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International law course breaks down cultural barriers

An advanced class at USC Gould prepares students to approach business law from a global perspective

Julie Ryan at work
Julie Ryan focuses on communication in class.
(Photo/Gregory Mancuso)

When Julie Ryan was asked to launch a new international business law course at the USC Gould School of Law, she created an in-class law firm complete with a series of simulations based on actual multinational deals.

Ryan opened the pilot class to a mix of students of J.D. and international Master of Laws students, exposing them to cross-cultural communication challenges.

The class, which included American, Chinese, Korean and Japanese students, was such a success, it is now a permanent offering. Considered an advanced legal writing course, it also qualifies for the Business Law Certificate.

Ryan, who worked as a partner at Russ August & Kabat in Los Angeles before joining USC Gould in 2010, said her goal is to prepare students for the global practice of business law. As an attorney, she saw firsthand the barriers that arise in a cross-cultural or multinational context.

“The practice of law — especially business law — is becoming increasingly globalized, with business lawyers frequently representing clients in transactions that span different legal systems, cultures and languages,” Ryan said. “I want to get our students ‘practice-ready.’ ”

Three roads to success

To achieve that goal, Ryan identified three facets for success: exposure to basic, substantive issues a junior associate would likely encounter, development of effective communication and problem-solving skills, and cross-cultural awareness.

“When I started researching ideas, I realized my approach was something of a novel one and that there was little out there that melded global lawyering skills with transactional lawyering, and less still that exposed students to the substantive context of transactional practice.”

Tomoko Kondo, a Master of Laws student from Japan, said the class was invaluable because she learned about cultures from a legal, negotiation and approach-to-work standpoint.

“In class, we had quite good communication between the JDs and LLMs,” Kondo said. “I would definitely recommend it to any law student interested in business.”

To design a course that offered students practical insights, Ryan created a series of simulations based on actual international transactions that she had previously negotiated.

International transactions

In the pilot class, the students were presented with a case involving the acquisition of an Arabian oil company’s U.S. subsidiary by a Malaysian shipping company.

Every assignment and class exercise is designed to help you prepare for the real legal world.

Jacqueline Burbank

Students were asked to research a variety of issues involving a structuring of the transaction to generate options for the client based on the latter’s concerns, and to counsel the client as to the advisability of each option. As part of the exercise, students drafted a memorandum to the supervising partner, participated in a live client interview and prepared a letter to the client. (In another case, the students were asked to negotiate a joint venture between a U.S. manufacturer and a Colombian distributor.)

“I wasn’t sure if students would be willing to fully engage in the simulations and with each other, but they exceeded my expectations,” Ryan said. “In fact, for the final simulation, most students asked to be paired with a student from a different culture.”

Jacqueline Burbank said the class was the most practical and informative course she has taken in law school.

“Every assignment and class exercise is designed to help you prepare for the real legal world,” Burbank said. “I was fortunate to take this course before starting my 2L summer and have successfully used all the skills I learned from Professor Ryan.”

Boosting legal writing skills

Deborah Call, associate dean of Graduate & International Programs, said the unique course is particularly useful to foreign LL.M.s and students interested in transactional practice.

“Eight of our LLM students had the great pleasure of enrolling in the inaugural offering of Professor Ryan’s very popular ‘Advanced Legal Writing for International Business Lawyers’ class,” Call said. “They truly enjoyed the opportunity to expand the scope of their legal writing skills in an international business context.”

Ryan said she wanted to offer a class that would appeal to both the J.D. and the international students earning Master of Laws degrees at USC.

“We are lucky to have such a unique mix of J.D. and international students on campus. Our students’ exposure to this multicultural environment not only enriches the law school experience, but is invaluable in preparing them for the global practice of law.”

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International law course breaks down cultural barriers

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