How Big Should an International Law Faculty Be?

by Kenneth Anderson

I don’t quite mean that, of course.  The total number of “international” law faculty depends on so many different things at any given law school.  What I do mean is to follow on Kevin’s post and ask, supposing you are trying to rationally plan out an international law faculty and curriculum, or more practically gradually shape into the future according to curriculum needs and the directions of important scholarly subdisciplines?  What would that look like?  I imagine that many of us are on appointments committees, or take part in strategic planning discussions for law faculties, in which some part of these question arise.  Suppose you were asked to answer, by a dean or a provost (at some faculty planning retreat, say) what are the areas of international law that must be offered to students, the areas that students are interested in taking; and what are the scholarly agendas in international law that should be represented on a faculty, and what are the subdisciplines of international law scholarship that should be represented in hiring decisions over time?

Again, every institution is different, and I don’t have firmly fixed views on these things.  But I wonder what one says.  For example, I have thought for a while that international criminal law is over-represented or threatens to become so at many law faculties.  That is partly because of my particular substantive view that to an undesirable degree, ICL is coming to swallow the rest of public international law, and so that is partly a normative judgment about it.  But descriptively, I wonder if there is not something of a supply bubble brewing in ICL, on account of the mechanisms by which law graduates go out into the world of international tribunals, prosecutor’s offices, etc., and then return to look for jobs in the academic market.  I’ve been told by numbers of friends that I’m imagining things, but how robust is the long term career track for international criminal lawyers outside the academy, at least over the long run?

Okay, ICL is my particular bugbear, but one could ask what are the rising areas.  One is commercial arbitration, and investment arbitration and BITs and all that.  Generally, I would think that international financial law – the kind of work that Mitu Gulati or my colleague Anna Gelpern do, in areas like foreign sovereign debt and international finance generally – important rising areas of scholarly work.  The technical barriers to entry are relatively high; it doesn’t require advanced degrees in economics, but it does require a willingness to take on technical financial areas such as derivatives.  It’s hard to know how to deal with these areas as curriculum questions, however; I started out life in the derivatives tax area, and used to teach a class on it as an adjunct at Fordham, and find it more interesting than almost anything.  But when I offered a seminar class on derivatives as contracts to complement our excellent class on regulation of derivatives a few years ago, I had almost zero students and canceled.  CDSs were not in the news at that point, so it might be different now, but maybe not.

In that same area, and indeed an aspect of the same, is comparative financial law – the same because the law in these areas is cross border, but national, and the rules on such things as secured credit or securitizations are crucial.  Closely related is something that receives very little attention, but I think deserves a great deal more – comparative central banking.  I don’t mean comparative monetary policies; I mean comparative legal and regulatory regimes governing central banks.

But I suppose my overall query is what the curriculum and scholarly areas that would ideally be represented in international law, broadly understood, would be today.

3 Responses

  1. Ken,

    We obviously disagree about the importance of ICL, but we completely agree about the danger of overemphasizing it with regard to our students’ job prospects.  The simple fact is that ICL is contracting, at least at the international level — five or so years from now, the ICC will be the only game in town.  How the profusion of graduates who want to practice ICL will get jobs is quite literally beyond me.

  2. Ken,

    If I may chime in, I agree with Kevin that ICL is contracting all of its own; it is simply nothing less than the market at work. From what my impression is of the UK academic job market in particular, the same would generally go for international law/human rights specialists, with whom the market is generally quite saturated. As you say, it is really international financial law, as well as international trade and investment law, where there is more demand for new scholars.

  3. From a student’s perspective, I would like to say that I believe I received a perfect balance from the Public International Law curriculum, taught by Professor Daniel Bodansky here at ASU.

    There was only a minimal focus on International Criminal Law throughout the semester. The curriculum started with a comparison of the tradition and contemporary views of International Law, using the Rainbow Warrior, Lotus and Chad/Libya case. We then looked at sources of international law, participants in the international law process, the role of the judiciary and finished with the international response to terrorism.

    I thought the unit was balanced, supported by the relevant case studies, and all together very interesting. Most of all, I feel I have a much better grasp of international law.

    Just to add, there was only one week devoted to International Criminal Prosecutions

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