic Alphabet is in use, make SURE, you know it. It will make your life so much easier being able to decipher street signs!

Specific Recommendations for Travel to/in Ukraine (compiled spring 2013)

1. Study Russian or Ukrainian so you can order meals, travel by air, train and taxi, ask directions, and shop. Russian is widely understood, but there is some chauvinism against Russian in the more Ukrainian speaking areas.

2. Bring batteries if you need them, the batteries in Ukraine were inferior. Non-alkaline batteries lasted two shots in my camera, and the alkaline ones lasted about two days.

3. Crimean wine is very good.

4. Use lots of graphics and photos with your PowerPoint Presentations.

5. Buy lots of bottled water whenever possible, so you have it in your room for coffee, tooth brushing and hydration. Drink only bottled water, brush your teeth only with bottled water.

6. Ukrainian food and beer are very good, but it is better to eat cooked food. Fresh salads and fruit may result in travel sickness.

7. 10% tips are considered generous.

8. Most people are very poor, do not flash your relative wealth around (a professor told me he is paid 3 dollars an hour).

9. Bring towels and a plug for the sinks. Paper towels would be nice.

10. Bring laundry detergent and toilet paper.

11. Dress in dark, plain colors. Men wore short sleeve dress shirts without jackets and ties because it was warm. Cotton dress pants are good for summer men's wear. Women wear stylish dresses and skirts, and fancy sandals in summer.

12. Because the local people are not well off compared to Americans, I typically paid for all meals eaten out, which were very reasonably priced. Allow your hosts to pay for some things, but not too many.

13. Bring a portable radio, with shortwave.

14. Don't expect to have good internet at all times at your hotel or apartment, but there is good wireless internet on the campuses in the faculty offices.

15. Time is a flexible concept. Don't expect punctuality.

16. Teaching was 1.5 to 2 hours a day, usually in the afternoon, several days a week.

17. There are typically small grocery stores within a few blocks of hotels and apartments. You can buy basic food items to cook in your room, like water, instant coffee, tea, cheese, bread, butter, eggs and similar items.

18. Ukrainian beds are typically harder than American beds.

19. Students will ask questions totally unrelated to your speaking topic, due to their interest in the US.

20. Students seem very earnest and intent on learning.