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Translating domestic expertise abroad

December 11, 2013

Professor Tania Tetlow conducts a class review before the end-of-semester final

Professor Tania Tetlow conducts a class review before the end-of-semester final

The expertise of Tulane Law School faculty is in demand around the world, sometimes in unexpected ways.

A recent example: Professor Tania Tetlow, who directs Tulane’s Domestic Violence Clinic, recently advised Iranian scholars on clinical legal education and legal tools for combating violence against women.

Tetlow was among the presenters at a two-day clinic held in Istanbul, Turkey, for faculty from Shahid Beheshti University, a major institution in Tehran. The training was sponsored by The Protection Project,  a human rights research institute based at the Foreign Policy Institute at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. The Protection Project’s executive director is Tulane Law School alumnus Mohamed Mattar (LLM ’83, SJD ’86).

The Iranian family law clinic focused on talking clients out of divorce, Tetlow said. In Iran, divorce is very difficult for women, with stark consequences.   For instance, Iranian family law usually doesn’t allow women to have custody of children older than 7, and men can get divorced unilaterally while women can’t. 

Her challenge was in “analogizing what we face to what they face,” she said. Tetlow’s expertise was important because a fair percentage of divorce cases involve domestic violence, and she has practical experience as a federal prosecutor and in directing law students helping clinic clients.

Tetlow said she explained that, while ubiquitous divorce in the United States isn’t necessarily a good thing, it at least provides “a better avenue of escape for domestic violence.” Research shows that it’s difficult to stop the violence or get a batterer to reform, she said, which belies the hope that violent husbands can simply be persuaded to behave.  And children living in that kind of environment are at risk of perpetuating the behavior.  It is important to disrupt at least one generation of families to stop the cycle of family violence.

“That seemed very persuasive to them,” she said.

Tetlow said the U.S. model of clinical legal education, which involves intensive faculty supervision of student work, was of even more interest to the Iranian faculty.  For example, in the Tulane law clinics, students are videotaped interviewing actors as clients, then faculty critique the sessions in order to improve skills. Tetlow said she helped brainstorm ways of doing feedback work with fewer faculty, suggesting that students do the role-playing then review each other’s performance, even without faculty.

Tetlow also has provided domestic violence and clinical education training in Nanjing, China, and Kigali, Rwanda. That international dimension, an outgrowth of Tulane’s distinctive global engagement, also helps enrich students’ experience.

“At Tulane, even those of us who do not focus on comparative law have a comparative perspective and have an understanding from our colleagues,” she said. “The constant focus of Tulane outwardly to the rest of the world informs all of our teaching in the classroom.”


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