Summer institute concludes with RBG tribute

Last month, UW Law’s Summer Institute in Transnational Law & Practice wrapped its annual two-week program with an impromptu tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Thirty participants were on hand for the final sessions of the institute — an annual two-week program that provides foreign-trained legal professionals, researchers and incoming graduate students with a foundation in the U.S. legal system and practice — when the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death broke.

The last topic that day was, fittingly, individual constitutional rights, for which Ginsburg was a champion throughout her historic career.

“So many of our students, especially in the graduate programs, are women and mothers, and several shared how inspirational [Ginsburg] was as a working mother from the working class who faced all these barriers,” said UW Law Professor Dana Raigrodski, who founded the Summer Institute in 2005.

“These are people who didn't necessarily grew up here, and the fact they were inspired and tracked her career is evidence of her legacy and groundbreaking role not only in American society, but also worldwide.”

The UW School of Law is one of the world’s leading centers for innovative teaching and research on international, comparative and U.S. law. Held each year in September, the Summer Institute in Transnational Law & Practice is a kind of crash course in U.S. law for people with legal degrees from around the world.

Typically, between 50-80 people are enrolled in the seminar, and with the growth of UW Law’s Master of Jurisprudence (M.J.) program, more non-legally trained U.S. students attend as well.

Over the course of two weeks, participants gain an overview of the American legal system in a comparative setting, explore legal skills and methodology, and hone legal English skills.

The program is designed to help ease the transition into U.S. law school and help students succeed in their classes and in the legal profession. The wide range of topics includes briefing and reading cases, cross-cultural professional skills, American constitutional law, client advising and more.

RBG becomes so important to everyone on that spectrum when you’re looking at who’s in that room and what their lives in the United States are going to be


Raigrodski herself is a former international LL.M. student. She says despite the fact she had background in common law education and had practiced, transitioning to the U.S. system was still a challenge. Her personal experiences were some of the reasons she saw such value in developing this program.

“Students for whom English is not their first language already face that initial barrier of having to learn and study and understand very complex, nuanced legal concepts in a language that's not their native language,” Raigrodski said.

“In addition, many of our students come from civil law countries, where the sources of the law themselves tend to be very different: There’s really no reliance on precedent, and judges are presumably applying code provisions and not engaging in the type of interpretations we see here.”

It seemed only fitting that the 2020 Summer Institute concluded with a tribute to one of the most influential justices in the history of the Supreme Court, particularly when it comes to gender rights and individual liberties.

UW Law Professor Theo Myhre was in the middle of his session on advising clients and lawyering strategies when the news broke. He says being in the room at this with people from so many different parts of the world was a moving experience.

“We’ve got people from other countries where women do not have equality in society, and RBG looked like a paragon of rationality and part of what they would consider normal legal values,” Myhre said. “Furthermore, these students will take on the status of immigrants here in the United States — which are now one of the most villainized and marginalized groups in our country — and so even if they’re from positions of power in their own countries, they’re here in a very vulnerable capacity.

“So, to this end, RBG becomes so important to everyone on that spectrum when you’re looking at who’s in that room and what their lives in the United States are going to be.”

Learn more about the Summer Institute for Transnational Law & Practice at UW Law.