A South Carolina Attorney in Kosovo’s Court
How an email sent Thomas H. Pope III to law universities
all over Eastern Europe
Published in 2016 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine
on April 22, 2016
Updated on April 26, 2016
Throughout the past eight years, attorney Thomas H. Pope III has taught American civil procedure and litigation to law students in Hungary, Kosovo, Albania and Ukraine.
And he owes it all to an email.
“I didn’t know if it was legitimate or not—I get a lot of junk emails,” says Pope, a shareholder and managing member at Pope & Hudgens in Newberry. “This one, I checked into it. It’s [a nonprofit] called the Center for International Legal Studies.”
One of the nonprofit’s programs places senior lawyers in universities throughout Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union. During both fall and spring semesters, up to 60 attorneys visit and lecture law students for two to six weeks. Pope has completed four two-week visits, including his first trip to Hungary in 2008, when he found out none of his students knew anything about the rules of evidence.
“They just don’t have the rights that [American lawyers] have, and so they don’t have the freedom to be aggressive,” he says. “I tell them that they have a right in America to sue the government, and they’re just astounded by that. They like it, of course, but they’re astounded by it.”
Topics Pope has covered with his students include U.S. court procedures, the jury system, common law and case method. Sometimes he’s illustrated points by screening such films as A Few Good Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and My Cousin Vinny. And, though students in each of the countries are “all eager to find out about American law,” Pope continually has a hard time getting classes to partake in discussions.
“Their systems involve the teacher or professor lecturing them while they take notes; they don’t ask the students for their input,” says Pope. “It was always challenging for me, because I insisted on their input … I would call on a student, and they would look down at their desk and act like they didn’t hear me. It was a challenge just to see what was on their minds.”
Outside of class, over meals and coffee, he found the students more willing to talk. “They’re just like people anywhere,” he says. “That’s one of the interesting things about this experience: You just realize that they’re all like we are, except we’re a hell of a lot luckier.”
Pope’s favorite trip was to Kosovo in 2013. He was astonished to find out the territory has streets named after George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and that its people celebrate both the Fourth of July and Halloween. Once, when a taxi driver realized Pope was an American, he stopped the cab to shake the attorney’s hand.
Pope was allowed to see Kosovo’s court system in action. “Except for the fact that they were speaking a language I didn’t understand, the procedures appeared to be the same [as America’s],” he says. “You have lawyers on either side making their arguments, and the judge is questioning them.”
Last September, Pope taught in Ukraine. “I was probably 100 miles from the war,” says Pope. “I spoke with a lot of people who had left that area, and talked to them about the hardships their families were going through. But I didn’t see any armed militia guarding people, or any fear of Russia there.”
Due to the limited rights of attorneys in the countries he’s visited, Pope believes very few of his students will become private lawyers. Instead, they’ll end up taking safer positions within their governments, such as prosecutors or judges or civil servant lawyers. But Pope’s seen that his students are “hungry for a better judicial system,” and he hopes his teaching has helped spur that craving.
“They’re great kids,” he says. “I think there’s hopefully a bright future in those places.”