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A law school for Bhutan

In 2008, White & Case Frankfurt partner Andreas Knebel, who had vacationed in the Bhutanese Himalayas, mentioned to White & Case Chairman Hugh Verrier that there was a desire in the Kingdom of Bhutan, which was transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a democracy, to establish its own law school.

Thinking a large global law firm could be helpful to a small emerging democracy, Hugh wrote to the King, offering to meet with him to discuss how we could be of assistance. Hugh flew to Bhutan for a Royal Audience with His Majesty. They agreed that building a law school was very important as an underpinning of the country's new democratic system and that White & Case could provide valuable support to the project.

For decades an absolute monarchy, Bhutan's transition to democracy has been an unusual one: voluntary, peaceful and successful. In 2001, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck surprised the nation by announcing his intention to convert the country to a constitutional democracy. In 2006, His Majesty abdicated in favor of his son, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. In 2008, Bhutan's first constitution was adopted by national referendum, and later that year, the country's first general election was held, with a turnout of nearly 80 percent.

But with no law school of its own, there is no process for training Bhutanese lawyers in a manner that is grounded in local culture, values and history. His Majesty appointed his sister—Harvard LLM graduate Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck—to head up the project as President of the Royal Institute of Law.

During the first stage of our collaboration, Princess Sonam Dechan and White & Case established Bhutan's first law library, with a cross-office multifunction team from the Firm providing technical assistance. We then recruited two academics from an American law school to move to Bhutan and assist with the development of the law school's strategic plan, curriculum and business model.

In the fall of 2014, Hugh Verrier and Her Royal Highness presented our collaboration as a joint Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. In 2015, His Majesty granted the law school a Royal Charter. The school has begun hiring faculty, decided on an admissions process and crafted a curriculum that, while drawing upon ideas from around the globe, is uniquely Bhutanese. The first class is anticipated in autumn 2017.

2015 Global CSR Program of the Year

American Lawyer magazine named our collaboration with Bhutan to create the country's first law school its 2015 Global CSR Program of the Year. In time, its graduates will work in the judiciary, the legislature, civil service, corporate sector, civil society organizations and private practice, and will help consolidate the rule of law in Bhutanese society.


Learn more about our Global Citizenship initiative