Written by Scott Seger
Croatia provided a fascinating study on the impact young lawyers and creative thinkers can have in contributing to law reform and improving access to justice. On the one hand, Croatia is an emerging European democracy, and yet on the other, it is also a society struggling to rid itself of the long lasting effects of communism, particularly as it relates to the country’s legal system. Zagreb, the capital and home to a quarter of the population, is emblematic of this struggle of old and new, with a beautiful elevated old city featuring cathedrals and narrow alleyways overlooking the youthful, international metropolis below it. Navigating this dichotomy in the realm of law is a source of struggle and frustration for the country’s lawyers and students.
I am proud to have become an advocate for mediation and alternative dispute resolution strategies as a result of my time interning at the Croatian Mediation Association (“CMA”). I am a law student at the University of Connecticut Law School and was selected to be part of the group of interns at CMA in June 2016. My fellow legal interns included Mark Vanaman, also a UCONN Law student, and Matt Huzaineh from Hastings Law School. Our work at CMA included putting together a comparative analysis of mediation law in the United States and Croatia and researching the impact of the European Mediation Directive in solving cross-border corporate disputes throughout the continent. We met with judges, law firm partners, members of NGOs and student organizations who practice mediation to solve a wide array of legal problems, including between businesses and within the local school system. We learned from local human rights and immigration lawyers at the Zagreb Human Rights House about the many stresses the European refugee crisis is placing on Croatia’s legal system. We also spoke to American diplomats at the U.S. embassy who shared insights into the efforts our government is taking to improve the lives of thousands of Croatians. Despite the sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing Croatia, a country in which most of the population is poor and the government consistently fails to meet the needs of its people, our meetings with so many amazingly passionate lawyers and law students encouraged us about the future to come. All of those we encountered as part of the internship believe in using the power of law to help others achieve a better life. For these reasons, my internship served as great complement to my prior legal coursework in human rights.
I would be remiss not to mention the amazing travel opportunities available in Croatia. Croatia is a beautiful and friendly country, and together with my fellow interns I visited many of the coastal cities dotting the Adriatic Sea (including the spectacular Dubrovnik, the site of the fictional King’s Landing in Game of Thrones) and national parks in the middle of the country. We also visited Sarajevo, Bosnia during the Ramadan holiday, which was an amazingly rich cultural experience. In Sarajevo, I had the unique opportunity to educate myself about the Balkan war and specifically the genocide that took place in Srebrenica, which still very much affects everyday life and governance throughout the region.
Croatia and the Croatian Mediation Association provided me with an invaluable experience that will undoubtedly make me a better lawyer and global citizen. I hope to continue pursing mediation and ADR solutions throughout my career and to continue to travel the world while exploring and supporting efforts to provide access to justice in emerging democracies.