Legal Mission: Charles
By John Golden
Westchester Business Journal
Published: February 8, 2010
The global paperweight on his office desk in White Plains is inscribed
with place names that chart lawyer Charles Goldberger’s recent annual
travels abroad. They read more like a Cold War spy’s postings than an
American tourist’s typical European itinerary: Tallinn, Estonia; Bucharest,
Romania; Belgrade, Serbia; Szczecin, Poland.
This fall, Goldberger can add Vladivostok, Russia, to that list.
A 70-year-old attorney and former senior partner at McCullough,
Goldberger & Staudt L.L.P., Goldberger has taken his 45 years of experience
as a trial attorney in real estate, construction and general commercial
cases to universities in post-Communist Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union. He takes along too a DVD case packed with Hollywood-style film
studies in the U.S. legal system. They’re a big hit with the foreign law
students he teaches, some of whom already know Paul Newman’s acting, if not
his riveting closing argument to the jury in “The Verdict.”
The lawyer is accompanied abroad by his wife, Micaela. A marathoner who
has aged into half-marathons, he also brings his running shoes and seeks the
sporting, sociable company of running clubs in the cities he visits. Rotary
clubs too are regular stops and meeting places in Eastern Europe for
Goldberger, a 35-year member of the Rotary Club of White Plains.
In 2006, Goldberger responded to “a blind email” from the American Bar
Association about a newly launched teaching program abroad for American
lawyers. The Center for International Legal Studies, based in Salzburg,
Austria, was seeking senior lawyers with at least 20 years of practice in
English and American common-law systems to teach without pay at law schools
in Eastern Europe and in the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Goldberger was at a point in his career where he no longer tried as many
cases. “And I don’t play golf,” he said, “and I can’t stand sitting on the
beach and I don’t like fishing.” He and his wife do love to travel, however,
and so he jumped at the chance to be among 50 lawyers chosen to teach in the
first year of the cooperative program.
He traveled to Austria for a one-week training program, where the
visiting lawyers heard from European law professors and lawyers on the
differences between U.S. law, which evolved from British common law, and
European law, which Goldberger called a hybrid more closely related to the
French code system than to our common-law model. Their instruction was
cultural too, as when the Estonia-bound American was advised not to use
sports idiom when teaching students there “because they’re not going to know
what you’re talking about.”
“When I was there, Estonia was the most Westernized of the former Soviet
Union nations,” Goldberger said. “It’s very much a free-enterprise system.”
In law circles, “They were very interested in modernizing their system” and
were “picking and choosing” from the U.S legal system.
As a teacher, Goldberger said he was urged by his host colleagues to use
the Socratic method of questions-and-answers and classroom dialogue common
to American law schools rather than the professorial lectures that are
primary in Europe. “It was very difficult,” he said. “After a while we got
the students to partake in the Socratic exercise, but it was probably our
Goldberger dressed casually for class to help put his students at ease.
Though the visiting teacher at times relied on interpreters, the language
barrier proved less of a challenge. “In the last 20 years, English has
become the language of commerce in Eastern Europe,” he said. “It’s replaced
Russian and even French,” the continent’s older language of commerce.
In Europe, students go from high school to law school in undergraduate
university programs, he said. In Poland, where he taught last fall, students
attend five years of law school and complete a one-year internship before
taking a national bar exam to become lawyers.
Polish students were especially interested in the 14th Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution and its equal-protection clause. The right to equal
protection under the law hits home for Poles as members of the European
Union. “That is becoming a big issue in the EU, the people of Poland
vis-à-vis the people of France,” Goldberger said.
Despite political tensions at the time between the U.S. government and
one of his host countries, Serbia, Goldberger said he has been welcomed as
an American by citizens in every country. “In Estonia, we were credited with
helping to free them from the Russians,” he said. “And it was the same
thing” in the other former Communist countries. “Romania was the backward
and still most similar to the Russian system,” he said.
The itinerant teacher has witnessed Europe’s stark economic reversal in
recent years. In 2006 in Tallinn, “Things were jumpin’, things were great,”
as Estonia’s high-tech industry thrived, he said. Arriving in Poland last
fall, however, “The economy had completely turned around throughout Europe,”
he said. “There was a lot of unemployment” and goods were more cheaply
priced. “You could see a dramatic turnaround in the whole economy.”
When not teaching, the White Plains lawyer and his wife traveled
extensively. “We got the best of both worlds,” he said. “We could be
tourists when we wanted and then we were residents.” As a visiting teacher,
“You’re not a tourist. You become a member of the community. People open up
to you in the way they wouldn’t if you were a tourist.”
Goldberger said his next teaching appointment, at Vladivostok State
University of Economics and Service on Russia’s Pacific coast, “may be the
most austere of all the places” where he has made cases from his
metropolitan New York trial practice the subjects of foreign study. “The
visiting professors who have been there have talked about the lack of heat
(in their dormitory quarters) and things of that nature.”
His wife might skip that trip, the lawyer said. His running shoes and
Hollywood law flicks he’ll bring.