International Law Expert Paul B. Stephan to Lead Graduate Studies Program

May 29, 2012

University of Virginia law professor Paul B. Stephan, an expert in international business and Soviet and post-Soviet legal systems, will be the new director of the Law School's Graduate Studies Program.

test image
Paul Stephen

"Paul's international focus will be a source of strength for the program and I am confident it will continue to offer an exceptional experience to an outstanding group of international students," said Law School Dean Paul Mahoney.

The Graduate Studies Program each year enrolls from 35 to 50 students for the master of laws (LL.M.) degree, in addition to a few students seeking a doctor of juridical science degree, or S.J.D. The vast majority of LL.M. students are foreign-born and have completed the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in law. The program allows them to receive additional training in American legal practices through a one-year degree program in which they take courses alongside J.D. students.

"I think in spite of the difficulties of the last few years, it's still a global economy," said Stephan, who frequently travels abroad himself for work and leisure. "Legal practice is increasingly a global enterprise, and someone with foreign legal training really is advantaged by spending a year at an elite American law school. It means that they have skills that they can employ in their home country and around the world, and employers recognize that."

At the Law School, Stephan has taught international financial crimes, property, emerging markets, comparative law, international business transactions and a colloquium on international law and the global economy. He has also served as a consultant on economic and legal reforms for U.S. government and international organizations, including the U.S. Treasury, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1977, he clerked for Judge Levin Campbell of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. He joined the Virginia faculty in 1979 but has also taught law at the University of Vienna, Münster University, Lausanne University, Melbourne University, the University of Pantheon-Assas and Sciences Po in Paris, Columbia University Law School, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, Sydney University and the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. In 2006-07 he took leave from the Law School to serve as a counselor on international law for the U.S. State Department.

Stephan will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Graduate Program, including recruiting and admitting students, advising students on choosing courses and ensuring that they feel at home in the Law School community.

Stephan replaces Michael Dooley, who is retiring from the Law School, after 19 years as chair of the committee.

"Mike directed a graduate program that was a great source of pride for the Law School," Mahoney said. "The individual attention he gave each LL.M. student is a hallmark of our program and resulted in a high degree of student satisfaction with their year in Charlottesville."

Stephan said he took succeeding Dooley — who once taught him and became a good friend when he joined the faculty — very seriously.

"Mike has done a terrific job with the program. I just want to continue to build on what he has done," he said.

Stephan said he plans to grow enrollment to about 50 students (from 36 this year), but feels maintaining the relatively small size of the program is important to preserving its key feature: LL.M. students learning alongside J.D. students.

"Most larger programs have the LL.M.s on their own track and they associate almost entirely with each other, and to some extent they even have teachers that are dedicated to their programs. So they don't have nearly the same experience as the J.D. students," he said. "Our students by contrast really are fully integrated. There's a great esprit de corps among the LL.M.s as a group, but they are also fully involved in the J.D. life. They take essentially all the classes that our J.D. students take."

Stephan said the school's community atmosphere helps build a sense of family among Virginia's LL.M. students.

"Students rely on each other and provide quality to each other's lives," he said.

Stephan will continue to administer the Law School's international exchange program (which now boasts eight partnering schools), the January term abroad courses and the Law School's international law program as well.

"All require having some sense of what legal education is like around the world," he said.

A Long-Held — But Expanding — Interest in International Affairs

As a scholar and expert in international law, Stephan closely tracks issues raised by the globalization of the world economy and the transition away from Soviet-style socialism.

"I grew up in a family that was oriented towards international relations," he said. "My father was an Africanist both in academics and the government."

Stephan studied the Soviet Union as an undergraduate and graduate student at Yale University. He also interned at the CIA before going to law school at Virginia.

"In the '60s and '70s the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union was the big thing," he said. "I was also very attracted to the culture — the literature. I was interested in Russian history."

His great-grandfather, a missionary in China, was the first American to ride on the Trans-Siberian railroad, in 1904. Stephan used his letters as an archival source for his master's thesis on the geopolitics of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

As the Soviet Union moved away from socialism, Stephan found the period of the 1980s and 1990s was also a period of transition for his scholarship.

"It was partly due to the economic reforms in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev that I became interested in international economic law," he said. "I saw that the Soviet Union was beginning to engage with the global economy and I felt if they're going to do it then I better learn what it is. And that led to my interest in an international economics and business course I've been teaching on and off for more than 20 years."

Stephan consulted on tax reform issues as well as the development of legal institutions, but in the past decade he has increasingly focused on dispute resolution.

"All the disappointed investors who went to Russia in the '90s have drawn me in as someone who knows something about Russian law," he said.

Over the years he broadened his focus from international economic law to international law more generally, including international litigation and public international law.

Stephan speaks Russian and French ("neither brilliantly") and is proud of the fact that he had been east of the Oder-Neisse line — the traditional boundary between Eastern and Western Europe — 50 times before he ever traveled to Paris.

But when he went to the City of Lights for the first time in 1994 as part of a tax project run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he realized, "Boy, the food's a whole lot better here."

This week he is traveling to Luxembourg with State Department officials and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to start planning for a summer 2014 conference between U.S. Supreme Court justices and members of the European Court of Justice.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

News Highlights