International and Comparative Law

Program of Study Faculty Leaders

William Alford

Gabriella Blum

Gerald Neuman

Program of Study Student Fellows

Aminu Gamawa

Program of Study Research Librarian

Teresa St. Amour

To view a recording of the 2014 Faculty Advising Lunch, please click here.

I. Introduction and Overview

Reflecting the increased importance of a basic understanding of international and comparative law principles to legal education and practice, every first year J.D. student at HLS is required to take a course in international legal studies. The benefits of such courses are most obvious for students intending to specialize in the international arena, but even individuals who anticipate a career anchored principally in their own nation’s legal system have much to gain from such offerings. The flow of goods, technology, ideas, capital, and people across borders means that the work of lawyers, whether in private practice or public service, increasingly involves matters in which knowledge of legal systems beyond one's own can prove important. Moreover, exposure to the ways in which others think about law has the potential to enrich how each of us understands what may (or may not) be universal in our own legal system and in the relationship between law and society in general. For instance, many students report that international and comparative courses open up ideas about alternative norms, rules strategies, and institutions that help them better see and understand choices made within the United States.

International legal studies at Harvard are, in many respects, a microcosm of the broader law school curriculum. Taken as a whole, they encompass familiar legal disciplines such as finance and criminal law, legal history and antitrust, among many others, even as they accentuate questions regarding both relations across national boundaries between states, entities and citizens and the transnational transmission of ideas about law. As with the curriculum in general, courses at Harvard in international legal studies embody a spectrum of methodologies, ranging from, but not limited to, empirical legal studies to critical legal theory to socio-legal studies. And, again paralleling the curriculum more generally, international and comparative classes include opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways the skills and professional responsibilities of persons working in the law.

This guide—including the hypothetical courses of study that follow—focuses chiefly on curricular offerings in international legal studies, but students should realize that there are many other avenues through which they may learn about international, comparative and foreign law. A number of general courses (i.e., courses not predominantly focused on international and comparative law) in fact devote significant attention to questions of international, comparative and foreign law—reflecting the growing importance to lawyers and legal thinkers of developments beyond their home jurisdictions.

In addition, beyond the HLS classroom as such, there are multiple opportunities to cultivate expertise regarding international, comparative and foreign law. These opportunities, described in more detail below, include independent study with a faculty member; joint degree programs; the semester abroad program; opportunities for internationally oriented research and internships; moot courts; membership in the Harvard International Law Journal, the Human Rights Journal and other pertinent student organizations; participation in the array of workshops offered by the Law School’s doctoral students or other engagement with the students that HLS draws worldwide from more than 70 different jurisdictions; and work as teaching assistants in international studies offerings at Harvard and other area universities.

II. Academics

A. Courses

Harvard offers three types of classes in international legal studies: foundational courses, advanced courses and seminars, and “capstone” seminars. Although we do not rigidly classify courses and there is no uniform format for any class, the foundational international legal studies classes offered to 1Ls, and in some cases, to LLMs, generally are intended to introduce students to:
    (a) the history, internal rationale, basic institutions, and processes of norm creation and of norm interpretation of a legal system (national or international) other than that of the United States, and
    (b) the movement of ideas about law across national borders, be it by the actions of a court, the work of officials, businesspersons and non-governmental actors or the writings of scholars, and through this, how assumptions about law, the state, regulation, the individual and the interplay of modes of social control may (or may not) vary across time and place.

For 2015-16, foundational courses available to 2Ls, 3Ls and LLMs that complement the 1L required courses in the field include Public International Law (Mr. Helal, Fall); International Human Rights (Professor Neuman, Fall); Comparative Constitutional Law (Professor V. Jackson, Fall); European Union Legal History (Professor Herzog, Fall); International Finance (Professor Scott, Spring); and International Trade Law (Professor Wu, Spring). The choice among them is likely to be less important, especially for the non-specialist, than the decision to take something in this area.

For students interested in academia, the International Law Workshop provides the opportunity to undertake rigorous analysis of international legal scholarship.

Even for students wishing to specialize in international legal studies, there is no single prescribed path, given the richness of our curriculum and the enormous diversity of student interests. Indeed, we would counsel students to think “outside the box” in putting together their curricular choices. 

B. Dual Degree and Study Abroad Opportunities

Harvard offers three types of dual degree programs pertinent to students with international interests: (1) The HLS and Cambridge University JD/LLM Joint Degree Program  enables students to earn an HLS JD and a Cambridge University LLM in 3.5 years; (2) The HLS-Fletcher School JD/MALD concurrent degree enables students to earn both a JD and a MALD (Masters in Law and Diplomacy) in 4 years; (3) HLS students may also pursue dual degrees involving international studies with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard School of Public Health. In addition to the Cambridge program, Harvard Law students may apply to spend a JD semester in a law program abroad.

C. Independent Research Opportunities

As the faculty’s research interests increasingly involve international, comparative and foreign law issues, the number of opportunities to involve students in such projects has increased. So it is, by way of example, that recently, Professor Howell Jackson engaged students to assist on a project concerning international securities law and Professor William Alford enlisted student assistance in his pro bono work concerning disability law issues in China. Law School doctoral students include former Supreme Court clerks, law faculty and other leading young lawyers from a host of jurisdictions. Semester or year-long workshops offered in recent years concerned topics including legal education, law and development, comparative criminal law, the normative basis of law-and-economics, and gender and development. Although these workshops may not be offered for credit, JD and LLM students can do independent study papers with faculty in conjunction with them and receive writing credit.

III. International Legal Studies Opportunities Outside the Classroom

More than 100 HLS students worked overseas for multilateral organizations, NGOs, and in other public interest positions this past summer, principally through the Chayes Fellowship Program and the Human Rights Program. Additionally, dozens of students spent the summer working overseas with private employers. HLS offers funding for students to conduct clinical work or independent research over the Winter Term and, in 2012, 100 students took advantage of the opportunity. The Law School is home to the broadest array of internationally oriented research programs of any North American law school. These include the East Asian Legal Studies Program, the Institute for Global Law and Policy, the Human Rights Program, the Islamic Legal Studies Program, and the Program on International Financial Systems. In a typical year, hundreds of students participate in these programs which include speakers series, research opportunities, a chance to engage scholars from the pertinent regions or disciplines, and social events. There are also opportunities, via a JD-LLM host student program, via research programs, and via a range of other activity to engage students from other jurisdictions. Internationally focused student organizations are among the largest and most active at the Law School. For example, HLS Advocates for Human Rights offers students opportunities to become involved in hands-on human rights advocacy from the start of their first year. Advocates has over 100 members, and participates in a wide range of projects, including litigation, reporting on rights violations, and working to influence government policy. In the past year, Advocates members have contributed to efforts to hold the United States accountable for War on Terror human rights abuses, to a report on child labor in Sierra Leone's diamond mines, and to Alien Tort Statute litigation against several multinational corporations complicit in maintaining the system of apartheid in South Africa, as well as against a former Bolivian head of state allegedly responsible for serious rights abuses. The Law School has fielded teams in the Jessup (public international law) Competition, the Vis (international arbitration) Competition, and the European Law Competition.

IV. Academic Careers

Students who wish to pursue academic careers in this area should think about combining the course work discussed above with opportunities for significant research and writing.

Last modified: February 26, 2015

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