First Time Teaching FCIL Research: Preparing a Syllabus & Marketing my Course

By Alexis Fetzer

Alexis is a Reference & Research Services Librarian at the University of Richmond School of Law.  Over the next few months, she will be sharing her experiences with designing and teaching a Foreign, Comparative, and International Legal Research Course for the first time.

alexis profile picThe idea of teaching a specialized legal research course on foreign and international legal research was both exciting and terrifying. I should preface that I am not an FCIL librarian. My law school library is fairly small, without need for a dedicated full time FCIL librarian, and I have stepped into the role of “pseudo” FCIL specialist. That being said, I have no experience in teaching a course on the topic.

Nonetheless, I was delighted to take on the challenge of putting together a proposed syllabus for Foreign and International Legal Research. Because our law school had never before offered a topical advanced legal research course, I wanted to make sure I had ample authority in support of my course. The FCIL-SIS Syllabus & Course Material Database, available through the AALL FCIL-SIS website, was vital to my assembly process. With the ample number of syllabi provided, I was able to get a feel for what other legal research instructors were doing in their courses. There were clear trends in the topics being covered and reading assigned. Based on this information, I crafted a fairly detailed syllabus along with an accompanying memorandum in support of my course to propose to my law school’s curriculum committee.

I attended a meeting of the curriculum committee this past fall where I explained and advocated for the offering of my course. All of the faculty members on the committee were very supportive, so much so that they encouraged me to offer the course this spring…two months later. In a panic, I gathered all the materials that I could find from the FCIL-SIS website and from other librarians who had taught similar courses at their institutions. I buried my nose in the textbook I planned on using, International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook, by Marci Hoffman & Mary Rumsey (2d ed., 2012), and began planning assignments. I am a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel, so most of the presentations and assignments I planned on using were based on the work of other librarians who I am quite confident know much more than I do.

Again, taking advantage of the knowledge and experience of other librarians, I solicited the help of Susan Gualtier, Foreign, Comparative, & International Law Librarian at the Louisiana State University Law Center, and Alison Shea, Adjunct Professor of Law and Librarian at the Fordham University School of Law. Both ladies were gracious enough to agree to guest lecture via Skype for one of my classes. Susan will be lecturing on international customary law research, and Alison on European Union research. I am so very thankful to both Susan and Alison for lending their time and efforts to help my class. I know my students and myself will learn a lot from their presentations.

My course was put on the schedule for Spring 2015, after all of the law students had already registered for their courses. Ensuring that I would have registrants required a little proactivity on my part. It was certainly helpful that our Associate Dean sent out a mass email to the students advertising the newly added course, but much of the advertisement for my course was done by word of mouth. I talked to students  who I knew had an interest in foreign and international law, many of whom I met while teaching research sessions in international law seminar courses. I also talked to students from my first year legal research course who I knew had an aptitude for research. After all of my efforts, I ended up with 5 students. This is certainly nowhere close to the 16-person cap set on my class, but I am thrilled to be able to work with such a class size. Starting out with such a small number is conducive not only to the students learning from me, but to me learning from the students. I am looking forward to a challenging but rewarding semester.

It’s a Small World… but too big to fit in a library

An interesting perspective on FCIL materials and reference, from RIPS-SIS:

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

A few years back, in dealing with the budget crisis du jour, my library canceled the bulk of its foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL, often pronounced “fickle”) subscription materials. At the time, our decision was based on three factors. First, our grads tend to practice in Kentucky or neighboring markets, where, we assumed, they would not encounter much foreign or international law. Second, UK Law only offered two to three international law courses a year. Third, we never had a budget to collect FCIL materials expansively, and so our FCIL “collection” was mostly British and Irish with a touch of European Union. We figured that since we didn’t have the resources to do it right, we might as well cut it as opposed to weakening some other topic for which we did have good coverage.

Of course, it turned out that it is a small world after all…

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Introducing…Jason Blevins as the January FCIL Librarian of the Month

1. Where did you grow up?Blevins photo

Elkhart, Indiana

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

I actually started by accident. My mom was a librarian while I was in elementary school; I would go there after school each day and read books far above my grade level. I, quite literally, grew up in a library. While I’ve always had a fondness for old books, I sincerely enjoy the pursuit and acquisition or retention of knowledge.

I currently work as a research attorney for six circuit court judges while also overseeing all aspects (acquisitions, budget management, some archiving, etc.) of the county’s law library and legal self-help center. I’m a staff of one and am lucky to have a relatively blank canvas on which I can develop and improve my (read: the county’s) library.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

November 9, 1989. One of my earliest memories involves the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recall being at a house party, in Indiana, with friends of my parents and watching many people on TV celebrating while others tore down some wall with lots of graffiti. At first, I couldn’t understand why my parents were celebrating people tearing down or putting holes in a wall. Whenever I damaged the wall of my bedroom, I was in big trouble.

This curiousness ultimately promoted understanding the Cold War and geopolitical relations. I later pursued this in college, with double majors in criminal justice and political science, and law school, with dual concentrations in criminal law and international law. This included a year on the editorial board of the Michigan State University Journal of International Law.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there?

14th Circuit Court. Muskegon, Michigan.  9.5 months.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

Aside from a few Spanish and French phrases I’ve picked up over the years, I studied German in junior high and high school between 1998 and 2003. While in Munich in 2013, much to my pleasant surprise, I received compliments from native speakers about my ability to communicate. (In retrospect, I think they might have been taking pity on the poor American who was trying his best…)

I’m also trying to teach myself Russian.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

After co-authoring two articles with a far-better credentialed person who possessed much more experience, I was so proud when I saw my first solo article in a publication with a distribution list longer than my immediate family.

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

Sushi. (If anyone has tips for good sushi places in Western or Central Michigan, in the Mitten, please let me know!)

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

The Entertainer” by Billy Joel

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

I think I most wish for decisiveness with respect to making decisions about my life. Other than that, I wish I could fly so I could bypass waiting in airport TSA lines.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you could not go a day without?

I feel disconnected whenever I’m missing regular access to some form of international news.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

I’m really excited to be a new member of AALL and I’m looking forward to meeting, and working with, a new group of friends. I very much enjoyed the annual conference in San Antonio and I hope to attend the Philadelphia conference. I’m on Twitter (@jblevin11). Please feel free to contact me (jeblevins@gmail.com) if I can ever be of service or just to say hello!