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.
The 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.