Anne Dorfman: The Law is an organizing principle that helps keep people from hurting other people

Diana Buzoianu: First of all, thank you for being here and for answering our questions. I’ll start by asking if you can you tell us, in some words, in what areas did you work and what do you do right now?

Anne Dorfman: I began teaching legal English, the U.S. legal system (and even the U.K. legal system) about eight years ago. I taught at Humboldt University’s law school in Berlin, then at Pantheon-Assas in Paris. Every summer I teach in an intensive legal English program to students from all over the world at American University’s Washington College of Law. This past year I was able to come to the University of Bucharest Law School as an English Language Fellow – a grantee funded by the U.S. State Department in a program administered by Georgetown University.

Diana Buzoianu: When did you decide to become a professor and how did your decision evolve?

Anne Dorfman: Well, the honest truth is I decided on September 11th, 2001. After the terrorist attack I thought: You know, I always wanted to be a teacher. I don’t know if want to live in New York City because who knows if there are going to be a lot of terrorist attacks? I need to figure out how to do something where I have more flexibility. Now’s the time to get that teacher’s job I always wanted. So I did. But I did it over a period of several years. I’ve always known people who’ve taught English and I always thought, “Well, maybe I should have done that as a career”. A few years after September 11, a lot of bad things were happening in my life in New York and that’s when I decided: this is the time to leave. I’m gonna finish my teaching credential and I’m going to go to Europe and be a teacher. I’ve asked somebody at the school where I got my teaching credential if there is such a thing as legal English. She was the head of the program and she said: ”Wow, you can teach legal English? and I said, “Yeah, I have a law degree.” That’s when she told me I can get a job anywhere in the world. So I went looking for a job and I got them right away. People said: “Ooh, so you’re a lawyer. Here’s a job.”

Diana Buzoianu: What were the biggest challenges in the process of becoming a professor?

Anne Dorfman: I didn’t have any because what I wanted to teach was legal English, so when I first started it was easy for me because I’ve already done a lot of writing and editing in my life. Teaching English for me was easy. I learned a lot of teaching techniques. That’s what you have to learn. The part that was tricky for me was realizing what level of information the students could really take in and remember. A lot of law schools have a very high academic standard and they want a lot of reading, but the students don’t remember everything. I want to teach in a way that, 10 years from now, students will remember something, because I might have given the information in a much simpler form rather in a super-academic one.

Diana Buzoianu: What is your perspective on the educational system of Romania? How is it different from the American one?

Anne Dorfman: I would say that what I’ve seen, but I’m not sure, because I have not seen some of the lower levels of education, I think the education in Romania is really good for people who are interested in studying. I think they have a great background. But, like in every other country, it’s a minority of people who are really interested in learning. Did I feel that the people who were my students or people I‘ve met in professional fields are incredibly well prepared? Yes. I’m really impressed with the educational level of Romania. However, I’ve been teaching at the University of Bucharest Law Faculty, and that’s not totally representative of all the educational facilities in Romania. So I know that I had a special look at what probably is the best of the best.

Diana Buzoianu: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a legal journalist?

Anne Dorfman: The reason I wanted to be a legal journalist initially was because I thought it would be a niche and I would be able to get a job. But it turned out that I was actually interested in legal journalism and in educating people about the law, because it’s really educating people about society and history. So one of the advantages is being able to do something that is narrowly defined in the area in journalism where the competition is lower. That’s what I felt then. I realize now that is not so hard to find a job in legal journalism, but I wanted it so hard that I thought it would be impossible. The disadvantages are that is pays very little unless you are a documentary producer. In those days, in Court TV – the place where I produced documentaries – you were a full-time documentary producer. You had a salary, you had health benefits… which are very important in the U.S. They don’t do that anymore. Now, to produce documentaries you have to be a freelancer. And, this is probably not true in a few places, but in most cases it is very hard to be a freelance documentary producer. You know you probably won’t be able to do them, because you are not able to raise the money for them. You have to be incredibly motivated to put yourself in a situation where your whole life is consumed by making documentaries, if you want to raise the money.

Diana Buzoianu: What is that something that helps you find the right job for you?

Anne Dorfman: It sounds corny, but listen to your heart. You know what you wanna do and you have to see if you can do it. If you can’t do exactly that, do something related to it, so that you feel good. You know when you feel good about the right job. If you’re confused, that’s a different situation. And I would say that, in that situation, the thing to do is to take a job that you think you might be interested in, and if you don’t like if, find something else, try another job that you think you might be interested in. Do not stay with that job if you know you don’t like it.

Diana Buzoianu: What are the first three attributes an individual should have in the area of practicing law?

Anne Dorfman: The interest in practicing law instead of just doing it because they went to law school and they feel they have to do it. You have to concentrate upon understanding as much in a field as you can… It really takes interest. Another thing is knowing what your own skills are. Someone who loves it might realize they love being in a courtroom. Another person might realize they hate it, and they want to do the office work, transactional law, they want to write contracts. They don’t want to go near a courtroom. Knowing your own skills and not thinking there is something wrong with just wanting to write contracts, or something wrong in wanting to be in a courtroom. The third thing… it’s a lot better if you like people. You don’t have to like them, but it makes it a lot more fun. A lot of legal practice can be working really hard for hours trying to analyze things, reading the same type of thing over and over again. The parts that are fun can be working with clients and with other lawyers. It make your life a more complete life.

Diana Buzoianu: What is the law for you?

Anne Dorfman: It’s a very interesting question, especially having been in Romania. I think that my answer would have been different a year ago. For me, as an American, I basically take it for granted that the rule of law exists in my society… in theory. People believe it. So for me law is an organizing principle that helps keep people from hurting other people. What I’ve always liked in law school were the parts that were historically based, like constitutional law. Those part that can help you analyze how society really deals with different groups of people and how it deals with itself and changes in society. The part that is really important to me is that it’s a practical way to put political beliefs into practice. But in Romania, where there have only been 20 years of a society where people are trying to create a new society, law means something different. It’s more something that you have to think about. You have to think about the system people want. It’s not like it was for me: yeah, it’s a legal system, we follow it. Or the same thing in Germany, where the system is 60 years old, or the same with France, where the system has changed, but it’s also the one that was created in 1789. Those three countries…people just acknowledge the system. Here, people have to work on it and think about it.

Diana Buzoianu: What are the principles a law practitioner should follow throughout her/his career?

Anne Dorfman: The first one is the minimum standard of care of an ordinary lawyer (laughs). I think that, at the individual level, people have to remember that they have to be careful. Even if they have small jobs just to pay the bills. Those small jobs must be given the same amount of care as a bigger job, the more important ones, because that job can be very important to the client. I think people can lose track of that. Another thing is not to be very cynical about all the other jobs you are doing. You need to remember there is a person behind each case.

Diana Buzoianu: Thank you for answering to my questions.

Anne Dorfman: Thank you. I hope this interview will help law students out there.

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