New Center Provides International Development Opportunities for Law Students

law professors sit behind wooden lecturn

UC Law SF Lecturer Betsy Candler and Associate Dean Gail Silverstein joined international development expert Bob Dean in Kosovo to plan out an upcoming two-year grant project that will support Kosovar law faculties as they shift to a more analytical skills-based curriculum.

Over the last five years, UC Law SF has improved legal education programs in Africa and Central Asia, helped develop a law clinic in Haiti, and drafted legislative frameworks for sustainable fishing and farming in developing nations.

head shot of smiling white woman with dark hair and earings

UC Law SF Lecturer Jessica Vapnek is serving as director of the college’s new International Development Law Center.

Many of those projects were led by Jessica Vapnek, who, along with serving as associate dean of the MSL Program at UC Law SF, secured grants for various international projects. Now she will oversee such programs through the new International Development Law Center.

“I’m excited to continue sharing my international network with UC Law SF and inspire the next generation of international development professionals to tackle the world’s problems,” she said.

Goals for the new center, which opened this summer, include getting more students, faculty, and alumni involved in international projects, exposing law students to the world of international grants, and inspiring students to pursue careers in international development, Vapnek said.

Vapnek, who has decades of experience in international development, previously worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the former Zaire and as a legal officer for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Beyond helping to improve sustainability, food safety and legal education in developing nations, Vapnek said the grant-funded programs provide important experiential learning opportunities for law students.

UC Law SF student Margaret Von Rotz, JD ’23, researched and analyzed laws and policies in Tonga for a recent grant-funded international development project.

In one recent project, UC Law SF student Margaret Von Rotz, JD ’23, researched and analyzed laws and policies for small-scale fisheries in the island nation of Tonga. She compared them to United Nations guidelines as part of a project funded by The Pacific Community, an intergovernmental organization based in New Caledonia. “As someone with serious interests in international environmental law and indigenous human rights, this internship was perfect for me to explore those interests,” she said.

International grants also supported the creation of an LLM program at a law school in Uzbekistan and the evaluation of 33 LLM programs in Ethiopia. In two new projects, Vapnek said she is working with a team of faculty and students to support law faculties in Ghana and Kosovo as they shift to a more analytical skills-based curriculum.

Kate Bloch

UC Law SF Professor Kate Bloch led efforts to obtain U.S. Embassy grants to support the development of a legal clinic at a law school in Haiti that assists people detained in prison.

Vapnek also works collaboratively with other law professors, including UC Law SF Professor Kate Bloch, who led efforts to obtain grants from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. The grants funded trainings and workshops that helped a Haitian law school — l’École Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie (ESCDROJ) – develop a legal clinic, which provides representation for Haitians in prison. Bloch said, “The grants furnished remarkable opportunities for our students to be significantly involved in critical work to support the rule of law and advance clinical legal education in a country that — except for the clinic at our partner law school — largely lacks clinical legal education.”

UC Law SF alumna and Ivory Coast native Grace Yao, LLM ’19, who presented and provided English-to-French translations during grant-funded seminars and workshops in Haiti and San Francisco, said it was a valuable experience for her and other students, “I think it’s very important for every law school to establish a program providing critical legal services to clients or persons in need because it helps students gain legal experience and because theoretical knowledge is not sufficient to be a good attorney.”