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Law School class heading to Thailand

By Ilene Fleischmann

Release Date: December 23, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For the second time, a University at Buffalo Law School class will travel to Thailand to study its unique legal culture.

Twelve students are scheduled to travel to the Southeast Asian nation, to a region in the foothills of the Himalayas, from Jan. 7 to 24. They will be accompanied by UB Distinguished Service Professor David M. Engel, a specialist in interdisciplinary studies of law and society in the U.S. and other countries, and who has studied and written about Thai law for more than 30 years. The group will be joined by Engel's spouse, Jaruwan Engel, a professional translator, author and Thai language instructor.

"It helps students to understand the unique features of the American legal system if they are exposed to a civil law system, which is what most of the world has, as compared with the U.S. common law system," says Engel. "When they see how Thai law works in its cultural and social context and see other possibilities, other ways of doing things, it may inspire creativity when they're working in the U.S. legal system.

"No matter what career people pursue, we live in a globalized world and a globalized economy, and students are going to come into contact with people and organizations that are not U.S.-based," he adds. "It behooves us to understand how people from other countries and cultures work and think. A trip like this changes peoples' understanding of themselves. It makes them more confident and more mature."

The learning experience serves as a "bridge course," one of the UB Law School's January offerings between full semesters. In addition to extensive pre-travel reading and study, and a post-trip writing requirement, a key component of the course is a two-and-a-half-week residence in Chiangmai, Thailand, where students will engage in structured "conversations" with village chiefs, Buddhist monks, Thai law professors, students, attorneys and representatives of non-governmental organizations. In addition, students will visit important historical and legal sites in northern Thailand. The in-country experience will be arranged in cooperation with the Chiangmai University Law School, a longtime exchange partner with UB Law School.

"We tailor the course to the interests of students, and this year we're including some things we did not include last time," says Engel, who speaks fluent Thai. New additions, he says, include a visit to a hill tribe village; a meeting with Burmese refugees to highlight issues concerning refugees and migrant workers; and discussions with the director of an agency that works on human trafficking issues. In addition, because some of the students bring an interest in international business, the course will include a session on foreign direct investment in Thailand and a look at multinational corporations that are establishing factories there.

The Engels are co-authors of a book about Thai legal culture, "Tort, Custom and Karma: Globalization and the Decline of Law in Thailand," forthcoming from Stanford University Press.

Since its founding in 1887, the University at Buffalo Law School -- the State University of New York system's only law school -- has established an excellent reputation and is widely regarded as a leader in legal education. Its cutting-edge curriculum provides both a strong theoretical foundation and the practical tools graduates need to succeed in a competitive marketplace, wherever they choose to practice. A special emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, public service and opportunities for hands-on clinical education makes UB Law unique among the nation's premier public law schools.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.