27 Aug When Should American Law Students Take International Law?
I started teaching my introductory course to international law this week. I’ve got nearly 80 upper-level students, which is a pretty good number considering that an equal if not greater number of students had the opportunity this past spring to take international law as a first year elective. Nor is Temple alone in moving international law into the first year curriculum. Schools like Harvard, Georgetown, Michigan and Virginia all offer ILs similar opportunities; while Pacific McGeorge continues to promote integrating international and comparative law angles into traditional first year courses. And even recognizing that there remain quite a few schools where you have to wait until your second year to get a taste of international law, it still sure looks like international law is becoming a core course in law school.
Now, obviously, we international law professors love this heightened attention to our chosen speciality (indeed, we’re the ones who have spent so many years pushing to move international law out of the hinterlands of the law school curriculum where it lay for so many years). Having international law as part of the first year course load confirms for many of us the significance and importance of our field to the practice of law (and, to be clear, I do think international law is of increasing importance to all lawyers, not just those who follow human rights, trade, or international environmental issues).
But, what about the student’s perspective? Say you’re an incoming 1L interested in international law; should you take international law at the first opportunity (or might we even say if you’re really serious about becoming an international lawyer, you “must” take it as a 1L when it’s available)? I can see clear arguments for why it makes sense to advise students to take international law courses early and often; they broaden the student’s conceptions of law beyond the traditional common law courses that predominate in the first year, while also giving students a foundation on which to take the more specialized international coursework that is increasingly necessary to becoming an international lawyer.
On the other hand, I like teaching international law to upper-level students. They’ve got a deeper foundation in U.S. law, which makes it easier to explore how international law differs from domestic legal systems. And, to the extent I spend a lot of time exploring how international law operates within the U.S. legal system, I like having students already versed in constitutional and criminal law subjects. For example, I’m teaching Sanchez-Llamas and Medellin tomorrow, and I can’t imagine doing that with first years given how much time I’d need to spend explaining domestic legal issues like procedural default rules or federal court jurisdiction in lieu of focusing on the international law questions that make these cases so interesting and important. I wonder if it’s not possible, therefore, that upper-level law students are more likely to “get” internaitonal law than their first year colleagues, and, as such, get more out of the course by taking if after finishing the first year.
So, what do readers think? If you want a career in international law, does it make sense to take international law as soon as possible, or can students get just as much of a foundation in this subject by waiting and taking it as a second (or even third) year student? Or, is this–like many issues in legal education–one where we’d do well to take a case-by-case approach, where some students should be advised to take international law ASAP, while others with the same career aspirations would do well to wait a bit before doing so?