Law School’s Afghanistan Legal Education Project wins State Department grant and looks to expand

For countries in turmoil, an aid greater than immediate help is the sustainable development of legal institutions–a mantra that a group of Stanford law students have taken to heart in expanding a foundation for rule of law in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP) is working to provide legal education and an essential foundation for a stable and successful rule of law in Afghanistan. It is also filling a void left by other international and domestic efforts to rebuild Afghan society, work that was recently recognized by a U.S. State Department grant.

The American University of Afghanistan, pictured here, uses legal textbooks researched, written, and published by the Afghanistan Legal Education Project. (Courtesy of Hamid Khan)

“Right now, the world is pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan to establish institutions for the rule of law,” said Stanford Law School dean and project faculty advisor Larry Kramer. “For all of those institutions to work, they require lawyers to run them. What we were looking at [before the start of ALEP] was a system in which there would be no lawyers in 10 years.”

Founded in 2007 by Stanford Law students Alexander Benard J.D. ’08 and Eli Sugarman J.D. ’09, the project researches, writes and publishes legal textbooks to help students in Afghanistan learn about their country’s developing legal system. The project has partnered with the Kabul-based American University in Afghanistan and also has all of its materials free and available to anyone who wants them online. ALEP is set to publish its fourth legal textbook this winter.

“They’re pretty much the only comprehensive textbooks about Afghan law that have been written in the last 20 or so years,” said team leader and third-year law student Morgan Galland.

Not only do these textbooks provide the much-needed legal foundation for the future leaders of Afghanistan’s justice system, but they do so with stability and sustainability–two important characteristics of initiatives in Afghanistan–as guiding principles.

“In Afghanistan, laws may not last as they are,” Galland said. “The way that we are teaching the law is getting people to think about how to interpret law, think critically about law and about how to change law. They are skills that will be important even if the law changes. So it’s kind of a long-term ambition rather than kind of a short-term, ‘We’ll teach you the laws as they are now.’”

Law student and team member Stephenie Gosnell, who served as a Marine Corps officer for seven years, spoke to the importance of legal education in stabilizing the country.

“One of the more important lessons I learned from serving in Baghdad is that stabilizing a country like Iraq or Afghanistan is an extraordinarily complex task,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

“Legal education is one of the many aspects that contributes to the growth of civil society,” she added.

The project’s success in providing Afghan society with viable solutions for the future of their infant legal system has been recognized by more than just the students and professors who use the textbooks. Most recently, the U.S. State Department awarded ALEP with a $1.3 million grant this fall to continue its work.

In addition to providing for the basic resources necessary to research, write and publish these textbooks, the grant will help fund consultation with legal experts, trips to Afghanistan to evaluate the curriculum and the positioning of a postdoctoral fellow on the ground in Afghanistan, Kramer said.

ALEP’s success has extended beyond the university classroom in Afghanistan. The textbooks have shown to be useful in educating other members of Afghan society–including military personnel and civilians working on the rule of law–about new laws and developing legal system. The project also is working on efforts to translate the books into Dari and Pashto, which will further expand the use of the textbooks throughout Afghanistan. ALEP has even inspired efforts outside Afghanistan’s borders, with similar Stanford Law School projects now being implemented in Bhutan and East Timor.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot more of these projects pop up,” Galland said, “which would be great. It’s awesome to be able to inspire others to do similar things.”

The project, with its focuses on long-term sustainability and educating Afghans themselves, may offer a promising form of international peace-building. Galland, who previously spent two years in Laos doing development work, said the particular mission of ALEP was one thing that attracted her to the project in the first place.

“I had a mixed bag of experiences and kind of came to realize that I thought that education was probably one of the most important ways to contribute to a developing country,” she said. “It’s also a way to teach people how to think instead of what to think, if you do it well. And I had kind of gotten sick of people who come to different countries and tell them what to do.”

About Caity Monroe