Introduction - Vol. 3 No. 1-4 ARIA 1992
Many images and roles are associated with Hans Smit — from law professor and scholar, to arbitrator and editor, to Director of the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law. His most enduring image and contribution, I believe, will come from his role as a teacher. As a graduate student at Columbia, I attended his class in civil procedure. Like all masterful teachers, he had an unparalleled grasp of the subject matter and a singular ability to communicate. Professor Smit, however, brought an additional dimension to the classroom experience. Beyond the intricacy of detail and the cavalcade of hypothesis, he isolated core problems and demonstrated how to bring the challenge of personality and intellect to bear against them. What Hans Smit taught then and teaches now in all his endeavors are lucidity, creativity, and vision — attributes that are the lifeblood of the academic and practicing lawyer.
In this age of multiculturalism, heralding the diversity of values, Hans Smit should be canonized. He is the prototype of the successful cultural and legal transplant — a Dutchman who so excelled at Columbia Law School that he progressed from the LL.M. program to the J.D. degree and finally to senior status on the Columbia law faculty. Moreover, he has become a pillar in the grand tradition of comparative law so cherished at Columbia and set in motion by Willis Reese, Henry de Vries, and Charles Szladits. It is indeed perplexing that the advocates of ethnic diversity and values pay so little heed to comparative law and the contributions of its masters. Smit, and de Vries before him, especially preached and practiced the ethic of multicultural legal education and law practice long before multiculturalism came into vogue in the citadel. Their teachings became the articles of faith to generations of international lawyers.
Be that as it may, the teachings of the multicultural way of life practiced by the Dutchmen at Columbia, Smit and de Vries, can no longer be ignored. The clarity of vision and strength of intellect brought upon by the clash and reconciliation of diverse cultures must be integrated into the mainstream of U.S. law schools before our curricula and brand of law practice are outstripped by more adaptive competitors. Globalization is the watchword of this decade and will come into full force in the next century. Comparative law is the foundation upon which to build a universalist legal training, method and system. For Smit, comparative law never was a taxonomy of systems with eclectic characteristics; rather, it was a blueprint for establishing the legal architecture of the emerging global village. In this sense, the lawyer became a bridge between different worlds, a broker between contrasting legal traditions and cultures. It is regrettable that this vision of the law and lawyering took so many years to be recognized and that the recognition remains so feeble in many U.S. law schools.