The Brief: Law School News and Events

Powerful Earthquake Shakes Penn Law Students in Tokyo
The weeklong Global Research Seminar in Japan culminated with something unexpected: the largest earthquake in the country's history, followed by a devastating tsunami. All 12 students returned home safely. Before the earthquake, students met with government officials, bankers, judges and academics to examine bankruptcy and insolvency laws from comparative and international perspectives. The GRS is a new program that involves overseas research.

Professor Charles Mooney took 12 students with him to Tokyo in March for the Global Research Seminar. They were listening to a presentation by a University of Tokyo professor when an 8.9 earthquake struck, causing a catastrophic tsunami, widespread damage and more than 10,000 deaths.

The quake was terrifying and destabilizing, "like being on a waterbed," said Mooney, recalling the disaster during a recent panel discussion held at the Law School. "For what seemed like five minutes, we kept thinking it has to end now because nothing can go on this long… but it didn't." Shaken, participants abandoned the session and ended the evening with a reception at a local hotel. Mooney received word that the trains and subways had shut down but expected service to return to normal by the end of the evening.

He was mistaken. Limited service didn't return until the next morning, Mooney said, leaving him with no choice but to make the three-hour hike to his apartment in Tokyo – his wife lives there. The students had a similarly long trek to a local hotel, guided by a Waseda University professor. Thousands of workers spent the night in their offices, with homes far outside city limits. Nirav Mehta, a 3L who joined Mooney at the Global Research Seminar at Waseda University, said nobody in Tokyo realized the impact of the earthquake until days later. Reports rolled in that the tsunami's waves reached 10 meters (32 feet) and had wiped out entire villages, resulting in a massive loss of life.

While the rest of the seminar participants left for home two days after the earthquake struck on a Friday, Mehta stayed behind to attend a friend's wedding. What astounded him was the nation's ability to remain calm in the face of chaos.

"This was far beyond anything I've ever experienced," Mehta said. "It was just really amazing to me that in a city where in a course of a day there must be tens of millions commuters… many were now stuck in Tokyo overnight, but they were remarkably calm and collected."

Now back at the Law School, students who attended the seminar are leading efforts at Penn to raise money for disaster relief in Japan. Masashi Konno, an LLM student, teaching assistant for the seminar and a native of Japan, said that while donations have already reached $400 million worldwide, much more is needed to provide food and water to the thousands left homeless. "There are still two hundred forty thousand people in evacuation centers, but they are cooperating with each other," Konno said. "And they are surviving on only two meals a day. The only thing we can do now is donate."