The Study of International Law in Foreign Law Schools: A Brief History

In my last post I provided a short history on international legal education in the United States. This time I offer the global equivalent: a (very) rough sense for the evolution of law school study requirements in a number of foreign countries, based on a combination of two UNESCO surveys from the mid-twentieth century and my recent research on contemporary practice.

Here are the results:

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The Study of International Law in American Law Schools: A Brief History

As I’ve discussed in other posts, international law has a fairly peripheral role in American legal education. Only eight schools require their students to complete a course on the subject, and the range of international electives tends to be quite limited. Wondering whether this is only a recent phenomenon or instead something with deeper roots, I did a little research into historical practice. It turns out that scholars have surveyed the state of international legal education in the United States multiple times over the course of the past century. By combining their work—including two particularly good pieces by Manley Hudson (1929) and William Bishop (1953)—with a recent survey of my own, we can gain at least a rough sense for how the curriculum has evolved over time. Here’s what I found:

First, international law had a role even in the Founding era. In 1779, for example, the law of nations was added to the instructional duties of the “moral professor” at William & Mary. In 1790, James Wilson devoted a “considerable part” of his lectures at the College of Philadelphia to the law of nations, while James Kent lectured on the subject at King’s College just a few years later. According to Hudson, “the law of nations had a recognized place in the pursuit of a legal education, and it formed a part of the learning of many of the better-educated lawyers” of the period.

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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.

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