Andrew B. Loewenstein traced his finger along a map from the year 1136 to outline the historic geographic boundaries of 12th-century China. It was the same demonstration he made before an international tribunal in The Hague in November to challenge China’s sovereign claims over the South China Sea.
But this time, Loewenstein explained the legal argument in his office’s 16th-floor conference room in Boston’s Seaport District. The map was a replica of the one he used in The Hague, a framed gift from his parents.
The dispute between China and the Philippines is a world away from the Brookline home Loewenstein shares with his wife and young son, and the town of Lincoln where he grew up.
But as an international relations lawyer and partner at the Boston office of Foley Hoag, Loewenstein argued before the tribunal defending the Philippines’ rights to conduct commerce in the South China Sea, the second significant international victory that Loewenstein’s legal team has won this month. He also defended Uruguay’s rights to regulate the tobacco industry.
Taken together, the two key international rulings could set global legal standards for years to come.
“Andrew played a big role in these cases,” said Paul Reichler, an attorney with Foley Hoag in Washington and the leader of the legal team. He called the China case “one of the most important interstate disputes ever” — one that any international lawyer would aspire to be involved in.
“There is nowhere on earth where the Philippines can stand up against China, except in a court or international tribunal, and if you believe in justice for those who are the worst victims of injustice internationally, then a career as an international lawyer gives you a chance to do something,” Reichler said, adding that Loewenstein “has this tremendous passion for justice.”
The victories were in part a product of Loewenstein’s affinity for history — he volunteered with the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord as a high school student — his interest in international studies, and his belief in the judicial system to resolve disputes both locally and globally.
“Just the idea that you can use international courts and tribunals as a way to resolve international disputes peacefully, it’s what I found attractive,” the 42-year-old said in an interview. “There has to be a better way than going to war, and the idea of being part of that process is something I found interesting.”
It is an interest that has taken him from war-torn Georgia, where he built a war crimes case against Russia, to the farmlands of Ecuador, where he advocated for farmers hurt by Colombia’s use of pesticides in cocoa fields.
He has argued before the International Court of Justice, a court of grandeur where some of the world’s top lawyers dress in the attire required of their respective countries’ highest court. British barristers wear wigs, and the lawyers of continental Europe wear colorful gowns.
“It’s just a tremendous amount of pageantry,” Loewenstein said, recounting his own attire — a morning coat, a waistcoat, and pin-striped trousers — the dress of a solicitor general appearing before the Supreme Court.
His friends have enjoyed hearing tales of his travel, especially when Loewenstein, who keeps kosher, samples local delicacies such as the saliva of a bird eaten as a dessert in China, and the labba, a jungle rodent, that was served as an entree in Guyana.
“This is a guy who won’t eat a cheeseburger, but he tells me he couldn’t be rude,” said Tarek Masoud, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a college friend who first met Loewenstein in a Middle Eastern politics class more than 20 years ago.
“Twenty years ago, if you told me Andrew Loewenstein was going to grow up and become an international lawyer, I would have said ‘that makes sense,’ ” Masoud added.
Loewenstein studied political science with an international focus at Brown University and later attended the London School of Economics, where he earned a master’s degree in politics of empire and post-imperialism. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University and clerked for a federal appeals court judge in Oklahoma.
Loewenstein said he longed to return to Boston, however — “I just love the city, a livable city,” he said — and accepted a job at Foley Hoag.
“I thought it would be fascinating to combine my interest in international politics, international relations, with my interest in resolving disputes through adjudication,” he said. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be working on these cases.”
His challenge of Colombia’s use of herbicides so close to the border with Ecuador resulted in a quick settlement that was favorable to the Ecuadoran farmers. His work on behalf of Georgians victimized by Russian aggression was life-changing for him, he said.
“It really drove home the fact that we talk about broad legal principles and rules of international law, but ultimately it comes down to its impact on people,” he said.
Earlier this month, Loewenstein’s legal team won a precedent-setting victory in the defense of Uruguay against tobacco company Philip Morris International, which had challenged that country’s new tobacco control measures.
The case gained international attention because it pitted a country’s sovereign rights against the commercial interests of a major business, and Loewenstein saw it as a defense of a country’s right to safeguard its people.
In the case involving China, the lawyers’ challenge of China’s claim to more than 90 percent of the South China Sea will benefit not only the Philippines, but other countries that border the major commercial shipping area, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well.
“I couldn’t dare to dream it, but I’m living out the fantasy of anyone who aspired to international law,” he said.