A Global Survey on the Study of International Law (Part II)

Last month I put up the first in what I anticipate will be a series of posts on the subject of international legal education. I summarized the results of a global survey on the study of international law, reported that a majority of law students around the world must complete at least one course on the subject prior to graduation, and pointed out that the overwhelming tendency for American law schools to offer international law exclusively as an elective is fairly abnormal. In this post, I’ll explain my methodology and elaborate a bit on the data underlying my conclusions.

The methodology was pretty simple: I relied on a collection of official government documents, information available on the websites of university law faculties, and, occasionally, email correspondence with faculty members. Where this evidence established that a curriculum includes a mandatory course that on its face substantially implicates public international law, I coded the corresponding university as requiring international legal training. Inversely, I coded a university as requiring no such training where the evidence demonstrated that courses on public international law are elective or unavailable. Finally, I coded a university as “no data” if it has a law faculty but evidence of its curriculum was inaccessible within the confines of the research methods. For present purposes, the key point is that the numbers only reflect what I could find. This probably amounts to all relevant data for many states. But for others, particularly in the developing world, the data are less complete because not all universities have functioning websites and even those that have them often omit information about their curriculum.

With that established, let’s break down the compulsory training rates on a geographic basis. Table 1 shows the aggregate percentage of law schools on each continent that mandate at least one course on international law.

Table 1

Continent Aggregate Rate
Africa 88%
Asia 92%
Europe 70%
North America 43%
Oceania 30%
South America 99%

Table 2 in turn shows the average rate of compulsory training among states on each continent.

Table 2

Continent Average National Rate
Africa 84%
Asia 82%
Europe 85%
North America 90%
Oceania 11%
South America 99%

As these numbers show, mandatory education in international law is globally pervasive. It is common on all continents, particularly Africa, Asia, and South America. In this sense, basic competency is not a peculiarity of the European lawyer, but standard for a majority of law graduates around the world.

If anything, features of the survey methodology suggest that the results are likely to understate the amount of training that is taking place. For instance, the data do not incorporate assumptions about the curricula of specific universities even in the presence of strong national trends. In Argentina, for example, I found fifty-one law schools that require a course on international law, zero at which the course is elective or unavailable, and four for which information is presently inaccessible. Given such a strong trend, it is likely that the four schools with an inaccessible curriculum also require the study of international law, but I treated them as “no data” schools out of an abundance of caution. Additionally, the map codes universities as not requiring courses on international law if they offer multiple forms of a basic law degree, at least one of which does not include a compulsory international course. Finally, the map does not address elective courses, advanced degrees, or sources of non-university training, such as bar examinations and post-graduate programs for future judges and prosecutors.

But the data also suggest that training in international law is not universal. Table 3 displays the numbers on the ten countries with the lowest rates of compulsory study.

Table 3

Country National Rate
Ireland 0%
Japan 0%
New Zealand 0%
Nigeria 0%
Papua New Guinea 0%
United Kingdom 3%
South Korea 4%
United States 4%
Canada 23%
Ghana 25%

What stands out most about these particular figures is that, of the ten states listed, eight—Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Ghana—have a common law heritage, while the remaining countries of Japan and South Korea both maintain close ties to the common law West. It appears, therefore, that law schools in common law jurisdictions are far less inclined to prioritize the study of international norms.

To me, this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it challenges a stereotype. Many commentators seem to hold the view that the United States is unique among advanced democracies in its level of disregard for international norms. As a general matter, that might be true—I don’t know. But from the perspective of educational patterns, such a view seems unwarranted. In places like Ireland, Japan, and New Zealand, law schools seem to do even less to promote the study of international law than their counterparts do in the United States. Second, Table 3 raises a question: why do universities in civil law jurisdictions tend to mandate the study of international norms at a higher rate? I’ll take up that issue in the next post.

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