ASIL 2018 Recap: Legal Education and Professional Training in the Culture(s) of International Law

By Gabriela Femenia

On the final morning of the 2018 ASIL Annual Meeting, Anthea Roberts (Australian National University) moderated a nuanced panel discussion of the significance of global differences in legal education and professional training of international lawyers, considering their evolution over time and their impact on the practice and efficacy of international law, from both Western- and non-Western perspectives. The panel comprised Bryant Garth (UC Irvine School of Law), Lucy Reed (National University of Singapore Faculty of Law), Natalie Reid (Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP), and Carole Silver (Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law).

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Panel for the Legal Education and Professional Training in the Culture(s) of International Law at ASIL’s 2018 annual meeting.

The first point of discussion was legal education practice and the channels through which people in different countries come to the practice of law. Anthea Roberts presented some initial thoughts based on her recent book, Is International Law International? (2017), observing that legal education used to be a primarily national endeavor, with a small amount of movement at the graduate levels, but we are now seeing more people crossing borders to study law. While the majority still do so for the LLM degree, there is increasing study at the first-degree level. Roberts made two general points about the flow of students. First, the flow is asymmetrical: students go from the periphery to the core, and from non-western regions to the west, with most returning home to practice and bringing with them both ideas and materials. Second, there are clearly different cores for legal study (principally Anglophone, Francophone, and Russophone), and there are distinctive patterns of students from certain countries going to certain countries. Lucy Reed and Natalie Reid shared their own experiences both as former law students following similar trajectories to the core to obtain the necessary credentials for desired careers, as well as educators working with such students. Reed noted that there is a guided, funded outflow of students from China to the West in all fields, with China particularly interested in bringing back students trained in international economic law and law of the sea. There is no equivalent outflow from the U.S. of students sent abroad or investment in training lawyers in those fields, and it remains difficult to convince law faculty in the U.S. and Singapore that international law should be integrated into instruction. As a result, Asia is more present in international law practice than the U.S., and Reed suggested the consequence of this disparity is a more level but not necessarily more forward-looking playing field in international law.

Carole Silver observed that in some senses law education is wonderfully internationalized, but the program that most students attend, the LLM, is somewhat segregate as a result of being a one-year program, most of which do not allow students to participate in 1L courses, clinics, or moot courts.  LLMs do benefit from being part of diverse international classes, but there are limits on interacting with U.S. students, and there is often pushback from those students to hearing about how things are done in the LLMs’ home countries. As a result, more international students are enrolling in JD programs, and in those cases the flows are not from the periphery to the core. A quarter of foreign JD students go from Canada to the U.S., and 60% of all foreign JDs are from Canada, China, and Korea. Those students face some trouble integrating because they’re not American, and they tend to also distance themselves from LLMs because they’re not “international” students. They also put more effort into course selection, generally choosing business concentrations because transactional practice is easier to break into than litigation. Silver concluded that while there is a huge inflow of students to the U.S., there is also segmentation and social isolation at the micro level.

Bryant Garth reminded those present that, historically, the flow of students reflected colonial relationships, e.g. Commonwealth students getting to know each other in London, with a more recent substitution of the U.S. for those colonial relationships.  U.S.-style law schools are also now being established around the world, so the flow of students is no longer necessarily from one country to another, while there is increasing international competition for students, both in order to impart values and to obtain the tuition revenue.

The panelists then discussed the challenges faced by graduates returning to their home countries from the core. Reed pointed out that international law books are rarely available in Asia in the necessary languages, and many are still by the former colonial masters. Libraries are insufficient in many areas. New academics must also work alongside older colleagues who are not interested in changing their teaching, while at the same time facing pressure to publish in global journals in order to secure tenure, which prevents them from engaging with their local communities. Garth added that publication in international journals is difficult if the young professor does not buy into U.S.-dominated paradigms, further limiting the inclusion of local perspectives. Reid observed that the influence of U.S. perspectives plays out in practice as well; U.S. cases and sources are cited even if they are not the best examples, in order to resonate with an American audience, and most sources will be in English even if they’re not U.S. sources..

Anthea Roberts asked the panelists what could be done to address these challenges in legal education. Silver suggested intentionally requiring international students to offer specific contributions in class. Several panelists offered the Jessup competition as a model for bringing together students to develop a common language and toolkit.

Garth asked the panel to what extent the field of international law had been affected by the globalization of law firms. Reid noted that it depended on the field, e.g. in international investment there has been a significant impact because the multinational firms guide the development of the law by picking the arbitrators who then create it. Reed added that cross-border transactions were more affected by big firm mergers than international law was.

In the brief time remaining, audience members solicited suggestions from the panel on how professors can improve international law classes.

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