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Stephen Hesse

A photo of Stephen Hesse
Asia has limitless opportunities for law-related work and research.”

JD/MSEL 1989

Professor of Law and Director of the Chuo International Center, Chuo University

Twenty years in Japan have made Steve Hesse, as he says, "a consummate generalist." He is a member of the law faculty at one of Japan's oldest and most prestigious universities, Chuo University in Tokyo; he directs the Chuo International Center, which hosts programs for foreign students; he also writes an environmental column, "Our Planet Earth" for The Japan Times, consults with NGOs, and enjoys all of it.

Postcollegiate travels first brought Steve to Japan, where he taught English for two years before returning to the U.S. for law school. "At the time I entered VLS I wanted to work for the UN Environmental Programme, drafting international environmental agreements," he recalls. "But a three-month Semester in Practice externship at the UNEP in Nairobi convinced me that UN work wasn't for me." He felt that teaching was, though, and he was right. He's still involved in the Semester in Practice program, advising students with Pacific-based externships.

American-style graduate law schools are just catching on in Japan, he says-about 70 have recently been built, in part due to pressure from the Japan Bar Association to provide greater public access to civil rights and human rights representation. Steve notes that Japan's hybridized legal system combines civil and common law, with civil law the focus of study for bar exams. Most of Steve's own students are undergraduates with an eye on working in business, law firms, NGOs, or international organizations. He teaches primarily in English, but switches to Japanese when needed and includes among his courses Law and Society, Legal and Social Issues in Contemporary Japan, Debate, and several environmental classes: International Environmental Policy and Law, and a three-year Environmental Studies seminar.

When it comes to his own legal training, Steve readily names a whole cadre of formative VLS teachers: David Firestone, Jack McCrory, Kathy Nelson, Susan Apel, Stephanie Willbanks, and Liz Ryan Cole. He's kept in contact over the years and distance, for example hosting Firestone during travels through Tokyo. Not shown on his transcript are the many lessons from "Lawn Review"-working with John Delemarre and Will Hastings on the buildings and grounds crew. "It was one of my best experiences at VLS," he recalls, "having a chance to balance law study with manual labor and down-to-earth philosophies."