I sit here writing in my hotel room listening to the hum of crickets and a symphony of frogs outside my window in the late evening air. What an extraordinary opportunity this is, to come to Uganda to teach the Courtroom Techniques and Advocacy Program for the African Centre for Legal Excellence, an arm of the International Law Institute. The Centre was founded in 1997 and serves to prove practical, high-level post-professional education so it can contribute to the development of legal infrastructure on the African continent. Core areas of its work include judicial restructure and reform; dispute resolution; human rights and access to justice, among others. The Centre runs programs all across Africa, and boasts over 20,000 alumni across Africa.
My students, however, number three. They come from Malawi and Ghana and each work at the intersection of banking and the law. Each entered the program eager to gain more hands-on experience with the trial skills they only learned about in books at their law schools at home. Of course, that is not the Temple way. Using files similar to those we use in our ITAP classes, the ACLE students were on their feet practicing trial skills from day one. Even across just this first week they’ve improved tremendously. They are mastering the basics, and with each new exam they give or speech they deliver, their confidence grows. Tomorrow is the final day of week one, and they will try a case, soup to nuts. I can’t wait to see them put it all together.
What a great opportunity this is to share what we do at Temple – building new courtroom ready lawyers – to people thirsty for those skills. And although our rules of evidence differ, and what they call direct examination isn’t the same as our term for it in the US (they call it their “examination in chief”), the substance of the work is the same. Who knew that trial work could serve as a universal common language? My hope is to find time next week to attend the Ugandan High Court- which serves as the functional equivalent to Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas or to our Federal District Courts- so I can learn more about how trials work here in Africa. Any opportunity to teach is also an opportunity to learn.
Thus far I’ve learned that the Ugandan people are kind and thoughtful; to stay away from the “boda-bodas” (ubiquitous motocross bikes swerving in and out of heavy traffic here); and that the doughy, yellow, plantain-based staple food matoke is kind of bland at the end of the day. But there’s another week to go, so I’m sure there’s much more to glean from this place and its people. Above all, I am reminded of how grateful I am to work at a place that values trial skills and fosters international cooperation.
For now, the crickets are calling, and so is my bed. Important to rest up. After all, there are cases to be tried tomorrow.