September 11, 2023

Professor Helps Facilitate Workshop Series with Ukrainian Legal Clinics

Professor Susan Felstiner participates in a groundbreaking US-Ukrainian Clinicians Workshop Series, fostering collaboration and skill-building to empower legal education in Ukraine.

Pictured: Mariia Tsypiashchuck, Susan Felstiner, Davida Finger, and Svitlana Bevz at the 2023 AALS Clinical Conference. Photo by Lyndsey Romick

Since shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Clinical Professor Susan Felstiner has been actively collaborating with Ukrainian law professors to provide subject matter and skills education to Ukrainian law students. Felstiner teaches at Lewis & Clark Law School’s Small Business Legal Clinic, where students learn through the provision of transactional legal services to low-income entrepreneurs in Oregon.

Moved by horrific images of the invasion and Russian atrocities, Felstiner did not hesitate to respond when she read an email on the clinic listserv from Professor Davida Finger of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law suggesting the formation of an ad hoc committee to assist colleagues in Ukraine. Building on relationships Professor Leah Wortham of Catholic University formed during her prior work in Eastern Europe, the ad hoc committee reached out to Professor Mariia Tsypiashchuk of the National University of Ostroh Academy and Board Member of the Association of Legal Clinics in Ukraine to see how they could assist.

From Professor Tsypiashchuk, Felstiner learned of the impact of Russia’s aggression on Ukrainian law schools. Universities located in newly occupied territory and near the front had to close their doors as professors, administrators, and students focused on their safety, many moving to safer areas. Some professors and administrators joined the armed forces and territorial defense forces. Law schools had to change their curricula and methods of instruction due to the needs of their students studying during the war.

Working with Professor Typisashchuck, the US clinicians developed a plan to present a series of virtual workshops. Professor Tyspiashchuck assessed the Ukrainian professors’ needs to determine the series’ subject matter. The survey revealed that Ukrainian professors value sessions that teach students clinical skills such as communication, fact investigation, problem-solving, managing and resolving conflict, interviewing clients, case organization, and case briefing. They also requested sessions to help respond to Russian terrorism, including methodologies for teaching international criminal law. High on their priority list was trauma-informed lawyering and educating; topics of Felstiner’s interest and research include teaching how to work with clients and students who have experienced trauma and building resilience and self-care for lawyers and professors as they work through their own and vicarious trauma.

Based on needs assessment responses, two workshop series were developed, one during the fall of 2022 on skills training for Ukrainian law students and another during the winter of 2023 on methodologies for teaching international criminal law to Ukrainian professors. Felstiner helped find presenters for the sessions. Felstiner co-presented three sessions. Topics included trauma-informed lawyering and interviewing, emotional intelligence, resilience, and managing yourself while working with trauma and cautious and trauma-sensitive teaching: how to build resilience and avoid traumatizing students.

The sessions were conducted via Zoom. Professor Finger and Professor Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin of Cardozo School of Law hired an interpreter for the first session to ensure they could teach and answer questions in real-time, despite the language barrier. Based on the success of the first session, USAID supported the simultaneous interpretation for future sessions through the Justice for All Activity. USAID Justice for All Activity Legal Advisor Artem Shaipov was instrumental in facilitating the sessions and ensuring effective communication between American and Ukrainian participants.

Reflecting on her involvement, Professor Felstiner expressed that working on the workshop series allowed her to make a meaningful impact now and for the future of Ukraine. She was impressed by the Ukrainian’s deep appreciation for education and the determination to learn shown by Ukrainian students. The students realize their future role in leading the country and its legal system after the war and the importance of education to prepare them for that role. Even though the sessions were held at the end of their day (due to the time difference) and experienced interrupted connectivity from Russian missile strikes, approximately fifty law students attended each session. Students arrived early to the sessions and actively participated.

Having worked on international legal education collaborations before, Felstiner recognized the importance of cross-cultural exchanges, saying, “every time you teach something, especially if you are teaching to students from a different culture, you learn from the students too.”

Building on the relationships developed during the webinar series collaboration, Felstiner has continued collaborating with Ukrainian law professors. Working closely with Svitlana Bevz and Svetlana Podolyak, both from the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute School of Law, as well as Myroslava Zan of the Uzhgorod National University Legal Clinic, two Ukrainian law students from each university participated virtually in Professor Felstiner’s 2023 summer session at the Small Business Legal Clinic. Building on lessons learned during the summer, Felstiner is working on student-to-student collaborations between US and Ukrainian students for upcoming semesters.

For more information or to express interest in participating, students can contact Professor Susan Felstiner directly via email.