A world of inquiry

“Students must learn to pursue leads, make contacts, formulate good questions, gain the trust of the people they talk to, make sense of the narratives they acquire, and become good listeners.”

Sometimes, says Professor David Engel, it takes a global perspective to really understand U.S. law.

“Learning in depth about another country can lead us to ask different questions about our own country and to recognize features of our own legal system that are unique,” says Engel, a prolific scholar and popular teacher at UB School of Law. “American tort law, in particular, has many aspects not found in other parts of the world – such as our use of jury trials in injury cases, our extensive reliance on pretrial discovery, and our view of injury law as an instrument of social policy.”

Early on, Engel spent three years in Thailand with the Peace Corps, and he has nurtured a deep connection with that nation ever since. He often travels with groups of law students there to study Thai legal culture, and he even received an honorary doctorate of laws degree that was presented by Thailand’s crown princess.

Beyond that transnational perspective, his students also learn how the law affects real people. “I frequently ask students to write papers based on interviews,” Engel says. “Their research takes them out of the library and into the community. The students must learn to pursue leads, make contacts, formulate good questions, gain the trust of the people they talk to, make sense of the narratives they acquire, and become good listeners. These are not just research skills – they’re skills the students will need throughout their professional careers.”