21st-Century Connections, Complete with GrabBikes and AI

“I chose UW for its Asian Law Center,” says second-year law student Elena Hubbell. “It’s important for U.S.-based lawyers to understand Asian law because our economies are so interwoven.”

She spent the summer at the international law firm Hogan Lovells in Hanoi, Vietnam, after hearing about the Vietnamese-American Bar Association of Washington clerkship opportunity from Xuan-Thao Nguyen, one of her professors and the director of the Asian Law Center.

“Professor Nguyen is why I have this internship,” says Hubbell. “She’s been a great mentor. Her motto is, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ and she is fearless.”

Joining the UW law school faculty in 2022, Nguyen brings her international expertise and reputation as a senior consultant for the World Bank and International Finance Corporation. She also brings her scholarship, teaching and influence in financing, tax, bankruptcy, data protection and intellectual property.

“Since the 1990s, Professor Nguyen has mentored a whole generation of academics,” says UW School of Law Professor Elizabeth Porter, who, along with Nguyen and Associate Teaching Professor Mireille Butler, taught accelerated American law seminars at Hanoi Law University this summer.

Professor Butler wondered what it would be like to teach a style of analysis and writing unfamiliar to students. “I was impressed with their enthusiasm and the high quality of their work,” she says. The experience also made her feel better equipped back home where she teaches an increasing number of international students who will be practicing in an ever-more connected world.

Nguyen describes how these kinds of experiences fit into her 21st-century vision for the Asian Law Center. “Fifty years ago, we were in a very different place politically and socially,” she says. “China is the world’s second largest economic power while places like Vietnam and Cambodia have emerging economies that are growing rapidly. How can we learn from them and they from us as we create space for and train a new generation of leaders?”

Personal Growth and Shared Experiences

Exchanges like this open pathways for critiques and dialogues that Asian law scholars, American faculty, and students might not otherwise have. Beyond the global impact, there’s also personal joy and growth. Porter describes seeing Hubbell on her first day, arriving at school on a “GrabBike” (like taking a cab but on the back of a motorcycle) and thinking she was in the right place. “The driving in Vietnam is next level,” says Porter.

“At first, I thought it was dangerous, but now I love it,” says Hubbell. She also loves how kind people have been, like her co-workers helping her find an apartment, a stranger on the street bidding her “welcome” or when she stood up in the office and let everyone know she needed a suit coat for an interview. Everyone jumped to her aid, with even the head of council offering his jacket. Afterward, they all wanted to know how it went.

In the fall, the Asian Law Center will host its Asian Law Scholars Conference with speakers from India to Japan to Vietnam to the U.S. The Asian Law Center will then host the Asian IP Scholars Roundtable in October 2023. Porter plans to host a group for dinner. “It’s high pressure,” she says. “The food in Vietnam is extraordinary — I have to do my part.”

The Potential for Global Impact

Coming together is what it’s all about. “Our economies are interdependent whether we like it or not,” says Nguyen. “When we view it through the human-legal experience, we can see that what is going on in India is the same as Japan as Vietnam, and there are common lessons we can learn from each other.”

With Nguyen’s connections, there are many opportunities for doing just that. “Hanoi Law University has 14,000 students — law schools in the U.S. are tiny by comparison,” says Nguyen. “These are our next group of emerging scholars.”

“Xuan-Thao has reinvigorated our intellectual and academic ties, not just with Vietnam but also many Asian partners,” says Porter, who jumped at the opportunity to return to Vietnam after teaching a course on women in the law a year ago. This year she led a two-week intensive course on foundational concepts of torts and product liability. “I taught them as if I were teaching a course in the U.S., but condensed,” she says. “The approach was question and answer, which is unusual in Vietnam, and the students enjoyed a slightly different way of learning, all in English, with no interpreter. I also learned a lot from them.” 

While there, Porter also lectured on Zoom to a large audience about Vietnam’s transition to an adversarial civil legal system. “This allowed legal scholars in Vietnam to hear about the complexities we face in our adversarial system,” she says. Back home, she’s co-authoring an article on the same topic for a U.S. audience.

Similarly, Nguyen gave Zoom and hybrid presentations on “Emerging Legal Issues Related to Artificial Intelligence” in Vietnam to audiences of more than 500 people. “The audiences asked the same questions as a U.S. audience,” Nguyen says. “With social media, news spreading so fast, and experiences bringing us closer, there’s no such thing as borders. AI is the perfect example of our shared human experiences as we figure things out.”

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