PUBLISHED:August 17, 2010

Duke's Summer Institute on Law, Language, and Culture

Aug. 17, 2010 — Although she is just starting orientation week for her LLM program, Anastasia Klimenko says she already feels quite settled in at Duke Law School. A 2009 graduate of the Moscow State Law Academy in Russia, Klimenko was one of 15 internationally-trained lawyers and legal scholars enrolled in Duke’s Summer Institute on Law, Language, and Culture (SILLC), which ended on Aug. 11.

One of three Duke Law summer institutes, SILLC introduces students to legal English, the U.S. legal system, and the law school experience in a four-week intensive course that includes small-group class sessions, encounters with lawyers, judges, and teachers, visits to courtrooms and law firms, and interaction with popular media. Directed by Hans Linnartz ’80 and co-taught by Rima Idzelis, who both teach Legal Analysis, Research and Writing (LARW) during the academic year, the SILLC program is designed to develop students’ verbal and written English proficiency and confidence, as well as to introduce them to the case-study and dialogical methods of teaching law that they will encounter in their Duke Law classes.

Daily SILLC assignments include locating and summarizing news stories that highlight legal issues and presenting them in class, as well as substantive work on oral assignments, such as briefing cases, so that students better understand the characteristics of legal research and writing they will be called upon to produce during their LLM studies, in advance of their LARW class that is part of the LLM curriculum. SILLC class work is balanced with lunchtime meetings with Duke Law faculty, and field trips to law firms and courtrooms; 2010 students got to observe Judge James C. Dever III ’87 on the bench in federal district court in Raleigh and later met with him in private, and enjoyed lunch and a court tour by North Carolina Supreme Court Justices Paul Newby and Robert Edmunds.

Klimenko, who spent the last year co-founding and doing legal work for a charity that raises funds to assist HIV-positive children in Russia, says improving her English-language skills and learning the basics of a legal system which was “absolutely new” to her primarily motivated her enrollment in the summer institute; getting settled in Durham and meeting some of her LLM classmates also factored in. She says she achieved all of those goals, and had a lot of fun doing so.

“Thanks to our wonderful professors, I learned even more than I expected,” she says.

As a visiting scholar sent by the Supreme Court of Japan, Judge Takeshi Sunago says he greatly appreciated the opportunity to visit courts and law firms to observe and speak with judges and lawyers. “I could feel and realize the practice of U.S. law directly,” says Sunago, who primarily manages civil cases in Japan. “This will help my research a lot.” Having to write a legal memorandum and deliver a speech in English improved his language skills considerably, and getting to know members of the incoming LLM class was an added bonus, he says.

In retrospect, Dilara Yurekli LLM ’10 says her SILLC experience was key to preparing her for taking classes alongside upper-level JD students.

“Since most LLMs come from civil law countries, most aspects of American law, which is based upon common law principles, are very new to them,” observes Yurekli, who studied law in her native Turkey. “Professors teaching upper-level classes sometimes assume that students have a certain background and explain the subjects accordingly. Lack of such background can confuse LLMs and reduce their learning efficiency. I believe the summer institute helps LLM students to fill the gaps and significantly increases the efficiency of their LLM experience.”

Yurekli credits Linnartz’s own experience living and teaching in Indonesia with helping him understand language challenges faced by LLM students beginning their studies. “As a result, he succeeded in putting together an extremely beneficial and to-the-point syllabus so that despite its short duration, the course was comprehensive enough to meet the demands of international students … in the most efficient way,” she says.

All three are quick to credit him with putting fun into the SILLC agenda as well, making sure they all got to know and bond with their classmates. Legal-themed movies like “The Paper Chase” and “Anatomy of a Murder” offer insight into the American systems of legal education and justice — along with a good time, Klimenko points out. “Our professors also arranged pizza parties, an international dinner, a trip to a baseball game, and lots of other activities [where we could] relax and learn about each others’ cultures.

“Thanks to professors Rima Idzelis, Hans Linnartz and [teaching assistant] Jin Cho ’11, I feel ready to start the LLM program now,” says Klimenko.