A new University of Colorado law class is taking 15 third-year students to India during spring break, adding global context to the school’s family law curriculum.
The course — a clinical study of juvenile and family law — will focus on comparing four areas of family law including women’s rights, child abuse, sex trafficking and domestic violence from the United States to India.
The clinic is the first of its kind in the law school, taking students out of the country for research and hands-on application.
Colene Robinson, clinical professor at CU law school and Clare Huntington, associate professor, said they hope the class will help students better understand U.S. law through comparative practices.
“This class is about immersion and collaborative learning,” Robinson said. “We want to bring together all their past experiences into a different context and compare them with a different country’s approach.”
The class requires each student to complete a research paper on one of the four topics, which will be filled with research completed during the trip to Bangalore, India.
The students will be collaborating with students from the National Law School in Bangalore, which has a similar curriculum to CU-Boulder. The group will also visit several non-governmental agencies like the Human Rights Law Network and the Alternative Law Forum.
Justine Pierce, a third-year law student, said she has already begun researching her topic, reproductive rights, in the U.S. and is planning to visit a reproductive health clinic in India for a comparative analysis. Pierce said the comparative nature of the class will help her better understand the concepts of U.S. law.
“When we’re comparing India’s legal system to ours there are a lot of differences that help us question the fundamental concepts that we take for granted and give us an opportunity to learn something that’s completely different but also very valid,” Pierce said.
“It’s like when you’re learning another language,” she said. “It brings home some of the basic concepts of the English language in a way you didn’t grasp before.”
The professors said they’re waiting until the end of the semester to evaluate the course but are already planning another session. They said the course will likely be offered every spring and while India was a convenient choice for the pilot course, they’re considering other options for future classes.
The class is included in the students’ annual tuition rates but the trip is expected to cost about $2,000 extra per student. The law school has already contributed about $11,000 to the program and students are planning fundraisers to help collect the rest of the cost. Any remaining expenses will come out of the students’ pockets.
The students have already taken several courses within the curriculum and the professors are hoping to bring together the students’ unique perspectives, Huntington said.
“It’s extraordinary involvement the students are taking,” Huntington said. “In this class, after a basic overview of India’s legal system we turn the class over to students. They’re really taking the lead.”
The students are broken into four teams, one for each topic, and each team teaches classes on their given topic, Huntington said. The students are responsible for learning the material, choosing the readings and then presenting their lesson to the other students.
“It is learning on a much deeper level when you have to teach it,” Huntington said. “This whole class is about active — not passive — learning.”
Meg Panzer, a third-year law student, said the course is helping her prepare for a future as a professor, giving her the ability to test her plan before jumping into the next step.
Panzer said she’s most excited about returning to India, the place that inspired her to attend law school after receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.
“I actually worked with women in the slums of India for a while after I got my undergrad,” Panzer said. “I realized if I wanted to make an impact a law degree was the best option.”
Now, after nearly four years, Panzer said she is excited to return to India where her passion for family law began.
“This is really a full circle experience for me,” Panzer said. “I can’t think of a better way to end my experience.”