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Former Missoula lawyer finds inspiration, enrichment teaching Ukrainian law students


By Alan F. Blakley
I thought my law school teaching days were over. Having taught at the University of Montana Law School in the 1990s, Western Michigan Law School in the 2000s, and the University of Denver Law School in the 2010s, and practicing in Montana, Texas and Colorado, I was ready to relax. Then I got an email from a friend who teaches at Georgetown Law School. Ukrainian law schools were looking for United States’ law professors willing to teach classes in Ukraine.
Since the start of the Russian war of aggression, I had wanted to do something for Ukraine. But, not knowing where it would go or how it would be used, I did not want to send money. What could I do from here? Moreover, I knew only two things about Ukraine – that it was a former Soviet colony and that Russia had invaded it. I volunteered, provided I could teach in English. Having taught many non-native English speakers at the University of Denver I had some experience explaining U.S. legal terms to non-native speakers.
Several weeks later – I had almost forgotten about sending my information – I was contacted by someone at The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy law school. I, of course, knew nothing about this university, founded in 1652, and whose alumnae include the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. He told me about the university and the law school. The university is about the same size as the University of Montana, and each class in the law school is about the same size as each law school class at UM. Ukrainian legal education is similar to that of other countries. Law school is an undergraduate degree. But, in Ukraine, to be authorized to practice, someone must also have a masters of law degree. 
I also learned that Kyiv-Mohyla is a bilingual school – Ukrainian and English. Applicants are required to pass an English exam as part of the admission exam. Bachelor’s students take English classes; master’s students take legal English classes. After discussions, I agreed to teach a course remotely this past spring to bachelor’s students – An Introduction to United States Civil Litigation. I also agreed to teach a workshop (what we’d call a seminar) at the same time to master’s students – Comparative Ukraine and United States Civil Court Systems.  Fortunately, significant Ukrainian resources are available in English.
I knew the German court system and since Ukraine is also a civil law country (though its law is somewhat different from German law), I could find out about the court system and procedure by looking at the constitution, statutes and rules and not worrying about case law. I also talked to practitioners there to fill in the gaps. So I began, and I have learned so much more than I could ever have imagined – about Ukrainian law, about Ukraine’s history, about the people. I watched a post-invasion lecture series of Dr. Timothy Snyder of Yale on the history of Ukraine. Having known nothing of eastern Europe, I was amazed. Watch the videos – there is not enough space here to scratch the surface.
However, two events in Ukraine’s recent history are important to the development of law. First, in 2004, the Orange Revolution focused on post-Soviet corruption. Second, the 2014 Revolution of Dignity caused major reforms in the law and the judiciary. At that time, Ukraine created the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Moreover, recently Ukraine created the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court to deal with lingering issues of corruption. I also find it particularly interesting that most of the current leaders of Ukraine, including at the Kyiv-Mohyla, are in their 30s and 40s – a very energetic and committed group.
The students and faculty are amazing. They do not speak of the problems associated with being under attack. Occasionally, though not often because I do not initiate any discussion since I am not sure how to address the situation, the students volunteer some information. They mention family members remaining in occupied territory and of their concern for them. They mention bombed-out areas they had to leave. Some are studying remotely while living in other European countries. The students do not mention these things because they want our sympathy, they want our support. Despite everything, the university holds in-person classes as well as remote classes. Many of the faculty teach in person as well as remotely. Some of the families of the faculty are living in other countries for their safety; but many family members remain in Ukraine. Graduation ceremonies proceed.
Imagine being in law school and not knowing whether your classroom will be bombed or whether your house will be destroyed or whether you will get a good night’s sleep prior to an exam because you are spending the night in a bomb shelter. But no one complains – neither students nor faculty. Interacting with them remotely, no one would know they are anything other than normal law students or law faculty anywhere in the world. They do not speak of when the invasion will be over, but they talk about when they achieve victory. And, as every other colony fighting an imperialist seeking to occupy them has done, I strongly believe this heroic, strong people will prevail. They are all my heroes.
The dean and I have not decided what courses I will be teaching in the fall. But I look forward to continuing to work with these wonderful students and the outstanding faculty of Kyiv-Mohyla, and, after Ukraine’s victory, visiting my new school.

Alan Blakley is a Senior Attorney member of the State Bar of Montana. He was the managing partner and a trial attorney at the Missoula firm Blakley and Velk until 2011. He currently lives in Rockville, Maryland.