Updated: Oct 16, 2019
More than four decades ago, a Latin-American lawyer named Claudio Grossman met a Turkish lawyer, named Haluk Kabaalioğlu. Their passion for law and dedication to the future of the legal industry laid the foundation for their friendships.
In 1974, at The Hague Academy of International Law, young Claudio met another young Turkish lawyer, Haluk. With their mutual interest in international law, the two young lawyers engaged in a fascinating discussion about the rule of law in Turkey, the United States, and Latin America. Twenty-nine years later, Haluk, who later became the Dean of Yeditepe University, visited American University Washington College of Law, where coincidently, Claudio also became a dean. By this point, both men had years of experience and earned wisdom. When the two men locked eyes with each other on the Washington College of Law (WCL) Campus, they immediately recognized each other.
Stories like this are not common, and the two men's friendship grew naturally based on evermore overlapping mutual interest and devotion to the betterment of the legal community. Whether it was fate, similar curiosity, or passion that brought them together again, the two men found themselves on the same continent one more time. These two legal minds had committed to creating an opportunity for the future generation of lawyers in the United States and Turkey to learn about each other's legal system, history, culture, and forge a strong friendship like the one that they share. Hence, in 2005, a summer exchange program born out of mutual admiration and friendship has officially begun between Yeditepe Law School and Washington College of Law.
Since the program's establishment, it enabled hundreds of American and Turkish students to travel to each other's country to learn from and engage with each other. The program also allowed students to meet with Justices, lawyers, legislators, and academics to learn about legal history and practical applications. In addition, both law schools hosted faculty members, conferences, and conducted research to expand and solidify the existing relationship between the two countries. While visiting American Law School, Turkish students benefitted from the wisdom shared by the iconic Supreme Court Justice, Justice Ginsberg. Turkish media outlets also reported the exchange program and its impact on legal education in Turkey.
Professor Grossman remarked on the program and his friendship with Haluk, "Scholarships and books contribute significantly to the legal industry. However, because of the extraordinary speed and character of modern society, these forms of knowledge sharing is limited in its contribution. In contrast, working with people and opening opportunities for them has a lifelong impact. What we did with Haluk influenced the lives of many. This was possible because of his seriousness, commitment, and personality. I am personally grateful to have met Haluk."
Professor Haluk recalls his unexpected and delightful reunion with professor Grossman in America when he recognized the young and brave Chilean refugee "Doctoral Scholar" who he had once met in the Netherlands back in 1974. He further expressed that the program came to exist through mutual trust, commitment, and a promise made between the two men. No official written document exists to memorialize the program and its life span. However, the two men and two law schools honored their promise to each other and continued collaboration until 2015.
This beautiful friendship between these two men led to the creation of an exchange program that paved the way for many Turkish and American lawyers to study in Turkey and the US. Moreover, many students (now lawyers) formed strong and long-lasting friendships through these programs.
I have my own friendship/love story, where I met one of my best friends, Christina Wood, who took part in this exchange program. Upon completing this program, Christina interned at a law firm I was working at in Turkey. Shortly after, I moved to the United States to pursue my masters of law at Harvard. Over time, Christina and I became close friends and attended each other's graduations. Later, when I accepted a job in DC, I moved into the same building as her. Since then, our friendship has evolved, and we have become each other's cheerleaders and sponsors. Christina finished her JD program and became a lawyer at Venable. Our story of how a blonde and brunette became great friends after our paths crossed in the exotic city of Istanbul continues to fascinate colleagues and friends.
I discovered this story, what I would call a beautiful "love story" between two scholars after meeting with Associate Dean for Student Affairs, David Jaffe, who Christina always spoke of so highly. On September 9, 2019, I paid a visit to WCL to meet with Associate Dean Jaffe to discuss his experience of running this program. Melanija Radnovic, the director of WCL Abroad & International Programs, who facilitated the program with Turkey, also joined the meeting. My discussion with them led me to learn such a beautiful story that touched my heart that I wanted to share via the ATILA platform. After the program's establishment, Dean Jaffe ran this program between the years 2010 to 2015. Visiting Turkey numerous times with students, he fell in love with Turkish culture, cuisine, and beautiful Turkish people. In fact, I chased down some of his students, who are now lawyers themselves, to hear more about the founders of the program and others like Dean Jaffe, who contributed significantly to the success, as well as to listen to the former-students describe their experience with the founders.
Tan Albayrak, an alumnus of WCL and currently a law clerk at Morris, Manning, & Martin, described "Dean Jaffe as a friend of Turkey. He is accessible at all times and helps seamlessly on whatever issue you solicit his advice. He prioritizes the wellbeing of students above everything else, and his initiatives on lawyers' mental health and support otherwise are very inspiring." Just as Tan described David's character, David was also very much accessible to me to discuss with him about his experience of running the exchange program.
Tabitha Bartholomew, an associate at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and graduate of American University Washington School of Law during the period in which professor Grossman served as the Dean, recalls her impression of him: "He was very well respected and liked by students. He had an open-door policy, and students enjoyed his company. He was an important figure in the context of law school."
I contacted and interviewed past students and lawyers who participated or contributed to the program to describe their reflection and the program's impact on their careers.
Christina Wood, an associate at Venable, says, "My experience in WCL's exchange program was incredibly fulfilling. WCL provided all of the tools and opportunities for you to learn Turkey's legal system and meet some of the most interesting legal minds in the world. The program's sponsor, Dean Jaffe, even went so far as to help me set-up interviews with arbitration firms. Because of my school's support, I was able to secure an internship at an arbitration firm and work there for the summer. It is gratifying for any law student not only to learn a new legal system but have the opportunity to put skills to the test at a law firm. It was during my time there that I met one of my closest friends, a lawyer named Rayhan Asat. We are still friends to this day, which shows that the relationships you build in Istanbul are life-long and memorable."
Arda Barlas, a Turkish lawyer and a current JD student at the University of Miami, describes, "I can't understate the impact of the program on my legal education and career. As a first-year law student from Turkey, the program served as a gateway to observe the US legal system. While the program exposed me to the US legal system, it served me to engage with American law students and built life-long friendships. These fruitful relations allowed both sides to develop deep ties with Turkey and the US. My fascination with American legal led me to pursue my JD/LLM in the US after my first law degree in my home country. To this day, I still benefit from my experience in the program, and I remain thankful to Dean Haluk Kabaalioglu."
Umit Herguner, a senior partner at Herguner Bilgen Ozeke Attorney Partnership in Istanbul and a wonderful mentor of mine, was a champion of the joint summer exchange program. As an alumnus of WCL, Umit had the chance to work closely with professor Grossman. Formerly a mentor-mentee relationship slowly transformed into friendship. For the past few decades, their friendship only grew stronger. Umit also has a close and personal relationship with professor Kabaalioglu. With his personal and close friendships with these two scholars, Umit naturally became a sponsor of the program. He very much enjoyed hosting and engaging with WCL students both in a formal setting or taking them out for drinks. He feels sorry that such an excellent program could not be continued since the coup attempt in Turkey of July 2016.
Alper Koc, a board member at ATILA and partner at KKO Legal commenting on Umit Herguner's long years of sponsorship of the exchange program says: "Umit Herguenr is one of the trailblazers of the Turkish legal market. In many respects, he had to experience 'firsts' in the market, patiently making inroads and setting the bar for us next generation of lawyers on how law firms look like. The firm he has built speaks for itself. But, also, on a very personal level, he is a great person to work with. In what is still a highly hierarchical legal culture divided by age lines, his collegial and unassuming positioning of himself with younger colleagues stands as a stark exception to the general pattern. This is one of the reasons for his success. "
In my discussion, Melanija explains that WCL law school has one of the most diverse and international programs in the United States. She is very committed to exchange programs between WCL and other law schools. Currently, WCL has several summer law programs that are open to law students outside of America. The experience of the participants shows how beneficial and the far-reaching impact these programs can create for students in shaping their career and outlook for the future.
As leaders, we wish to be known for the quality of work and our contribution to society. Writing this piece and interviewing people made me realize that a person's character and integrity are far more critical in cementing one's legacy.
This love/friendship story teaches us a profound and yet valuable lesson. There are endless possibilities in human interactions. In life, people would come into our lives one way or another. We can never be sure how this friendship will evolve. However, when we are open to new possibilities, treat each other with respect, and share similar values towards our goals, these relationships blossom and make us a better friend and colleague. I hope ATILA's platform will help lawyers, students, non-lawyers, and friends opportunities of a lifetime in finding friendships like the one between Professor Haluk and Professor Grossman so that together, we create a better opportunity for each other.
ATILA honors the legacy of the two lawyers and extends gratitude to their contribution to the legal industry.