By Beau Steenken
Of all the decisions that go into designing a course, the selection of textbook perhaps impacts the students’ experience the most. Not only will students (presumably) spend dozens of hours diligently reading the text, but the organization of the text often informs, at least to some degree, the organization of the course. Similarly, the choices and selections made by the authors of texts can influence the choices of teachers adopting the text. (I find that there’s never enough time in a course to cover everything I’d like to in an ideal world, and the coverage of topics by the text helps with the necessary triage when deciding how to apportion limited class time.) Happily, those of us who teach FCIL research benefit from the availability of multiple high-quality textbook options.
When I was finalizing the syllabus for my first FCIL Research course a little over two years ago, I found myself seriously considering two texts, namely: International and Foreign Legal Research: a Coursebook by Marci Hoffman and Mary Rumsey; and International Law Legal Research by Anthony S. Winer, Mary Ann E. Archer, and Lyonette Louis-Jacques. Each text struck me as incredibly helpful and well-written, though the two works differ quite a bit in their coverage. For instance, Hoffman and Rumsey cover both international and foreign legal research, while Winer et al focus solely on researching international law (and mostly public international law at that). Also, Hoffman and Rumsey go a bit further in their coverage by providing topically-specific guidance (e.g. human rights research, international environmental law, etc.). While the inclusion of foreign research, comparative research, and private international law research made Hoffman and Rumsey appealing, ultimately I decided to go with Winer et al as the text for my course. I made this choice primarily because my course is a 1 credit hour course, and I could not envision working through everything covered by Hoffman and Rumsey in my limited class time. Secondary considerations were the fact that I also liked the historical background provided by Winer et al and the fact that Carolina Academic Press publications generally come with smaller price tags than works distributed by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
Earlier this year I was excited to notice that in the time between when I first taught my course and when I will next teach it in the fall, another excellent textbook has hit the market: International Legal Research in a Global Community by Heidi Frostestad Kuehl and Megan A. O’Brien. Several aspects of the new text appeal to me, and I am planning on using it for my course next semester. First, in addition to covering public international legal research in a thorough and straight-forward manner, Kuehl and O’Brien also include a chapter on foreign legal research under the guise of cultural competence. Second, I like how Kuehl and O’Brien organize their book by introducing the sources of international law before turning to the research process itself to put everything together. As this is the organizational method I use to teach 1Ls, I anticipate this being a good fit with how I tend to design my courses. Finally, I think Kuehl and O’Brien’s tone and pacing will mesh very well with my 1 hour course. (While I personally love the historical background provided by Winer et al, I fear it may have eaten up too much of my limited course time the first time I taught the course, though this was probably due to a personal failing as once I start talking about history I have a hard time stopping and moving on to other things.)
All told, I’m quite excited to be trying out the new text in the fall, and I enjoyed investigating all three of these quality works. In fact, the investigation and comparison of the three texts also helped me think about the choices I am making for my course as I compared and contrasted the choices made by the authors of the three works. After all, a lot of the decisions of what to include in a course are similar to the decisions of what to include in a textbook, and approaching the decisions from other points of view can be enlightening.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the choices that go into creating a textbook or in hearing from FCIL research text authors about the specific approaches they took in creating their work, I encourage you to attend the FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign and International Legal Research Interest Group meeting during AALL in Baltimore in July. Both Marci Hoffman and Heidi Frostestad Kuehl have agreed to share their experiences in writing their respective texts during the session, which will occur from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 16. It promises to be an interesting discussion, and may be of help in course design as well as text selection. I hope to see everyone there!
 Marci Hoffman & Mary Rumsey, International and Foreign Legal Research: a Coursebook (2d ed. 212).
 Anthony S. Winer, Mary Ann E. Archer, & Lyonette Louis-Jacques, International Law Legal Research (2013).
 Heidi Frostestad Kuehl & Megan A. O’Brien, International legal Research in a Global Community (2018).