What do the cities of Hamburg, London, Montreal, Ramat Gan, Singapore, Washington, D.C. and Rotterdam all have in common? Well, apart from most being modern metropolitan cities, all have law schools that are members of the Association of Transnational Law Schools (ATLAS). On a yearly basis, ATLAS organizes a summer school for graduate students, “Atlas Agora,” meant to think and rethink the present-day issues of international and transnational law. In 2018, Agora was hosted by American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) in the United States. Accordingly, from June 11 to June 22, graduate students from the Bucerius Law School, Queen Mary University of London, Université de Montréal, Bar-Ilan University, and National University of Singapore flew to Washington. Our own Erasmus School of Law (ESL) also sent two PhD candidates: Maurits Helmich and Yayun Shen.
On the Monday of the first week, after a relatively short introduction by incoming SJD director Heather Hughes, there was a lecture by David Hunter, law professor and former environmental lawyer. Tapping from his experience as a practitioner, Hunter talked about the legal structure and political role of the World Bank, putting into historical context the establishing of the WB’s Inspection Panel (IP). Then, on Tuesday, all Agora 2018 students were welcomed for a lecture at the IP, where they could see in practice what Professor Hunter talked about the day before. It would be the first of a much larger number of field trips. On the same day as the visit to the IP, for example, the group had a meeting with Congressman Jamie Raskin at the Capitol, where the PhD candidates could introduce their research topics and ask some questions. On Wednesday 13 June, the participants in the program were invited for a tour of the Supreme Court, and on Wednesday 20 June a trip to the National Archives was planned. But there was also the more “down-to-earth” visit of the baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles in the evening of 19 June. In short, the Agora participants got plenty of opportunities to walk and explore the city – not even having mentioned the large amount of spare time people spent downtown doing drinks or visiting museums.
The rest of the program consisted of roughly three different parts. First, there were lectures, mostly given by professors from inside and outside the AUWCL on a wide variety of topics – ranging from theoretical discussions on international law and legal pluralism to practically oriented seminars on writing, public speaking, and publishing. Then, secondly, there were dissertation workshops, during which the student participants in the ATLAS Agora 2018 presented their own papers. The student participants were grouped based on their research topics, as was also the case with Maurits and Yayun. Most of the workshops had senior researchers invited by the AUWCL, who acted as commentators and gave in-depth feedback. And then, as the third part of the summer school, there was the ATLAS faculty conference on Thursday 14 June. On that conference, scholars from many parts of the world gave inter-disciplinary talks on trendy issues, such as the rule of international law, the shaping of EU-China bilateral investment treaties and legal concerns around blockchains.
All in all, the ATLAS Agora 2018 turned out to be pleasant, useful, educative, and inspiring.
And it is not far from the truth to say that all the participants had an absolutely wonderful time. We, the ESL delegates to Agora 2018, hope that this annual tradition will stay in place for a long time. Getting young scholars on the road to meet new ideas, new professors, and – above all – each other, is and always will be an extremely valuable experience.