First Time Teaching FCIL Research: Final Weeks

By Alexis Fetzer

europe-political-mapAfter a hectic and stressful semester, I have concluded teaching my first Foreign & International Legal Research class. As with teaching any subject for the first time, it was a humbling experience, but I am left feeling confident that the class was an overall success.

The final three weeks of instruction focused on foreign legal research sources. In the first of these three classes we discussed the research process and general sources in foreign legal research. I have taught versions of this class multiple times as stand-alone modules to an Advanced Legal Research course, so this was one class I felt very confident about. Nonetheless, the nature and composition of my class changed how I would go about teaching it. I needed more in class exercises and opportunities for class participation rather than simply lecture.

During the second week of foreign legal research classes we discussed researching in common law jurisdictions. We focused mainly on the United Kingdom as an example. This gave me an opportunity to highlight Justis and JustCite as resources, two of my favorite databases to show off. In addition to these subscription databases, I showed free online resources such as BAILII and general print materials such as Halsbury’s Laws of England.

In the third week we covered research in civil law systems. I chose to break up these final two classes between common law and civil law jurisdictions to draw attention to the difference in sources of primary authority. In this final class I wanted to also demonstrate how treatment of case law and publication across different civil law jurisdictions differs greatly. This class turned into more of a shallow survey of different civil law countries and their legal publications than I would have liked. In the future, I plan to take two countries and use them as a comparison. I would also like to devote more time to discussing mixed and religious legal systems, but time did not permit this semester.

As an in-class activity, I assigned a different civil law country to each student and asked them to look into various types of legal publications for that country. Using the Foreign Law Guide, they looked to things like gazettes, codes and court reporters. I then had each student report back with their findings. This simple, straight forward exercise seemed to work well. If it didn’t work well, my students were at least distracted by the Perrier that I offered in class. (Perrier is French > France is a civil law country > Perrier should be offered in class.)

After concluding with three weeks of foreign legal research, it was time for my students to present their final projects. Over the course of two weeks, each of my five students offered a 15-20 minute presentation on an international and/or foreign legal research topic of their choice. Their accompanying paper to this project was the majority of their course grade. I gave my students a lot of leeway in terms of topic choice. One of my students presented on the research she performed for seminar paper in a separate class. Another student presented on the research he performed as a research assistant to an international law professor. My remaining students came up with hypothetical research scenarios. Topic choices, sources used, and problems encountered ranged widely. While this made for a much more interesting variety of presentations, I am now left with the difficult task of having to grade very different work products. I like the flexibility this offered the students, but the next time I offer this assignment I will be changing some of the requirements to make type of material presented more uniform. For example, rather than allowing students to research the law broadly on a given topic, I will ask them to come up with specific questions in their research process and offer answers to those using the sources they find. This will likely require more direction and counseling on my part throughout the semester rather than a single individual conference.

Outside of the final project, another area I hope to improve in the future is instruction on citation. I spent time talking about appropriate sources to include in Bluebook citations, but did not spend a lot of time meticulously going over citation format. I would be interested to hear how other instructors treat citation in their classes.

Foreign and international legal research is such a challenging course to teach for the first time. It was vital to have the assistance and support of others who have done this before. Without the help of Susan Gualtier, Alison Shea, and the FCIL Course materials web page, I am not quite sure how I would have made it through the semester. With this first semester down, I am excited for the next opportunity to teach this course.

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