Bringing Together Two Law Schools

At a moment when relations with Cuba are undergoing a historic thaw, ending the embargo will require an act of congress. Nevertheless, under his Executive Powers, President Barack Obama will be able to reduce a number of the obstacles between the two countries—for example, the normalization of diplomatic relations. In the context of that easing of decades old tensions, 24 Suffolk Law students traveled to Havana, Cuba’s capital, for a first-of-its kind intersession course on negotiation and mediation at University of Havana Law School.

Traveling by foot, not by tour bus
What makes the program so unusual is not the arrival of American law students, says the program’s director, Judge Isaac Borenstein (ret.), a Visiting Professor of Law at Suffolk. A few law students can claim to have traveled to Cuba as part of their studies, he said, “but the unique element is that the students were living in private homes with Cuban families, and traveling by foot, and taxi, including so-called ‘Coco Taxis’, and by bus, rather than in a chartered tour bus.” Borenstein was born and lived in Cuba until he was 10 years-old, and sought this arrangement so that students could get a better sense of daily life in Havana.

Cuban teachers, too
Another unusual approach is that the intersession course was co-taught with University of Havana Law School professors as well as Borenstein and expert mediators and teachers from The Mediation Group in Brookline. “Normally you’d have American teachers teaching the course, usually in hotels,” said Borenstein, but this program fully integrates the University of Havana law professors and Cuban students--at their law school."

The course has come together over the course of months, Borenstein said, starting back in March 2014 when Dean Camille A. Nelson  became the first American law school dean since the Cuban Revolution to visit the Havana law school. While there, Dean Nelson, Associate Dean Ilene Seidman, and Judge Borenstein participated in a two-day academic exchange.

This fall, Professor Leonardo Perez Gallardo from the University of Havana Law School visited Suffolk Law and spoke to the faculty and students about the history of the Cuban legal system.

The law of inheritance—in a socialist context
“It’s an interesting challenge for our students,” said Borenstein, “to consider mediation in Cuba in the area of division of assets after a divorce or the law of inheritance in the context of a socialist society—in the context of a system that’s based on the Roman Civic Code instead of English Common Law. What does that Cuban mediation look like? What can we learn from each other’s systems? You have that experience and you can’t help but think about law in a new way. All of this coming in the context of major policy changes made the Cuban journey even more special for our  law students.”

The Caribbean Initiative
The interactions with Cuba are part of the law school’s larger Caribbean Initiative. In addition to Cuba, the school partners with organizations and schools in Puerto Rico and Jamaica, so our students can have real practice experience with the Caribbean legal system.

One program, The Jamaica Virtual Internship, links Suffolk Law students in Boston via Skype with the Office of the Children’s Advocate in Jamaica in a one-semester for-credit internship program. Students enrolled in this program have conducted legal research on a variety of issues to enhance the lives and ensure the safety of the children of Jamaica. Topics that students have worked on in recent years include the study of the child pornography and child trafficking laws in Jamaica as well as how the jury system of Jamaica treats child victims and witnesses. The goal of this research is to assist the attorneys at the Office of Child Advocate to amend their present laws on these subjects to improve child welfare in Jamaica.

Linking with El Salvador
Suffolk Law, in conjunction with Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador, has been awarded a grant of $50,000 from the Moakley Foundation. This grant was awarded in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Jesuit Massacre and in recognition of the work of Senator Moakley in bringing peace to El Salvador. To initiate this collaboration, Suffolk Law and UCA will each hold a symposium highlighting current scholarship on human rights, migration, and violence and delinquency prevention in both countries. 

These symposia will occur annually and will involve virtual participation of panelists from each school and ideally the participation of students, faculty and interested community members as both physical and virtual attendees.

These symposia will also be used as a platform for framing joint scholarship, teaching and advocacy efforts and for launching these efforts.  It is also hoped that this grant will allow for student and faculty exchanges and future collaborative efforts.