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University of Florida 30-year Involvement in Poland Assists Country, Practitioners with ‘Rule of Law’

WARSAW, POLAND — “Poland exemplifies in many ways a courageous democracy that’s transformed itself through the rule of law into a partner for America and a model for the world.”

Speaking is Dean Jon Mills of the University of Florida Levin College of Law in celebration of a joint U.S.-Poland experiment begun in this country 16 years before the fall of Communism.

It was in 1973 that five UF law professors traveled here to participate in what was then called the Cambridge-Warsaw International Trade Law Program — organized by the UF law school, Trinity College of Cambridge University and the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences — allowing American law students for the first time to take courses for credit in a European Socialist Country.

Today, 30 years later, from those humble beginnings, the Center for American Law Studies (CALS) – a collaborative venture between the UF law school’s Center for Governmental Responsibility and Warsaw University Faculty of Law & Administration – graduates annually an average of 100 current and future Polish attorneys as trained practitioners in a legal system that just 13 years ago was alien to Communist officials then ruling the country.

Mills said a key to CALS success is that it takes traditional American law school practices and implements them in the Polish classroom. Classes are taught in English and help prepare participants for work as attorneys in Poland, the European Union and the United States.

On Monday (June 16), graduation ceremonies for the fifth class of CALS students combined with a commemorative 30th anniversary celebration of the UF law school’s involvement in Poland was held at Warsaw University. Presiding were Mills and Dean and Professor Tadeusz Tomaszewski of Warsaw University, and American attorney Steven Zack – national media analyst during 2000 U.S. presidential elections – was keynote speaker.

According to Polish enrollees, the Center offers the opportunity to learn not only foreign laws, but also foreign ways of learning.

Pawel Grabowski was one of the top three students of the Center’s first graduating class in 1999, and from there went to study at Harvard Law School.

“Attending CALS courses was my first opportunity to look into the American legal system,” Grabowski said. “The classes constituted a forum for legal discussions providing a chance for a high level of student involvement in the teaching process, rather unexpected in a Polish law school environment which focuses more on academic knowledge and professorial lectures.”

Grabowski said extracurricular activities also were beneficial “and of enormous influence on my subsequent legal career.” He was one of the students assigned to the Center’s first team to represent Poland during the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington D.C., now an annual event for Center students.

Another 1999 graduate, Adam Imielowski, notes he “had a chance to get acquainted with American law that nowadays, in the era of globalization and Western countries’ investments in foreign markets, is a significant aspect. My experience turned out to be very attractive to potential employers in search of lawyers with international and American expertise.”

Since 2002, Imielowski has been working as a legal consultant to the management board of PTK-Centertel, one of three cellular phone operators in Poland. “I deal mostly with corporate, telecommunication and intellectual property law, and I must admit that since one of our shareholders is a foreign company, thorough knowledge of legal aspects of international transactions is a must.”

Imielowski says the program is as important to the country as a whole as it is to individual lawyers and their careers. “To be able to play its international role, Poland needs well-educated lawyers with international experience,” he said.

Witols Danielowicz, managing partner of White & Case in Warsaw, agrees Center graduates are more attractive to employers. “We clearly see the distinction, and the contribution of the Center shows in their work,” he said.

New York-based White & Case is only one of the law firms in the U.S. and Poland that have financially supported the Center and its goals. Others include international firms Weil Gotshal & Manges , Baker & McKenzie, Hogan & Hartson, Altheimer & Gray and the Florida firm of Levin Papantonio & Partners. While the Center for American Law Studies is now focal point of the cooperative venture, the decade of the 70s and early 80s primarily was devoted to the International Trade Law Program. The second major phase began in early 90s when the law school’s CGR received a grant from the U.S. Information Agency, Office of Citizen Exchanges, to develop a Northeastern Poland Local Government Training Program.

A key proponent of such a program was Marek Agopsowicz of Olsztyn Agricultural and Technical University, who recommended its establishment. Officials in the voivodships of Olsztyn, Elblag and Suwalki were first to participate, training through internships and seminars held in Florida.

UF Affiliate Professor of Law James Nicholas, associate director of the law school’s Environmental and Land Use program, was there as the officials tried to understand the new concept of local government.

“They kept asking how we did things in America. They wanted to know who sent out tax bills, and who paid for the postage. They had very, very fundamental questions, because local government was something they hadn’t had,” Nicholas said. “Being involved was such a great thrill. Many of us were talking about grand theories of government, and questions kept coming back to things like who pays for postage.”

Mills believes the 30-year “involvement with Poland has been of tremendous benefit to the University of Florida and the U.S. as well as to this relatively young democracy, and it is a great honor for our law school to participate. I know participants from both countries, in fact, believe this wonderful and successful venture – from the grass roots and involving educational institutes, academicians, governments, legal professionals and students – is a perfect case study for how the rule of law and a successful legal structure can be developed and maintained.”

For additional information:

  • Ewa Gmurzynska, Director Center for American Law Studies, Warsaw University, Phone: 48.22.826.9177
  • Dean Jon Mills, Warsaw Marriott, Phone: 48.22.6306.306 / Fax: 48.22.830.0041
  • JoAnn Klein, UFLaw Center for Governmental Responsibility / Poland Phone: 48.22.826.0331

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