When Mexico in 2008 decided to reform its judicial system to include U.S.-style oral advocacy, the nation’s lawyers needed to be trained in the art of oral arguments and cross-examination.
UNL law professors Kevin Ruser and Steven Schmidt answered the call.
They and their colleagues are helping law faculty at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) transition to teaching an oral advocacy legal system to law students and practicing lawyers and judges. Mexico’s legal reform must be completed by 2016.
Since 2010, a UNL team has traveled to Mexico City to teach workshops. They also have hosted several UNAM faculty members in Nebraska for clinics and courtroom tours. Others are attending UNL law classes. The team is helping to establish a trial clinic-style curriculum similar to what’s used in U.S. law schools.
“Their instincts are spot on because they are practicing lawyers,” Ruser said. “They’ve made these arguments in writing so now they just have to do it orally.”
While oral arguments are central to the U.S. legal system, in Mexico, a judge traditionally ruled after reading written evidence without the benefit of validating evidence or witnesses through live testimony.
“The best thing about (oral advocacy) is that it lends a lot of transparency,” Ruser said. “Before, nobody really knew what happened or how decisions got made. Now everything is going to happen in open court.”
Initially, the team faced skepticism that judicial change was necessary. The team now receives an enthusiastic reception. Newly trained lawyers recognize they are an important resource for their nation’s transitioning legal system.
Ruser said he’s learned much from his Mexican counterparts and hopes the collaboration leads to permanent faculty and student exchange programs.
The work is part of a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development through the American Council on Education-Higher Education for Development Program.