Rule of Law Program
From its inception in 2000, the Rule of Law Program's research activities and projects have focused attention on the formal and informal institutions associated with the rule of law. The Program examines critical connections between economic development and law, society, economy, and polity in societies in major political and economic transition. Empirical evidence is used to better understand how strengthening a country’s intertwined institutions leads to better governance.
The Rule of Law Program capitalizes on the extraordinary initiative and commitment of Stanford law students and on invitations to partner with educational institutions and the legal communities in countries seeking a more robust rule of law. The Program is directed by Professor Erik Jensen, a 27–year veteran of international Rule of Law theory and practice and a faculty member of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford law students and faculty analyze both theoretical and practical ways that international and domestic actors can most effectively support and strengthen the rule of law, taking full account of the local political economy of change and stasis.
From 2000 to 2006, the Rule of Law Program surveyed general trends in the Rule of Law and hosted specialized "country" workshops on countries such as Mexico, India, and China. During this period, the program thoroughly critiqued international rule of law projects that focused on a narrow set of formal legal institutions. The program also examined performance of these projects empirically across countries.
In 2007 the Program reoriented its focus, using its body of research to support and guide student–driven, country–specific projects. In the five years since, the Program has launched projects in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Timor–Leste, Kurdistan, and recently Rwanda. Project activity is anchored in a curriculum developed by the Rule of Law Program, and the core focus is to develop high quality student-authored legal textbooks available online without charge. The Rule of Law Program is unique in that its "in the field" research generates critical analysis of the local laws and emerging practice in each of the project localities, and it tailors its educational materials to targeted users.
Purpose and methodology
The cross–border movement of legal ideas stretches back to ancient times. Moreover, heightened global awareness and rapid technological advancement have led to increased pressure for more efficient and workable legal systems. Claims about a grand theory of how the rule of law develops should invite significant critical scrutiny. Within our knowledge frontier, however, we do know that demand for various dimensions of rule of law, and collective action around those demands, are potent dynamics to assure that rule of law will take root. And we know that improving the quality and density of information that is widely available can enhance the environment for the development of rule of law and for social, political and economic change. The Rule of Law Program's analyses and country-specific projects help to create, articulate, and channel legal resources to meet this demand. The projects help to educate the next generation of lawyers and leaders in the countries in which we work by providing the basic analytical tools and knowledge essential for in–country scalable legal education.
The current projects answer part of the demand for improved legal education by providing project countries with high quality student–written legal textbooks. The textbooks are produced by each of the project teams on a yearly basis. The subject matter is determined by local need and the sequence of the textbooks balances depth and breadth. The first textbook in a given country is often an introduction to the laws of that country. Subsequent textbooks then analyze specific laws in more detail. The process is uniquely collaborative and iterative in that the projects work with in–country faculty and students, judges, lawyers, government officials and civil society practitioners throughout the textbook production process and beyond. Textbooks are also translated into the official language(s) of the project country, with writing progressing over a period of years and shifting from one team to the next. The textbooks also provide a key to existing scholarship by referencing extensive sources through citations and footnotes.
The result is a critical ongoing conversation about rule of law expectations, and how to best meet them. In Afghanistan for instance, the textbooks have become a standard reference on the laws of Afghanistan, reaching broad and diverse audiences. The project has also provided high quality domestic and international faculty to teach these materials, thus enhancing the caliber and interactivity of the legal curricula at the American University of Afghanistan. In Bhutan, the project has engaged in the first systematic critical analysis of many of Bhutan's laws. In Timore–Leste, the project is engaging in the first extensive critical analysis of Timorese law. This analysis is translated into all three official languages of Timor–Leste, including Tetum. The project in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will be launched in the spring of 2012 and will radically update the analysis of laws, taking into account the dramatic changes in the country and region in recent years.
The Rule of Law Program aspires to provide critical assistance in strengthening the rule of law by promoting the practical application of lawyering skills beyond the realm of legal education. Students who learn to think critically are equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Honing the skills to "think like a lawyer" transcends technical distinctions between common law and civil law systems. Practitioners with these abilities are especially needed where the formal law as written and its real world application diverge significantly. Beyond legal education, the Program has and will continue to respond to specific research and training requests of legal actors from, for example, officials within the supreme court and the office of attorney general in countries in which the Program has projects.
The Program is pleased to announce that it will be launching the Rwanda Law and Development Project in 2013. Check back soon for detailed information about the exciting new initiative.
Funded by Diverse Public, Private, and Foundational Sources Including:
- INL/State Department
- The Asia Foundation
- Hewlett Foundation
- Microsoft Corporation
- Dean's Office at Stanford Law School
- Provost's Office at Stanford University
- Stanford Alumni
- Other private gifts from philanthropists such as Dr. Frederik Paulson, CEO of Ferring Pharmaceuticals