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International Course Breaks Down Cross-Cultural Barriers

Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014

Advanced law class prepares students to approach business law from a global perspective

 -By Gilien Silsby

When Julie Ryan was asked to launch a new international business law course at USC Gould, she created an in-class law firm – complete with a series of simulations based on actual multi-national deals. Ryan opened the class to a mix of JD and international Master of Laws students, exposing them to a variety of cross-cultural communication challenges.

Prof. Julie Ryan

The pilot class, which included American, Chinese, Korean and Japanese students, was such a success, it is now a permanent offering. Considered an Advanced Legal Writing course, it also qualifies for the Business Law Certificate.

Ryan, who worked as a partner at Russ August & Kabat in Los Angeles before joining USC Gould in 2010, said her goal is to prepare students for the global practice of business law. As an attorney, she saw first hand the barriers that arise in a cross-cultural or multinational context.

“The practice of law—especially business law—is becoming increasingly globalized, with business lawyers frequently representing clients in transactions that span different legal systems, cultures, and languages,” Ryan said.  “I want to get our students ‘practice-ready.’”

To achieve this, Ryan identified three crucial facets for success: exposure to basic substantive issues a junior associate would likely encounter, development of effective communication and problem-solving skills, and cross-cultural awareness. 

“When I started researching ideas, I realized my approach was something of a novel one, and that there was little out there that melded global lawyering skills with transactional lawyering, and less still that exposed students to the substantive context of transactional practice.”

Tomoko Kondo, a Master of Laws student from Japan, said that class was invaluable because she learned about cultures from a legal, negotiation and approach to work standpoint.

“In class, we had quite good communication between the JDs and LLMs,” Kondo said. “This made the class outstanding and interesting. Professor Ryan encouraged in-class communication and discussion. The design of this class was outstanding. I would definitely recommend it to any law student interested in business.”

To design a course that offered students real, practical insight, Ryan created a series of simulations based on actual international transactions that she had previously negotiated.

Last year, the students were presented with a case involving the acquisition of an Arabian oil company’s U.S. subsidiary by a Malaysian shipping company.  Students were asked to research a variety of issues involving structuring the transaction, to generate options for the client based on the client’s concerns, and to counsel the client as to the advisability of each option.  As part of the exercise, students drafted a memorandum to the supervising partner, participated in a live client interview, and prepared a letter to the client.  [In another case, the students were asked to negotiate a joint venture between a U.S. manufacturer and a Colombian distributor.]

“I wasn’t sure if students would be willing to fully engage in the simulations and with each other, but they exceeded my expectations.  In fact, for the final simulation, most students asked to be paired with a student from a different culture.”

Jacqueline Burbank ’15 said the class was the most practical and informative course she has taken in law school. “Every assignment and class exercise is designed to help you prepare for the real legal world,” Burbank said. “I was fortunate to take this course before starting my 2L summer and have successfully used all the skills I learned from Professor Ryan.”

Deborah Call, Associate Dean, Graduate & International Programs, said the unique course is particularly usefulness to foreign LL.M.s and students interested in transactional practice.

“Eight of our LLM students had the great pleasure of enrolling in the inaugural offering of Professor Ryan’s very popular Advanced Legal Writing for International Business Lawyers class,” said Call. “They truly enjoyed the opportunity to expand the scope of their legal writing skills in an international business context.”

Ryan said she wanted to offer a class would appeal to both the J.D. and the international students earning Master of Laws degrees at USC.

“We are lucky to have such a unique mix of JD and international students on campus.  Our students’ exposure to this multi-cultural environment not only enriches the law school experience, but is invaluable in preparing them for the global practice of law.”

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