Richard and Carolyn Pena, left, and Indian tour guide

A delegation of U.S. lawyers returned from India last month with a simple but important lesson: lawyers everywhere share a common bond, and that’s a passion to protect and defend the Rule of Law, sometimes during very difficult circumstances.

The US-India Law Forum was led by former State Bar of Texas president Richard Pena on behalf of People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs, a group originally spun off from the State Department to promote international understanding and friendship through cultural exchange. Pena, a workers compensation lawyer who is also president of the American Bar Foundation, had led 11 previous legal delegations for People to People, to places like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Tibet. The first trip was a delegation of Texas lawyers to China in 2000.

In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, India is struggling with issues regarding terrorism and how it will respond as a country and a legal community. The group of 26 delegates met personally with the chief justice of the Indian Supreme Court, justices of the New Delhi Supreme Court, and the equivalent of the attorney general of India. They also met a group of lawyers who personally knew Gandhi and are working to promote the principles of peace and peaceful resistance as India works to determine its future. The delegation focused on learning about India’s legal system, but also on making personal connections. “A lot of what we’re doing is relationship building,” says Pena. “It’s not unlike what President Obama did on his recent South America trip. You interact and build a foundation for future relationships and support.”

Gandhi’s living quarters                          

The group saw some tourist sites, but Pena explains that these trips are about much more. “The Taj Mahal was great and unique and everyone should see it, but it’s a thing. The people of India and of other countries that we visit are the real story — the struggles that they face and how lawyers are helping them, sometimes in the face of great odds.”

Another goal of the People to People trips is to expand the world views of participants. “They learn that there are really no borders anymore. We’re all part of a global community,” Pena says. In India and Egypt this may take the form of a legal summit addressing issues of terrorism law.

Pena stresses that the legal delegations never pick “easy” destinations like Paris or London. Instead they go places where they feel they can make a difference.

The next trip is planned for Israel this November. If you’re interested in participating, contact Pena at (512)327-6884.

Update: Richard J. Stone of Ball Janik, P.C., in Portland, Oregon kept a journal while on the trip. Read it here (pdf format).