Launched in March 2010, the Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (TLLEP) is a partnership between The Asia Foundation (TAF) and Stanford Law School (SLS), funded by USAID. TLLEP provides accessible, dynamic educational textbooks to help build knowledge in Timorese universities, government institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Written in clear, concise prose, the texts draws on hypotheticals, discussion questions, and current events to make them accessible to the broadest possible audience. In the long term, the project’s goal is to institutionalize ways for local actors, in close partnership with TAF and SLS, to positively influence the development of domestic legal education. Through a memorandum of understanding, TLLEP has also established a formal partnership with the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL). UNTL offers invaluable guidance and constructive feedback on project activities and materials.
TLLEP joins the Afghanistan Legal Education Project and the Bhutan Legal Education Project as SLS’s third international Rule of Law Program. All student members are chosen through a competitive application process, and once selected, students commit to enroll in three courses over two years, which total seven credits hours. In addition, many participants stay with the project an extra year to continue their work and assume leadership roles.
These student participants take the lead on researching and drafting textbooks reflecting local needs and priorities, while Stanford’s principal partner, The Asia Foundation, helps provide local expertise and background research. After the completion of initial drafts, the texts are thoroughly vetted by civil law experts and local stakeholders, including NGOs, private lawyers, justice sector officials, and prominent legal scholars. All final drafts are published in English and the two national languages of Timor-Leste: Tetum and Portuguese. These texts represent the first and only legal textbooks addressing the laws of an independent Timor-Leste.
After extensive consultations, the project initially decided to focus on the professional responsibilities, or ethics, of the legal profession. The final draft of the professional responsibility text is scheduled for a September 2011 release. Shortly thereafter, texts addressing contract law and civics are scheduled for release. The subsequent text is yet to be determined, but ideas include a general introductory text that covers a wide range of legal subjects, or a text on commercial law. No matter the topic, all texts are printed and distributed free of charge to universities, NGOs, private lawyers, magistrates, government lawyers, civil servants, and international organizations, and are updated periodically with the latest edition available online.
In addition to the production of legal textbooks, TLLEP also helps foster cross-cultural exchange between educators and students in Timor-Leste and SLS. Each year SLS students travel to Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, to further develop the project and integrate the local legal context into their textbooks. In addition, members of the Timor-Leste legal education community visit Stanford to provide project guidance. Similar site visits are scheduled to take place annually.
The cultivation of legal education takes time, but positive change is clearly visible on the horizon. While much work remains to be done, these texts have the potential to spur a virtuous cycle by giving the Timorese people the means to empower themselves with a greater understanding of the laws of their newly independent country in both official languages.