Law professor: Be yourself and grow
Law Center professor of international law Jordan J. Paust has been recognized as one of the Top 10 international law professors in the U.S., based on overall citations of authors’ work in legal periodicals such as law reviews, faculty-edited journals and interdisciplinary publications.
At home, he has published and written for Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Cornell, Texas, Duke and the American Journal of International Law, among many others. Abroad, he has his work published in many European and Asian countries, including Belgium, Serbia, Germany, Japan, China, Greece, Netherlands and England — many of which address treaties, customary international law, jurisdiction, human rights, international crimes and the incorporation of international law into U.S. domestic law. Paust has had two of his articles cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Daily Cougar sat down and interviewed the Mike and Teresa Baker professor and asked about his current work and what inspired him to choose a career in law.
The Daily Cougar: What made you want to choose law as your career?
Jordan Paust: I was interested in law by the time I was in high school. My father was a lawyer in practice in Los Angeles, and I had some minimal familiarity with what a lawyer does in an independent practice. When I went to college, I had also expected, like many in my generation, that being a lawyer would allow me to participate in politics — a career pattern that I had been attracted to but had never followed. During my college years, many of us had been inspired by John F. and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, although Bobby was the only lawyer.
After graduating from UCLA, I applied to two law schools in Los Angeles, thinking that that is where I would practice law — perhaps as a trial attorney. I had been in ROTC at UCLA, and upon graduation, I was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army who had been deferred from active duty in order to attend law school. I graduated from UCLA Law School in 1968, and because I was married and we had a daughter by the time of graduation from law school, I chose to sign up for a four-year tour as a JAG officer during the Vietnam War. I was fortunate to be selected to join the faculty of the Judge Advocate Generals School after completing a 10-week course at the JAG School and, during my four-year tour, I was in the International Law Division at the JAG School teaching many of the 2,000 lawyers in the Army laws of war, use of force under international law, human rights law and other topics.
I realized that I loved international law and had attended conferences and started to write articles on international law. I also realized that private practice in Los Angeles would not allow me to participate in international law. I was also fortunate to receive another law degree from the University of Virginia while I was teaching international law at the JAG School. After leaving military service, I was fortunate to be admitted to another degree program at Yale University, where I worked in residence for two years before joining the UH faculty. I tell some of my students that you should be prepared for different adventures — you never know what road you might be traveling on later in life. I have been most fortunate to be a professor of international law and to participate in my profession, hopefully, in ways that can help others.
TDC: What is it about law that you find so interesting?
JP: I find international law intellectually challenging and, in my area of public international law, nearly always topical, relevant and exciting. I am constantly learning the more that I teach and write and communicate with others. Most mornings, I participate in at least two chat groups that tend to address current events and issues regarding international law.
TDC: Is there any advice that you have received from a past professor or colleague that made a huge impact on your ethics, and what advice do you give your students?
JP: Not any particular moment, but by working with other members of the JAG School faculty during the Vietnam War, I was aware that it is best to be a professional when teaching, writing and otherwise engaged in professional activities within government. The worst sort of governmental lawyer is one who does not ask whether to jump but just how high. There is no doubt in my mind that several of the lawyers during the Bush-Cheney administration have failed in their professional lives, have failed the U.S. and have failed humanity. Our students need to understand that what you will do in your professional career will define who you are, what you stand for — be yourself and grow.
TDC: How does it make you feel knowing that you are one of the most-cited law professors in the U.S., and what made you want to become a professor after having such a successful career in law?
JP: I am quite pleased that at times others actually read what I have written and cite my writings in their own works. For me, it is an indication of some success with respect to my efforts to participate, to possibly have an impact, however indirect.
TDC: Are you currently working on any projects or journals?
JP: I am usually working on book chapters, articles and essays at the request of others, and because I prefer to address something that may be partly unknown, ambiguous or, as is often the case, controversial.