Ben Lambert is “that Tulsa guy” in some American Bar Association circles.
Perhaps he was known for his work in Argentina and Ghana. He participated in the ABA International Law Section activities.
Regardless of the source of the title, Lambert wears it proudly.
He is a third-year law student at the University of Tulsa College of Law with a focus on international law.
He currently is working with Dean Janet Levit and others to bring an ABA seminar, “Pathways to Employment in International Law,” to the university but isn’t certain the effort will be successful.
Levit said Lambert “has excelled by taking advantage of the myriad opportunities that define the TU law school experience. Beyond his academic success, Lambert has seized opportunities to study abroad and enrich his education through dedicated service work.”
Lambert frankly admits he markets himself for a position in the practice of international law as he prepares to graduate in May and take the Oklahoma bar exam.
The Washburn, Mo., native has known he wants to be a lawyer since he was in the seventh grade.
Even then, his favorite subjects included government, history and political science.
Earning his undergraduate degree from Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, TU’s law school was, for Lambert, a natural choice. Its programs, faculty and staff attracted him. Although he did not have a specific career in mind in those days, he was beginning to lean toward international law.
That desire led to a variety of opportunities in 2008.
Lambert spent the summer as a legal intern for Unidos por la Justica — United For Justice — in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The following December, he was involved with the Carter Center’s Election Observation Mission for the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections halfway across the globe in Ghana.
Next was a position as a volunteer legal intern for Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough.
Such experiences helped redirect and shape Lambert’s interest in earning a law degree focused on international service.
The fervor for studying law abroad continues as Lambert prepares to attend Pace University’s London Law Program at University College London in January.
The initial desire to be an international attorney, which was pointed primarily at business, shifted following his experiences in Argentina.
Unidos por la Justica provided the eager student an internship, as well as an opportunity to practice his Spanish. It introduced him to a private agency that’s similar to nonprofits in Tulsa.
“I was exposed to a different legal system, as well as to a political system much like ours in the U.S.,” he said.
Argentinian law students study the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions as part of their required coursework. But the South American country has a strong executive branch and weak court system, so there are no checks and balances in place. As a result, legalities are more complicated.
The main goal at Unidos por la Justica is to educate people about the court system, Lambert said. Seminars about related topics were held for judges and lawyers.
Educating those professionals is important so they understand why citizens need access to the courts.
That is where the legal system is different from that of the U.S., he said. People here generally have a decent experience in court, partially because of the vigilance afforded by the media.
Argentina, by contrast, has a history of military dictatorships, the last being from 1977 to 1983, when human rights violations occurred and the court system was not functioning.
These truths gave Lambert a new perspective, and he adjusted his focus. Now he pays more attention to international public law and human rights. He is especially interested in efforts by the United Nations as the organization works with governments around the world to develop more consistent human rights programs.
A conversation with a former TU law professor led to the recommendation for the African trip and another international opportunity. Tulsa Attorney Jesse Pilgrim was involved with the same Ghana mission.
Lambert said he was part of a team considered late arrivals, being on the scene a week before to a week after the Dec. 8 elections.
He was part of a 50-member team made up of lawyers, professionals, politicians and scholars from 25 different countries.
“Our job was to observe the election process and basically see if it was in line with the principles of free and fair elections,” he said. “I was a short-term observer. Some teams from the Carter Commission had been in place for six months to observe preparations.
“We were broken into teams of two and sent all over Ghana on election day to watch the electoral process.”
Team members also questioned voters and election officials and had meetings with religious and political leaders, candidates and military and police commanders. Everything was focused on free and fair elections.
Going into the elections, those conversations were necessary. They were an effort to ensure minimal violence would transpire on election day.
While there was none in Lambert’s region, there was a minor incident reported in another area.
“My region was considered a flash point,” he said. “This was a tense election because there was a lot riding on it.”
Ghana was under a dictatorship during the late ’80s and early ’90s. When that leader stepped down, one party controlled the country for eight years, which spanned the Clinton Administration. Elections in 2000 saw more control from the opposing party, which was in power during the entire Bush Administration.
However, there was no front runner in the 2008 elections, Lambert said. As a result, a runoff decided the winner.
During the election debriefing, most observers thought it was a fair election, he added.
Lambert’s experience in Ghana taught him the importance of effective political and legal systems.
One thing Lambert likes about the Ghanaian system is how the electoral commission is totally independent of the government. The commission is responsible for uniformity in the election process in every corner of the country.
A similar tactic employed in the U.S. levels the election process, making it consistent in all 50 states, he said.
Practicing criminal law was never part of Lambert’s career plan. Still, to be certain, he volunteered as a legal intern for Kellough.
“I wanted to gain as much experience in as many different fields as I could,” he said. “I had been working with private law firms in employment law, financial and personal injuries.
“Working with Judge Kellough had a two-fold purpose. First, it was to gain experience in the criminal field. Second, it was to gain courtroom experience.”
Smiling, Lambert noted that one of the first lessons he learned was what not to do in front of a judge.
He was able to observe a trial from the selection of the jury to the verdict. Opportunities also were available to sit in on conferences between judges and attorneys, as well as speak with district and defense attorneys about their jobs.
Lambert said he is now less anxious about being in a courtroom.
In addition, Lambert did extensive research on criminal law.
As Lambert leaves for England, his article, “Professional Liability and International Lawyering: an Overview,” will be published in the January issue of the Defense Counsel Journal.
Earlier this year, he was walking down the law school hallway as he noticed an invitation to submit articles to the publication.
“I didn’t think my paper was that good, but I submitted it anyway,” Lambert said. “Then I promptly forgot about it.”
He received a package at the beginning of the fall semester telling him he had won first place — and that it might be published.
In November, a notification came saying the article would be printed.
Lambert said his law school career has been “an amazing two and a half years.”
It took time management to handle the class schedules and internships, whether in other countries or the Tulsa County Courthouse.
Lambert will walk in 2010 at his graduation, an event that will be closely followed by studying for the Oklahoma bar exam. After the exam, he will look for a job.
He said he doesn’t know where his legal career will begin, nor where it will take him.
“I would like to practice international law in the Tulsa area, but there are no jobs,” he said. “I will need to work somewhere else to get experience and then try to bring it here.”
Ben Lambert is “that Tulsa guy” in some American Bar Association circles.