Today's struggling economy hasn't been fun or easy for most people, but alumnus Paul Zwier (JD '78) has witnessed an unexpected upside for the legal profession.
"The economic downturn has made lawyers and law students think about what they most care about in their jobs," Zwier notes. As professor of law and director of the Advocacy Skills Program at Emory University School of Law, and as a board member of the nonprofit National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), which provides further training for accredited lawyers, he says he has observed this trend among his students and trainees. "They are asking what causes they want to serve through their work—whether it's children's rights, women's rights, employee rights, or governmental responsibility."
In times like these, he says, when people and organizations are struggling to stay afloat, his students feel called to use their law degrees and talents to represent the people who cannot fight injustice outside of the courts. "There are ways for lawyers, if they keep their heads up and run across clients affected by wrongdoing, to make a difference to that client, and to law reform. The world needs good lawyers—people to represent the folks who can't speak for themselves against corruption," he says.
Even before the economic climate changed, however, Zwier was already on a mission to inspire the next generation of lawyers towards justice-driven and impactful careers. In fact, Zwier aims to influence in each area of his professional life: in the classrooms of Emory Law and NITA, where he teaches advocacy and skills training, and on the international stage, where he negotiates peaceful resolutions to political, and often violent, disputes.
On the International Stage
In recent years, Zwier has become increasingly involved with former president Jimmy Carter's human rights and international dispute resolution nonprofit, the Carter Center. The partnership has taken him primarily to the Middle East—armed with an agenda of peace and justice for those on both sides of the issues—where he has experienced the "life-changing" opportunity of contributing to talks between Israel's government and Hamas, and another case involving negotiations of water rights agreements between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.
"My students loved that case, because it closely looked at international human rights provisions," he says, noting that because the Carter Center is partnered with Emory University, he is able to bring his experiences in the field into the classroom as direct and immediate case studies. In particular, three generations of law students have benefited from one ongoing case study that Zwier has worked on for the past nine years, involving the ever-volatile issue of oil ownership and distribution in Sudan, where the north and south regions have battled over oil-drenched territory for decades.
"We've been involved in South Sudan, giving advice to the parties from the north and south, since the comprehensive peace agreement signed by Carter in 2003. Right now, the disputes are about pricing and transportation, and the parties are deadlocked, in the midst of tit-for-tat violence back and forth," Zwier observes.
As part of a team of lawyers and human rights workers, Zwier returns to Sudan intermittently and reports back the process and progress to his students—all with the aim of inspiring a passion for using the law and dispute resolution practices to promote fair peace. And they, in turn, inspire him with alternative points of view about his case studies for Zwier's latest book.
"It can be very hard to put a theoretical framework on a case study, so often the process will start with students articulating issues raised by the work I do overseas," he explains. "Theories will present themselves in class as students discuss and debate problems in that interactive forum."
Tentatively titled Principled Pragmatism on an International Stage: Talking with Evil, due to be published by the University of Cambridge Press, Zwier's book explores the philosophies of Carter and how they can be applied to dispute resolution and law reform. "For example," he says, "his philosophy often involves talking with terrorist groups, or other groups or people considered 'evil,' to peacefully convince them to put down their arms, and move in to a better state. Sometimes this can work, other times it can't. It's a very big concept."
His dedication to sharing the big concepts of his own expert experience is one of the reasons why Zwier was honored in 1998 with the Prentice Marshall Award from NITA for contributions the former director of public education made to the curriculum.
"The award was for my work in designing new programs beyond trial advocacy, such as first negotiations programs, the use of experts in trial advocacy, and legal strategy. I'm so proud of the developments we brought about at that time," he says.
After graduating with a JD from Pepperdine School of Law in 1979 and getting his LLM from Temple University in 1981, Zwier joined NITA in 1982 to further his advocacy training. The relationship evolved into joining the faculty; he stepped down as public education director in [YEAR], but he hasn't slowed down his dedication to the continuing education of lawyers.
Currently he is engaged in two major international training programs. One program is in Mexico, where he has been working in partnership with USAID to train judges and law professors in the new legal system that the country's government is likely to adopt. Mexico follows a continental system of law, which offers limited judicial decision-making, but Zwier has traveled south of the border to help ease the expected transition towards the adversarial system, in which two advocates argue either side of an issue before an impartial judge or jury.
"We've basically gone in to help reform the curriculums of law schools, to teach their teachers about this totally new style, and create a Mexican version of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy," he notes, adding that the personal aspect of watching progress is what he most enjoys about the process of training legal minds, whether in Mexico, his Emory classrooms, or elsewhere. "I get to watch people become confident, articulate advocates who take their passions and make good and persuasive arguments about them. It's very inspiring."
He has also helped pioneer a new training program with Emory University for prosecutors from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, who are currently developing rule-of-law methods for dealing with fraud in financial markets. "The program emphasizes methodologies we're used to here, of putting on fair investigations and due process while sorting out fraud," he says, noting that the program launches in September this year for approximately 30 prosecutors and is one of the first of its kind partnering with another legal system that is so completely different from the system Zwier professes.
"I feel a calling to be involved in countries around the world to make a difference with my passion for training," he says. "It's my hope in this work that we can create systems to treat each other justly. Whether it's women, indigenous peoples, elites, or those with less . . . I feel called to train lawyers to find just interpretations of the law and let the rule of law do the rest."