Getting experience and giving legal aid abroad

A new partnership at Osgoode Hall Law School hopes to provide invaluable international law experience for law students while at the same time providing cost-effective legal aid to developing countries.The International Law Partnership (ILP) is the brainchild of two former Osgoode students who met in an international trade law class last year. Co-founders Jordan Zed and Zara Angelina Merali tell Law Times that they never imagined the ILP would become what it is today.

"It's very fulfilling to see it come to fruition and see so many people with the expertise as great as those on the counsel of advisers really coming on board and things moving really quickly," says Zed, who is now an articling student at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP.

"I think at the same time that these things happen incrementally and we're in this for the long haul. We really want this to be a long-term, sustainable organization at the law school and something that students many years from now will be able to work in and have experience in and get exposure to."

It's the first non-profit, professional and student co-operative organization in Canada to provide systematic global policy and legal research assistance to developing countries. The ILP's mission is to enhance the institutional capacity of developing countries to respond to regulatory issues in their countries, including negotiating and implementing multilateral treaties, and facilitating the exchange of information concerning legal research and policy development.

Under the direction of Osgoode professors Craig Scott and Dr. Charles Gastle, the ILP has quickly assembled an impressive roster of patrons and a council of advisors, including former ministers of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy and Barbara McDougall; former premier of Ontario Bob Rae; Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada; Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Robert Sharpe; Rana Khan, legal
officer, United Nations High Commis-sioner for Refugees/Resource Person; Sharon Williams, former ad litem judge, Inter-national Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; as well as many other accomplished legal and policy experts from Canada and around the world.

Merali says that as ILP built new partners, they realized how crucial it would be to have multiple partners involved in the project and at the same time get some advice from key people on how they could find a niche for the ILP.
"We have this vision that it would be a partnership of many different people, many different ideas and perspectives, capitalizing on this very cost-effective learning opportunity for law students but at the same time benefiting from the expertise and this willingness and openness to help and also be involved in something more than just a law firm," she says.

Zed says the breadth of knowledge of international law at Osgoode, and in Toronto more generally, was a major impetus for the development of the ILP.

"[Professor Gastle] posed a question in class one day about the great expertise and diversity of experience in international law in Toronto and yet the very little work in the area and the very little ability for students to gain exposure in that area in the law school and there was a tremendous amount of interest in international law," he says.

"There really wasn't any way in which students could gain practical experience in the field. So Zara and I thought about how that might be possible, how it might be possible to build something within the school and . . . we basically went about meeting with [Osgoode dean Patrick Monahan] and we said, 'What do you think of an idea in which we would set up an organization that would provide capacity building and assistance to developing countries around the world?'

"It was a little daunting at first but I have to say we were met with so much support by the dean and by the other international law professors at the school," Zed says.

At the program launch late last month, the ILP's first flagship project was announced: a collaborative development of a national judicial institute in Kenya focusing on improved legal transparency and access to justice in the East African region.

"We're sending a team of four law students to Nairobi, Kenya, this summer who will be working on an anti-corruption project, but really what it is is sort of developing the foundational analysis for a national judicial institute that will service the East Africa based in Nairobi," says Merali, who will be articling at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in the fall.

"Just to think, if I had had that opportunity as a first-year law student, how phenomenal that would be. The kind of training we're putting them through before even going out there in terms of getting very specialized understanding of international legal resources, project management skills, these are the kinds of skills that are the future of the legal profession because law firms have been telling law schools for a long time that it's really important to teach law students how to actually manage a project and develop business," she says.

Zed explains that when the students return, the project won't end there.

"They work with people in the community here once they return to complete the project so that it's at a very high quality of deliverable at the end of the day," he says.

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