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Practicing and Teaching Law Internationally

A visit with S. I. Strong, Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law; Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution

By Cara Alexander
Published: - Topics: School of Law law teaching writing research

An international career as an attorney was only the beginning for Professor S.I. Strong, the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at the University of Missouri. Specializing in international commercial arbitration, large scale law suits, international dispute resolution and comparative law, Strong uses her expertise in her research, teaching, and practice. In addition to her legal specialties, Strong writes about research and writing methods crucial for any lawyer. Her career remains international in scope, as she is in demand as a speaker, moderator, and expert advisor for initiatives, programs, and conferences around the world.

From a young age, Strong wanted to be a writer. While completing a master’s degree in dramatic literature, Strong began to see the need for capable and efficient lawyers in the political sphere. Believing that the best way to effect change was through the law, “as opposed to writing plays about things that lawyers would then deal with,” she began law school at Duke University. Upon completing her degree, Strong began practicing in New York City. Shortly thereafter, she decided to continue her education, pursuing a PhD in law from Cambridge University. Obtaining dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland, Strong observes, was what helped her develop and expand her work abroad. It afforded her the opportunity to work in the British court system as a solicitor at a time when few Americans could.

Enjoying the advantages of dual professional careers, Strong practices law, teaches, and conducts research at Mizzou. The study of law, she contends, benefits from crossover between the academic and professional worlds, insisting, “it benefits the students. It benefits the scholarship.” Indeed, despite the high-level nature of her legal practice, Strong considers herself to be an educator first and foremost, and regards her extensive commercial and international litigation experience as an asset to her teaching: “law school is special because it is not just a trade school, but at the same time it is not just an academic theoretical endeavor.” As a practicing lawyer, Strong gives her students insights into the tactics and realities of successful litigation. She strives to always include the practical application of theoretical work, and to give real world examples that counter students’ preconceived ideas about the law. “Students come to the law with the perception and the expectation that there is a single right answer,” Strong stresses, “and in fact there isn’t.”

As a professor, Strong focuses on helping students understand “how to learn, how to analyze, and how to apply [the law] in real practice.” In this light, Strong has identified writing as an area for improvement for most law students. Drawing on her background as a writer, Strong authored How to Write Law Essays and Exams (now in its fourth edition, Oxford UP 2014). Students who comprehensively know the law often struggle to get their thoughts on paper, she points out, because they do not know how to present the law in writing. Lawyers must have substantial powers of persuasion, and understanding writing and research as a craft is key to developing rhetorical skills. Strong contends that the best lawyers are those who learned that specificity and clarity are their most powerful tools when speaking or writing about law.
Strong’s research interests are concerned with fair representation and equal avenues for redress in the international arena. Some of her highest-level work focuses on international class arbitration. In her book, Class, Mass, and Collective Arbitration in National and International Law, Strong pinpoints class arbitration as a procedural mechanism for bringing claims that may not be feasible as individual proceedings. Beginning in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of arbitration for class actions, Strong was concerned that there was no place for these kinds of class actions in the legal sphere. As a result of her research, however, Strong determined that not only does class arbitration function within all of the rules of traditional arbitration, it is also a highly useful system for settling disputes. Group arbitration, Strong asserts, can often be more advantageous than litigation for particular claims, especially with respect to procedure and enforcement. Because class arbitration offers consumers a means of redress less costly and time consuming than litigation, Strong established the need for class suits in arbitration.

Recently, Strong’s research has involved the waiver provisions used by large corporations. Corporations regularly use arbitration waivers for individuals, and are increasingly incorporating class waivers as well. This means that corporations routinely compel consumers to waive their right to enter into class arbitration, something that Strong points out would never be allowed in the class action context. Class waivers are permissible, she contends, only because of their associations with arbitration. Removing the consumers’ ability to act as a class leaves injured parties little access to justice. The implications of this arbitration mechanism, Strong shares, have not yet been deliberated by the Supreme Court.

Strong’s dual expertise in international law and class arbitration have led to her work with the United Nations on international commercial mediation. With the aid of the mediator, two parties will confer in mediation, and work towards a mutually acceptable business solution. This system offers many benefits, including avoiding costly and extensive litigation. Having published on the potential benefits of international commercial mediation, Strong proposed a convention for international commercial mediation to the U.S. Department of State, which in turn proposed it to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. Though the process is still in the early stages, Strong is establishing that mediation—when structured properly—will be a useful tool for commercial parties. “International things take time,” Strong laughs, but the concept is moving forward—however slowly. “The whole process is pretty cool,” she admits with a smile. In the meantime, Strong has much on her plate, including developing textbooks for cross-cultural, bilingual lawyers, and ongoing advocacy for standardized judicial education.