Institute for the Study and Development of Legal Systems


San Francisco, California
The Institute for the Study and Development of Legal Systems (ISDLS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that specializes in the reform and modernization of legal processes. These modernized mechanisms guarantee efficient justice and thereby reduce the cost and delay ordinarily associated with the traditional resolution of cases. ISDLS began in 1984 as an association of judges and lawyers, and became incorporated in January, 1993. In this time, ISDLS has conducted studies in twenty-nine countries throughout Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East.

ISDLS has the expertise to identify the significant problems and needs of civil and criminal justice processes and the ability to restore, reform and modernize those legal processes in order to guarantee a fair and efficient administration of justice. ISDLS projects guarantee modernization of studied legal systems because the reforms are carefully tailored to be integrated into the existing processes through a joint effort of the host-country, legal opinion leaders (represented by a designated "Legal Study Group") and the legal delegation of ISDLS.

ISDLS assists in the implementation of the selected legal reforms through practical legal training seminars at judicial institutes, law schools and bar associations in the various legal communities. In this area, ISDLS has introduced and established clinical legal education in seven countries in Asia, seven countries in Latin America and two countries in the Middle East.

American Legal Delegation
ISDLS conducts its programs through the valuable in-kind contributions of the American Legal Delegation, which is comprised of 63 practicing judges and attorneys who have served as architects of the modernization of the California state and federal legal processes. This delegation provides pro-bono expertise by way of preparing authoritative papers and by preparing lectures and demonstrations and by analyzing study group commentary about discussed mechanisms. It is through the unique expertise of each American Legal Delegate that ISDLS is able to conduct successful programs.

Host-Country Legal Study Group
ISDLS's programs ensure the active participation of the host country's legal community through the formation of a host country Legal Study Group. This group is comprised of leading practicing lawyers and judges who regularly confront problems associated with resolving criminal and civil disputes, who appreciate the needs of the processes and who are interested in legal restoration and modernization.

The Study Group is responsible for assisting in the assessment of the operation of the host country’s legal processes, explaining the needs/problems within those processes and suggesting potential solution to the problems. The Legal Study Group participates in an in-depth study of the U.S. legal processes, exploring how and why the U.S. has such a low percentage of cases which use the full trial process, and why the U.S. has such a low volume of corruption cases and human rights problems. The Legal Study Group is responsible for co-authoring with ISDLS all project reports.

Summary of Programs
[List of all Country Projects]
ISDLS's first programs were conducted in Asia during the years 1984 through 1987. These programs were preceded by a two-year preliminary study of potential legal exchange in Asia.

I. Preliminary Study (1982-1983)
In these preliminary programs, Asian legal opinion leaders participated in ISDLS clinical training programs and observed numerous court proceedings demonstrated by ISDLS. Each study concluded with a lengthy debriefing session identifying the problems and needs of the Asian legal processes. From these studies, ISDLS designed a series of programs to be presented throughout Asia. The original design of these programs was to present clinical legal education programs in the common law Asian countries and to present demonstrations of the U.S. legal process, including jury trial demonstrations, in the civil law Asian countries.

II. Initial Programs in Asia (1984-1987)
Asian judges and lawyers were the participants in the clinical legal education programs. They reaffirmed the need for clinical legal education of judges and lawyers in order to improve the practical operation of their systems. Through these programs, ISDLS introduced clinical legal education in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Each country now has its own clinical programs at the law schools and continuing legal education schools.

ISDLS presented mock jury trials (civil and criminal) in the civil law countries of Asia, including China (5 trials), Indonesia (2), Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. In these mock trials, the host country’s citizens assumed the roles of witnesses and trial jurors. Each trial was an authentic reproduction of an American jury trial and each resulted in a verdict based on a jury deliberation. Each of these trials was presented to large audiences of legal scholars, most of whom had never seen the American legal process in operation. During the audience commentary which followed these demonstrations, and in private meetings held with Asian legal opinion leaders, ISDLS learned of the Asian interest to further study the U.S. legal process in order to modernize their legal processes. The two areas most frequently discussed were (1) the capability and flexibility of the U.S. to expeditiously handle its extremely large caseload [see Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms] and (2) the importance of an open, public criminal justice process (as opposed to a closed-affidavit proceeding).

III. Civil Law Modernization in Latin America (1989-present)
In 1989, ISDLS began conducting legal study programs in Latin America. In the majority of these programs, ISDLS was invited by the host countries to assist in the reform and modernization of previously identified areas of concern.

The first Latin American programs were in Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela. Both Argentina and Uruguay wanted to begin an oral process (as opposed to the affidavit process) based on the U.S. adversarial model. ISDLS conferred with legal opinion leaders about their reform interests, co-designed new oral legal processes and co-designed and then co-taught in programs to train the lawyers and judges in these new processes. ISDLS presented mock criminal jury trials in Venezuela (1), Argentina (6) and Uruguay (3). Finally, ISDLS created models of clinical legal education which met the needs of the civil law process in Argentina and Uruguay. In later programs, ISDLS introduced these civil law clinical legal education models in Chile, El Salvador, Panama and Mexico.

The Bolivian Government, aware of the earlier successes Latin American projects, asked ISDLS to improve the quality of the existing oral process in Bolivia, design legal training programs for judges and lawyers and, most importantly, to study and modernize the operation of the Bolivian criminal justice process. ISDLS determined that the crux of the delay in the Bolivian criminal justice process was the lack of competent public defenders to represent indigent Bolivians, and an enormously tedious criminal justice process. ISDLS made the recommendations to address these problems, assisted in the design of the public defender institution, co-designed the training programs for the public defenders, and designed a guilty plea process for the Bolivian civil law system.

At the time of the study, 44% of those arrested served a full prison term without being convicted. In recent reports, based on the success of the ISDLS work, Bolivia now enjoys a criminal justice process which is free of any delay and is considered one of the very strongest in Latin America. Furthermore, a clinical education course is now functioning for Bolivian legal practitioners as a result of ISDLS's legal training program.

ISDLS first developed the concept of the host country Legal Study Group in the Bolivian project as a way to stimulate public awareness of the legal reform effort, and enlist both governmental and non-governmental expertise. By linking the reform effort to the national legal community ISDLS ensured that legal reform would continue responsibly without further U.S. involvement. All of ISDLS’s programs have since incorporated this host country study group model.

ISDLS conducted many other programs in the Latin American region which led to the institutionalization of clinical education at law schools and other legal forums and assisted many countries in the improvement of the use of their oral process. During the course of the Argentinian and Panamanian projects, ISDLS presented guilty pleas demonstrations. In an effort to reduce backlog in their criminal justice case load, both Argentina and Panama introduced legislation in 1997 to create the guilty plea mechanism.

IV. Middle East/North Africa/Near East Asia/Mediterranean Experience (1992-present)
In 1992 ISDLS began working on legal study programs in the Middle East/North Africa/ Mediterranean regions. In these programs, host countries invited ISDLS to study critical aspects of the civil and criminal justice processes in an effort to eliminate the procedural discrepancies and to address existing human rights abuses. In order to realistically attain this goal, working relationships with the legal scholarship in each country mandated an establishment of mutual trust and understanding, which was accomplished through the legal study group model.

In January, 1992, ISDLS began a legal exchange project in Egypt. Shortly after an initial assessment in Cairo and Alexandria, wherein ISDLS conferred with Egyptian judges, lawyers and law professors, the Egyptian Minister of Justice requested that ISDLS conduct an assessment of the practical operation of the Egyptian civil and criminal justice processes and subsequently recommend to the Ministry what steps should be taken to modernize those processes. Since that request, ISDLS has worked with an Egyptian Legal Study Group and the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to reform the civil justice process. In 1997, the Egyptian’s passed legislation finalizing the reforms recommended by this joint study. The study is reported in the Michigan Journal of International Law: Egyptian Civil Justice Process Modernization: A Functional and Systematic Approach, Summer 1996. ISDLS is currently conducting training of Egyptian judicial officials under the new processes.

ISDLS also introduced civil law clinical legal education to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice and assisted the Ministry in the design of its clinical programs.

ISDLS began a study of the Egyptian criminal justice processes in October of 1995 which is still in progress.. The goal of this study is to reduce the delay in the handling of criminal cases through the introduction of plea bargaining and the guilty plea for misdemeanors offenses (up to 7 years imprisonment). These mechanisms will require an appointment of indigent counsel, which does not presently exist in Egypt.

Also in October of 1995, ISDLS conducted a criminal justice legal study in Tunisia, at the invitation of the Tunisian Ministry of Justice. ISDLS and the Tunisian Legal Study Group recommended that Tunisia allow a defense counsel to enter a case at an earlier stage (thereby minimizing human rights problems and criticism) and implement plea bargaining and guilty pleas (to reduce the large caseload). ISDLS also introduced civil law clinical education to Tunisia.

With the success of the on-going Egypt and Tunisia projects, ISDLS was requested to begin a multi-phase legal assessment project in the West Bank/Gaza, to assist the Palestinian legal community in the reformation of its legal processes. ISDLS served as the legal assessment team for the U.S. on Palestinian legal reform efforts under the Israeli-PLO Peace Accord. Over the course of the study, ISDLS and the Palestinian Legal Study Group (PLSG) have identified the problems and needs of the Palestinian legal processes. This assessment serves as the primary document for the building of the legal infrastructure and legal system of the Palestinian National Authority. The study is reported in the Harvard International Law Journal: The Palestinian Legal Study: Consensus and Assessment of the New Palestinian Legal System, May, 1997.

Beginning in 1996 and continuing up to this time ISDLS has undertaken the modernization of the civil justice processes of India. This study has involved the work of study groups in Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Hyderabad and Calcutta, all coordinated by the Chief Justice of India. The five Indian study groups recommend the creation of the American-styled case management and judicial settlement. They published the implementation plan for the new civil justice process on January 31, 1997, and training is scheduled to begin in 1998. The study will be reported in the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, January, 1998.

ISDLS is presently completing its civil justice modernization in Jordan and has been invited to conduct a similar study in Pakistan, beginning in November, 1998.

V. China
In March, 1997, the People’s Supreme Court in Beijing, China invited ISDLS to discuss the modernization of the Chinese civil justice process. The Supreme Court and ISDLS agreed to begin that study in late 1997, on a grant issued by USIA. ISDLS has been informed that it will serve as the legal assessment team for the China civil justice process just as it had under the Palestinian project.

VI: 1998 Rule of Law Conference
Over the last year, ISDLS has prepared for an international rule of law conference to be presented in San Francisco in June, 1998. The purpose of the conference is to expose the deficient, struggling legal systems to "cutting-edge" reforms introduced throughout the world. ISDLS and the various host-country Legal Study Groups will present these reforms to legal scholars from over forty-five countries. The conference will be co-sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, during June 24-28, 1998.