With borders increasingly porous and no hint that the dizzying pace of globalization, international agreements, mergers and tieups will slow, few things seem certain except that the world is getting smaller.
And that this incredible shrinking globe is going to need more transnational lawyers.
Internationalization of business is changing the legal landscape. Litigation is playing less of a role, and today’s world calls for a new generation of legal eagles with negotiating skills, capable of evaluating risk and conducting international business transactions, said Paul Brest, dean of the Stanford Law School in California.
“When you think about law school and being a lawyer you probably imagine a courtroom,” he said.
If so, it’s time to update that image. More and more graduates find themselves involved in business transactions, and these are increasingly international in nature, said Brest, in Tokyo to meet with alumni and visit his son.
“I think the concept of what lawyers do is changing. I would say that the majority of graduates of Stanford Law School these days are working doing what is called transactional work.”
As the barriers between countries continue to erode and businesses branch out overseas, a new breed of lawyer with updated skills and more of a world view is becoming necessary, Brest believes.
“One way to describe what is going on in the law school curriculum is preparing students for a world in which their professional lives will be global and in which many of their clients are going to be organizations,” he said.
A prime example especially relevant to Stanford is neighboring Silicon Valley, with which the university has traditionally had very strong ties, Brest said.
“We now have coming to law school an increasing number of people who want to work in Silicon Valley — either in law or in business or in venture capital. So we have modified the curriculum in a way that gives them better training for that.”
To accommodate these and similar needs, the school is encouraging interdisciplinary studies where law professors and professors from other schools, such as the engineering or medical school, will collaborate to teach a class.
“In a sense the world is making us rethink the legal curriculum, because the world no longer gets compartmentalized the same way it could have even 50 years ago.
“Intellectual property is obviously another important area of law. Fifteen or 20 years ago when we taught intellectual property it was mainly about American copyright law, and now it is a course that is completely international, focusing mainly on the various international treaties and intellectual property.”
In addition to skills that transcend borders, lawyers will also need to bring to the job a more international perspective. And Brest believes law schools have a responsibility to supply this.
“In some sense, the most important skill that we can give a student with respect to global law practice, is not being arrogant and not thinking that the American way of doing it is the only way of doing it and to expose students to other legal systems and other ways of thinking about the law.”
Toward this end, it is valuable for legal students to spend time abroad, and Japan is a good place to gain valuable experience and broaden horizons, he said.
“I think that one direction in which I see the law school moving is having more students who will spend a semester or a year learning about another legal system. And Japan is high on the list of places that our students would go.” .