LAWRENCE – Seven days, six lectures, two countries, and countless frequent flyer miles marked the recent travels of one KU Law professor.
Rice Distinguished Professor Raj Bhala spent a week in India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), lecturing and networking with lawyers, academics, economists and strategic planners. His lectures all involved the topic of global trade, including two presentations before 900 lawyers at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association annual meeting in New Delhi.
“I spent a lot of time talking about how to analyze free trade issues, and what the basic structures of Islamic financial transactions were,” he said. “There’s a great deal of cynicism about the global trading system and whether it helps generate economic growth and alleviate poverty.”
Bhala was one of approximately 700 foreign lawyers who attended the Association’s annual meeting, representing 60 different countries, although only about 50 Americans were present. At the meeting he lectured on “Free Trade Agreements in Asia: What Works and What Does Not?” and “Islamic Financial International Trade: Challenges and Issues.” The event was the largest gathering ever of foreign lawyers in India, and Bhala serves as vice chair for the IPBA International Trade Committee.
“The level of trade sophistication in India and in the Emirates has been rising dramatically,” he said. “That’s almost a warning to our students not to be complacent – they could be hired and working for an Indian law firm someday.”
After his time in India, Bhala traveled to the UAE, where he was the official guest of the Cultural and Media Center of His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahayan. He gave two lectures in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, before a diverse group of lawyers, business people, and embassy representatives charged with mapping out a course for the UAE to stay competitive in the global economy. Finally, he visited two universities in the country, the University of Sharjah and the UAE University, speaking before mixed classes of men and women.
“KU Law enjoys a special relationship with the UAE University,” he said. “We helped it set up the first LL.M. program in the Middle East, and we are the alma mater for one professor, Dr. Ahmed Al Zaabi, who earned his S.J.D. at KU Law last May.”
Al Zaabi represents one of the many Jayhawks who live and work around the globe, and he also helped coordinate Bhala’s trip. Each time Bhala travels, he tries to network with KU alumni, and he is also mindful of championing the university to prospective students and the international legal community. “It’s great that we keep close ties to where a lot of our alums are in the region, but there are a lot of Jayhawks around the world,” he said. “They check the basketball scores compulsively on their iPhone just like we do.”
Beyond serving as a global ambassador for KU Law, Bhala also collects a thick stack of business cards on each trip that is uploaded to the law school’s international jobs database. Any law student can search through the database to find specific contact information for any number of high profile legal professionals abroad. Before students move out of the classroom and into the workforce, Bhala hopes that they can benefit from his travels in another way.
“I want to bring back insights about international trade law and Islamic law and share it with my students,” he said. “Not everyone is so blessed to get to go to these places while they’re in law school especially, and my role is to bring the world into the classroom.”
Bhala will be back in the Middle East in May, after receiving an invitation to speak on a trade and finance panel at the Qatar Law Forum. The two and a half day event involves leading legal figures from around the world, and organizers include the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs and English judge Sir William Blair, the older brother of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.