William and Mary Law School

Lessons Learned

Despite it being summer in Washington, D.C., which is supposed to be the dead time of year in terms of event attendance, the events at USIP have been filling up and overflowing. It will be a good thing when USIP's new building is completed because the organization is becoming much better known and interest in USIP events is subsequently growing. The Rule of Law Program has been very busy as well.

In addition to working hard on my Gender Justice research, I was drafted to help with the annual INPROL meeting. This year's meeting was different from previous years because it was preceded by a special meeting of people who worked with various international organizations in Kosovo, discussing the lessons learned specific to the justice system. When I first started law school, I was unsure of exactly how a legal background would be helpful in the kind of work I want to do. Now, although I am still not exactly sure how it will all pan out, I have a better idea of where the lawyers in international work go. Most of the people involved in this lessons learned meeting had law degrees. Some had worked as international judges or prosecutors in Kosovo while the justice system was being built up. Others used their legal expertise in planning areas of the mission.

It was really interesting to get their perspectives on what it means to be a lawyer doing international work. It was also interesting to hear their advice for the future. Many of them highly recommend practicing law at home for a while before venturing into the international field. This advice comes predominantly from those who did so themselves. I definitely see the advantages you could gain, especially practicing in criminal law. There are some things about the inner workings and day-to-day functioning of the justice system that you probably can never learn from a textbook.

On the other hand, practitioners have often stepped back from their roles in developing countries where they are working on building or restructuring a national justice system and wondered why they are undertaking the task when they would never dream of undertaking a similar task in their own country. This is directly tied to the main lesson learned from the Kosovo missions (and also from most other missions from what I have read this summer): It is counter-productive to send staff and internationals into a post-conflict or developing country without thoroughly training them in the field of rule of law and fully acclimating them to the national context they are entering. To me, this seems pretty obvious. After all, how much good can a group of well-intentioned people do if they are uninformed and unprepared?

But the politics in the international system and the logistics of waging peace are enormous obstacles to a truly productive peacekeeping mission. Thus, it seems like the same lessons are learned each time around.

Practitioners are forever talking about how little they really knew about the tasks they were supposed to be in charge of in the field. They often talk about how little training they had that prepared them for their job. I think that this is one area where the lesson can really be learned and even put into action. If practical training is lacking, then education is the key, right? From what I have learned, the program here at William & Mary Law School is pretty unique for its practical training. I don't think I would have understood that if I had not been here at USIP for the summer.