When I entered law school in my native Albania, at the tender age of 18, I had strong idealistic beliefs. I began my legal studies as a mission, but, like almost all young idealists, I faced disappointment after confronting the systemic corruption in the Albanian justice system. To avoid that corruption as much as possible, I steered away from both public administration and litigation. I then directed my efforts into the private sector and commercial law. This later became my focus in the Master of Laws for Foreign-Trained Lawyers (LLM) program at Temple University Beasley School of Law.
I very much enjoying living in Philadelphia, while attending classes as part of the Temple intensive English (IELP) and LLM programs. Living and studying abroad changes one on so many levels. I will never forget the extraordinary professors; their use of the Socratic method differs so greatly from higher education practices back home. The engagement with professors and students, both in and out of the classroom, shapes one’s thinking and presents challenges with far-reaching effects. My Temple education broadened my perspective on legal and social issues and promoted my critical thinking. Moreover, it revived and reinforced my values and idealistic beliefs. For the first time I was feeling that the culture where I was living embraced all my aspirations of social justice, rule of law, gender equality, and other civil rights. It was a welcome relief to discuss the challenges of racism, democracy, and civil rights, instead of the standard Albanian issues of money and corruption.
Upon my return to Albania, I first worked at the largest law firm in Tirana, and then became in-house counsel for Vodafone Group. Although this commercial work was valuable and engaging, I still found it to be somewhat limited as far as what mattered deeply to me.
In 2017, Albania began reforming its laws as part of the process of joining the European Union. Justice reform was of paramount importance. Constitutional amendments were made, and processes established to promote accountability, professionalism, an independent judiciary, and better access to justice. The ultimate goal was restoration of public trust. Albania is a young democracy, only 30 years old. So, these reforms were an important moment for the future of Albanian law and society.
As part of the reforms, the Albanian government established two vetting bodies that are tasked with reviewing the finances and professionalism of Albanian judges and prosecutors. Those officials who have unexplained wealth (from bribes) or ties to organized crime are to be dismissed. To oversee this re-evaluation process, the European Union and United States government established the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) to oversee the vetting process.
I was fortunate enough to join the IMO in 2018, as a legal officer, advising the international observers. So far, approximately half of the judges and prosecutors in Albania have been dismissed from office due to misconduct or unexplained assets. I fervently hope that our efforts will lead to both a better Albanian justice system and greater confidence on the part of the citizens of Albania.
I always advise students to study abroad and to go with an open mind so you can experience all that the foreign culture has to offer. It is difficult but try to shake off your old assumptions and perceptions. And, when you return home, use that broadened perspective to find a life’s work that is satisfying and meaningful. Study abroad at Temple positioned me to procure a high-impact job where I am pursuing social justice and building the rule of law in my home country. I am confident that other students with study abroad experience can do the same.