Spring semester’s break is anticipated as a chance to rejuvenate and relax before the last half of the semester, finals, and, for burgeoning graduates, before bar preparation and the bar exam. Professor and Director of Bar Studies Ashley London, however, spent the hiatus in Paris, teaching at the Sorbonne as part of a spring semester exchange. Likewise, Professor Sophie Robin-Oliver, of the Sorbonne, visited the Thomas R. Kline School of Law of Duquesne University’s Pittsburgh campus in April to teach.

Duquesne Kline School of Law and the Sorbonne have a long-standing relationship, largely established by Professor Kirk Junker through Duquesne Kline School of Law’s summer programming. This spring exchange, though, was the first one offered to students and faculty.

“Professor Junker has taught at the Sorbonne each year, for quite some time now. Last spring, when Dean April Barton [Duquesne Kline School of Law] came to the Sorbonne, she suggested that another professor from Duquesne [Kline] teach an intensive course at the Sorbonne, and a professor from the Sorbonne at Duquesne [Kline]. The aim was to strengthen our relationship, to give our respective students the opportunity to meet a professor from the other school and learn from different perspectives. This year was the year when we experimented with this new development of our relationship,” said Robin-Oliver.

Dean April Barton, alongside Professor and Associate Dean for Strategic Academic Programs Tara Willke, laid the groundwork for this beneficial partnership, helping this faculty and student opportunity come to fruition.

“It was their idea to make this one-week course focused on the practical application of U.S. Contract law, and not just on the theory of the law,” said London. She developed a week-long course titled “U.S. Contract Drafting” to teach to students who attend the storied, stone Sorbonne.

“We began with an introduction to the basics of U.S. contract law principles, continued with the basics of contract drafting, and ending with the principles of negotiation. Students in this class loved the experience of getting hands-on lawyering practice,” London said.

Willke helped London select open-source textbooks for the class and was an important part of the design of the classes on both sides of the ocean.

“She has inspired the design of the courses and contributed to the development of the syllabus; she made sure students were involved, and well informed. Professor London, too, was a great member of the team. She taught the class at the Sorbonne: students loved it,” said Robin-Oliver.

In Pittsburgh, Robin-Oliver taught Duquesne Kline School of Law students a course called "Free trade, social justice and climate change: EU perspectives.”

“I loved the atmosphere at Duquesne [Kline]. I think this has a lot to do with the open-mindedness, intelligence, and kindness of Dean Barton. This history of the school, too. Colleagues were incredibly nice. I had the impression of meeting with old friends. There is an outstanding group of women in the faculty,” Robin-Oliver said.

London had an equally positive experience at her host university. “The students at the Sorbonne are incredibly impressive, and they were by far the best part of my Paris experience. Most speak three languages and have multiple masters-level degrees. They were all thoughtful, engaged, and a delight to teach. I could not have felt more welcome into their world. We had amazing discussions about the differences between French and American law, and they never hesitated to participate,” she said.

Both professors were rejuvenated by their counterpart students and their colleagues.

“I am not going to say that meeting a therapeutic little horse for the first time in my life was by biggest takeaway, but that is just one example of the diversity of the things I could do during my week at Duquesne [Kline], in addition to watching the eclipse with the school community, participating to the rededication event, attending the wonderful conference of AI, enjoying great dinners with colleagues, and tasting the best veggie hamburgers in the exquisite company of Professor Wilke. The most enjoyable working week of the whole year,” Robin-Oliver said.

London agreed. She said, “Sophie welcomed me warmly and we bonded over our shared love of teaching. She could not have made me more welcome. I’m so glad we have this partnership because it gives much to us as professors, as it gives to the students. I left Paris reinvigorated and excited about teaching the law, and what could be better than that?”

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May 03, 2024