Ray Batla is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Charleston School of Law. Prior to teaching, Professor Batla had long, successful career in private practice and law firm management with a major international law firm. We invite you read more about Professor Batla in our latest Faculty Q&A.
When you were young and living in the U.S. you didn’t know the English language, right?
Professor Ray Batla: That’s correct. We were living in Texas. I was third generation American, but my parents spoke Czech and our community was primarily descendants of Czech immigrants, and everybody spoke the Czech language. They were all farmers. None of them had ever pursued in a formal education.
How did you learn to speak English?
Professor Ray Batla: When I was six years old – first grade. I picked up English quickly. The culture was a big leap for me because I was not accustomed to the habits of the English speaking community.
What were some of those challenges?
Professor Ray Batla: My classmates had televisions, I didn’t. They’d talk about what was on TV and I had no idea. I didn’t read English language books. I never saw a Disney movie, so when the teacher would read English-based stories that was bizarre to me.
You practiced law for a long time. What led you into the teaching?
Professor Ray Batla: I had always toyed with the idea of teaching someday teaching after I retired. I really enjoyed the class I taught as an adjunct and I wanted to do more. I was already retired. We had moved here from Northern Virginia and when I had my stroke I had to give up golf and all the other physical, recreational activities. I decided I needed to focus on full-time teaching.
You use a cane and have a slower gate because of your stroke. Can you kind of walk me through that experience?
Professor Ray Batla: Yes. It was midway through the Spring 2015 semester. It was April 1 — April Fool’s Day. I did a few things around the house. Went to bed that night, woke up in the middle of the night and found that my right leg didn’t move. I had had the stroke in my sleep.
My son happened to be staying with us at the time. He’s a chiropractor. He checked me out and he said, ‘Dad, you’re having a stroke. We need to get you to the hospital.’ I spent three days in intensive care unit and then a total of five weeks in rehab. I went home in the wheelchair. So, I was totally paralyzed on my right side. My right leg didn’t move, my right arm didn’t move.
My speech and mind were not impaired, so I finished the semester by dictating my lectures and having my son deliver them to Dean Lawton because I couldn’t come in physically. I dictated my exam from the hospital bed, graded the exams in the hospital.
Roper partners with a driving school to work with people who have suffered strokes. They put you through intensive testing using a driving simulator. They time your reactions on the brakes. Give you a thorough check. If you pass that they take you out with a driving instructor. I passed that. So, I did not lose my license. I basically regained some independence.
When you were an attorney, you worked predominantly in international law. How has that evolved with technology and the ability to exchange data and information now?
Professor Ray Batla: I started in Eastern Europe after the Berlin wall came down. Everything was very primitive in those days. They didn’t have computers or working telephone lines. One of the first projects I worked on in the Czech Republic was the first cell phone company partnering with US companies.
There were 50 businesses in our building and not all businesses had a phone. So communication with foreign investors, and communicating with our home office in the U.S. was a very difficult thing. We ended up putting on in our own satellite dish; the first satellite license in the Czech Republic. Communicating with clients was next to impossible. They visited you in person or you drove and visited them in person. And, of course, email wasn’t around yet.
What would today’s Ray Batla want to tell the 25 year old Ray Batla?
Professor Ray Batla: Keep an open mind. Welcome change. Welcome new opportunities. At the time I started working in Eastern Europe, I was not an international lawyer. I was an energy lawyer, doing litigation on behalf of oil and gas company clients.
I happened to pursue this opportunity in the Czech Republic because of my Czech background and once I investigated it, I saw what a huge opportunity it was. I’ve basically handed off my existing practice to my partners in Washington and moved the family to Prague, where we launched that new adventure.
When did you start teaching at Charleston School of Law?
Professor Ray Batla: I started as an adjunct in the spring of 2015. I started teaching full-time in 2017 and then joined, um, the faculty in my present position in 2018. Distinguished visitor in 18.
So, because of your physical limitation, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Professor Ray Batla: I like to listen to music. My tastes are eclectic. I listen to classic jazz: Miles Davis, Louie Armstrong, John Coltrane. I listen to a lot of blues and classic rock like Eric Clapton with Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin.
I love to read too. Because of my background, I’ve been fond of international affairs. I just finished Joe Scarborough’s biography on Harry Truman and how the post war order was created, the United Nations and the World Bank. Now I’m working my way through Henry Kissinger’s book on diplomacy. And, the next one up is Kissinger’s book on world order. Anytime my family is looking to get me as a gift, I tell them, ‘Here’s my Amazon list.’
Talk about the impact students have had on you since you’ve moved into the classroom.
Professor Ray Batla: It’s a very rewarding experience. As you stand in the classroom and look out at the students and try to engage them you sometimes get these blank looks. And then as you break things down into understandable components, you see the light bulb go on in their eyes. That’s very rewarding.
Links and Resources
More Faculty Profiles
- Professor Constance Anastopoulo
- Professor Ray Batla
- Professor Katie Brown
- Professor Lisa Smith-Butler
- Professor Suzanne Chapman
- Professor Michelle Condon
- Professor Bill Janssen
- Professor Jon Marcantel
- Professor Erica McElreath
- Professor Melanie Regis
- Professor Melanie Simondi
- Professor Jean Steadman
- Professor Allyson Haynes-Stuart
- Professor Frank Ulmer
- Professor Nancy Zisk