Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Debate on International Law in the Law School Curriculum

Several bloggers have recently been discussing the wisdom or necessity of requiring first year law students to study international law.  Links to various posts can be found here.  The arguments in favor include (1) the world is becoming increasingly globalized such that more lawyers will face international law issues in their practice no matter what area of law they specialize in, and (2) exposure to different legal systems and approaches to problem solving improves students' reasoning skills generally.  The arguments against requiring international law include (1) most lawyers do not face very many international issues in practice despite globalization, and (2) public international law concepts can be learned on the job.

Personally, as much as I love the study of international law, I am not convinced that it should be required in the first year of law school.  First year law students are faced with an overwhelming amount of new information that they must master already.  Having a solid grounding in domestic law may allow them to develop a better understanding of the similarities and differences between national and international legal systems as upper class students. However, I have no problem with offering an elective for those students who come into law school knowing that they want to practice international law.  Being required to wait until the second year of law school before being able to pursue your passion can be very frustrating.

Regardless of whether international law is offered in the first year of law school, I do strongly believe that more law students should have some exposure to international law at some point in their law school career for the reasons stated above.  I disagree with Eric Posner's argument that international law can be easily learned in practice.  International law is a vast, complicated, and nuanced subject.  I am often dismayed at the lack of understanding of international law concepts demonstrated by many judges in their opinions.  (I am not blaming judges here - they often depend on the lawyers and law clerks to do the research and present the arguments.)  If more lawyers were exposed to international law concepts in law school, lawyers, judges and clerks would likely do a better job of handling issues of international law that are raised in cases that come before them.  

This discussion will be continued at the Teaching International Law Workshop, sponsored by the American Society of International Law Teaching International Law Interest Group at Hofstra Law School on Friday, September 25.  For more information on the workshop, click here.  Another topic of discussion at the workshop will be: to the extent law schools offer international law courses as part of the curriculum, what are the basic knowledge, skills, and values that should be taught?  Comments are most welcome.



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