New Project on the Study of International Law

In the United States, public international law is not an important part of legal education. By my count, only eight schools require their students to complete a course on the subject: Florida International, Harvard, Hofstra, UC-Irvine, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and Washington & Lee. Everywhere else, international law is purely elective. Insofar as relatively few students tend to choose this elective, we have a legal profession made up of individuals who lack formal training on topics like treaty interpretation, human rights law, and international organizations.

Is this common in other countries or another example of American exceptionalism? To answer that question, I conducted a global survey of the study of international law. The results, which are available in the form of an interactive world map at PILMap.org, show the frequency with which law schools and governments around the world require individuals to study public international law en route to obtaining a law degree. By clicking on individual states, you can look at summary statistics and details about the curricula of specific law schools.

To me, the results are fascinating for a variety of reasons. Here’s just one: The American tendency to relegate international law to a peripheral status in legal education is abnormal. It appears that all or nearly all law schools in a clear majority of countries teach a compulsory course on public international law. Unsurprisingly, this is true in Europe. But it is also true for much of Asia and all of Latin America, where it is not uncommon to see a curriculum with two or even three mandatory courses on topics such as international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The United States is not entirely alone. Almost no law schools in the United Kingdom, Ireland, or New Zealand require international legal training, and only minorities do in Australia and Canada. Similarly, compulsory courses on international law are virtually absent in the civil law jurisdictions of Japan and South Korea, perhaps due to the relatively close relationships that they share with the common law West. And finally, international legal education is essentially absent in a small number of unstable and impoverished states, such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan. There is a common law/ civil law divide. And there is a rich/ poor divide.

The map raises a lot of interesting questions: What explains the significant difference between the civil law states and their common law counterparts? Do the training patterns have any effect on international cooperation? Do they affect national compliance rates? I will explore these and other issues in a series of upcoming posts.

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