Two Arnstein & Lehr LLP Chicago partners traveled to Eastern Europe to teach what they know: American law.
The Center for International Legal Studies Visiting Professorship for Senior Lawyers program is intended to introduce common law legal systems to law students in former Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries.
Robert E. McKenzie and Joel M. Hurwitz were two of 35 American lawyers to participate this October and the only two from Chicago, they said.
McKenzie spent two weeks teaching at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Kosice, Slovakia, and Hurwitz taught at Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Neither of the Arnstein partners knew the other was going until two days before they left for training. They’re not in the same practice group, so they rarely would have had a chance to chat about their upcoming volunteer trips.
“The only thing we ever small chat about is football,” McKenzie said.
“Michigan State football,” Hurwitz said. “There hasn’t been much to talk about this year.”
“It’s been terrible,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said he was showing an Arnstein marketing staff person the program’s website and they discovered together that he wasn’t the only Arnstein attorney who would be shipping out to teach.
They both found out about the opportunity when they received an e-mail from the Center for International Legal Studies.
McKenzie lectures to other professionals across the country and thought it seemed like a good opportunity to try lecturing young students.
“I’m in my 60s, so it’s time to try something new,” he said.
Hurwitz said he was interested in the potential challenge of explaining law to students whose first languages aren’t English. Plus, he said he enjoys teaching and he and his wife enjoy travel.
Hurwitz worked with the program to set up his wife, who teaches English as a second language here in U.S., with a volunteer position teaching English in the same Lithuanian university where he was teaching. Some of his students came to his class directly from his wife’s class, so they were already in the mode of talking in English with American accents.
Meanwhile in Slovakia, McKenzie taught American constitution and governance to undergraduate law students, then American tax procedures to graduate students.
Hurwitz taught American corporate law. He said he was nervous about if the material he prepared to teach would be too easy or too difficult for the Lithuanian students, but both he and McKenzie said their students understood the material well.
Hurwitz spent the first class trying to get the students to talk to get a gauge of how fluent they were in English. He said he was delighted by how well they and Lithuanians in general communicated in English.
McKenzie and Hurwitz said most students dressed up for classes, wearing collared shirts and nice dresses, and Hurwitz also said he was awestruck by the students’ attention spans. He said students sat still and were always looking at him.
“I thought, I’d better say something good to justify that type of tension,” Hurwitz said, joking.
Both McKenzie and Hurwitz said students were less likely to talk or ask questions until directly asked if they found something confusing.
McKenzie had 25 students from six countries, including Spain, Turkey, Moldova and Slovakia. Hurwitz had 30 students, about half of whom were Ukrainian, 10 of whom were Lithuanian and others were from France and other countries.
McKenzie said his host professor sat in on part of classes and had her graduate assistant sit in on all classes to jump up and fix equipment if it broke during a lecture.
The only surprise for McKenzie, he said, was the housing. He didn’t realize the housing the program provided was student housing in a dormitory room from the Soviet era that shared the bathroom with the undergraduate students who lived on the floor.
McKenzie laughed at the idea of him walking past 19-year-olds with a towel around his waist to go to the shower. He left shortly afterward and checked in at a first-class hotel instead.
Hurwitz said he and his wife had been warned about the housing and had booked their hotel stay in advance.
Hurwitz said his host professor sat in on most classes. He picked Hurwitz and his wife up from the airport after their 12-hour overnight flight and gave them a tour immediately through Vilnius and the nearby Trakai a few days later.
Hurwitz’s own family immigrated to the United States from Lithuania the 1890s, so he asked to be placed in the country to see a bit of the land of his ancestors. Chicago has the second largest population of Lithuanians outside of the country itself, so he said many people he met knew someone in Chicago.
Both found their host cities inexpensive. McKenzie took seven students out for lunch and bought everyone beer and yet the total bill was only $48. When Hurwitz took his wife and host professor out for a big lunch, he at first thought the $32 bill was accidentally just for one of the diners.
Several of their students asked for advice on how to get a job in the United States. Hurwitz said he had to reply to one student’s e-mail saying Arnstein wasn’t hiring at the moment but that she should look into international American firms with offices in Eastern Europe.
McKenzie and Hurwitz both recommended the program to other attorneys.
“I think that all of us need to get away from our habits and get different views to make us better lawyers,” McKenzie said.
Applicants must have at least 15 years of practice in the area they plan to teach and, if selected, must complete training to understand history, politics, legal education and the relationship with the European Union in their assigned countries.
The Center for International Legal Studies Visiting Professorship for Senior Lawyers offers programs in spring and fall each year since the program was founded in 2005.