Attorney Dean Brett, of the Brett Murphy Law Firm of Seattle, recently returned from a volunteer position teaching trial advocacy in Botswana, Africa, through Justice Advocacy Africa (JAA), a non-profit organization founded to promote confidence in and respect for legal institutions in African countries. Dean found the experience to be rewarding both personally and professionally, as he was able to help young African lawyers hone their legal skills while experiencing the culture and people of this unusual and exciting foreign land.
JAA operates trial advocacy training programs in Malawi, Botswana, Kenya, and Uganda using experienced trial lawyers and trial advocacy trainers from the United States to conduct the training with African faculty, and to train African faculty to carry on the programs. The volunteer lawyers from the United States pay their own expenses and contribute to the training programs.
Dean Brett had known of the JAA programs for quite a while, but it was after his colleague and partner John Murphy participated in a similar program in Uganda that Dean was motivated to make the journey.
Dean’s experience in the program was an entirely positive one:
“I would highly recommend the experience. As my two passions are trial advocacy and travel, this opportunity allowed me to enjoy both. I love to travel, particularly to unusual, even exotic cultures. The problem with that kind of travel is that the native people have an understandable tendency to treat you as a tourist. But when you go as a teacher, after a while people start treating you as a teacher, asking questions, sharing common concerns, trying out potential solutions, and opening up to a deeper level of mutual understanding. And teaching trial advocacy allows a seasoned trial lawyer the thrill of the hunt without the stress of an actual trial.”
In Botswana, teaching young lawyers at the Department of Public Prosecution, the attorneys/teachers use the model developed by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy which stresses learning by doing for each section of the trial: opening statement, direct examination, cross examination, and final argument. The students are given a short introductory lecture, and then a demonstration by an experienced lawyer. Then the students are broken out into six-person groups, where each is called upon to perform the particular task based on a provided case file. The lawyers/teachers then respond in the classic NITA critique: repeating verbatim the students’ presentation, highlighting one area for improvement, demonstrating how it might be done more effectively, and then explaining the rationale for the new method. The lawyers/teachers are not called upon to tell war stories or lecture extensively, but rather to give direct, positive feedback to each student.
Dean describes one reason the trip was valuable to him:
“The highlight of the trip was getting to know the students and other trial lawyers drawn from around the world and throughout Africa. The faculty attracts interesting people who have led interesting lives, and who want to give back something to the trial lawyer community.”
Botswana in the early 60’s was the poorest country in Africa, most of it covered by the Kalahari Desert. In fact, it was so poor that no European power bothered to colonize it. Ultimately, Great Britain took it on as a protectorate, so that it would not be overrun by bordering nations. In 1966, Great Britain was getting out of the colonial period, and basically established a new government for Botswana and set them free with a parliament, a Council of Chiefs in lieu of a House of Lords, and an English-style judicial system. Within two years, diamonds were discovered and the newly formed government made a perhaps-unpredictable but excellent response. It invited a private company to come in and mine the diamonds for 60% of the proceeds, keeping 40% for the government. The government then spent that money on three things:
Universal free public education: Children in Botswana have the opportunity to attend the first six grades in a nearby village, after which they are given achievement tests. Those who score well on the achievement tests are given the opportunity to attend a regional high school for an additional six years, after which they are given another set of tests. Those who score well on those tests are then given free public education that can include law school which extends five years directly out of high school.
Universal free health care: Every village of more than 500 has a nurse and access to an ambulance which will bring them to a regional hospital. With herculean effort, Botswana has brought its AIDS infection rate down into the teens, which, though still high, is far better than the rate of infection in many African countries.
One third of Botswana’s land mass is national parks: The crescent formed by the Okavango Delta is a rich, wet wildlife area, and the government has encouraged high-end, low-impact safaris to generate additional income.
Yet even as Botswana has come into the 21st Century, 75% of the people are still living in villages and working in subsistence agriculture. This fact illustrates why programs like the ones run by JAA are crucial to the advancement of law practice and legal services across the African Continent.
This fact was driven home to Dean as he worked with students in the JAA program:
“One of the students I met while teaching is a young mid-20’s woman who grew up in a village with four brothers and sisters, who did well in school and qualified to go to regional high school. Her parents opposed the idea, thinking she would be better off staying at home and working in subsistence agriculture, as her siblings chose to do. Instead she traveled to a regional high school, stayed there for six years, and qualified to go to law school. Now, with three years of experience in the Department of Public Prosecution (akin to a Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the United States,) she is a young lawyer but only seven years away from village life. In other words, seven years ago, she was living in the 14th Century and now she is trying to develop the skills to work as a lawyer in the 21st Century. Watching students like this learn and progress is a great gift.”
Despite the challenges of undertaking this rewarding journey (including time away from a busy law practice, the cost of international travel and lodging, and the unique experience of functioning in cultures with wildly different norms and customs), Dean Brett found this experience to be invaluable. It gave him a new perspective on the law as practiced here in the United States, and a new appreciation for the luxuries and rights that we all take for granted. Most importantly, Dean was able to pass on the legal knowledge he has amassed throughout his 40+ year legal career to help build and improve legal services for people internationally.