By Amy Flick
Every fall semester, I get the same question from new students on the Emory International Law Review and students taking one of the international law seminars. They usually have only one or two weeks to come up with a topic for their major writing project, and they may not have taken an international law class yet. The topic must be original, specialized, interesting to potential readers, current, not preempted by other articles, not likely to become moot before the article is published, and involve a legal issue for which the student can propose a solution. The topic should interest the student enough that they can commit to spending the next few weeks or months researching, writing, and editing it, and it should lead to a journal note or seminar paper that enhances the student’s résumé.
I do not keep a list of possible topics that students might write about. I definitely do not have a list of topics that meet all these requirements. I occasionally see a news item that I think would make a good student paper topic, but rarely at a time that I can match it to a student.
Instead of offering a fully-vetted proposal to students, I give them starting places to look for a topic. These are some of the resources that I suggest to the international journal and seminar students who are looking for research topics. These resources can be found in my research guides, most of them borrowed from other research guides. (I also have suggested resources for the students on the Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal, but those are a subject for a different blog.)
Current awareness and legal news sources are good for finding developing issues and new and noteworthy legislation and cases. Browse through headlines and new documents in:
- ASIL International Law in Brief
- Global Legal Monitor from the Law Library of Congress
- Jurist World Legal News
- UN News
I follow news sources with good coverage of global issues and legal developments. Few law students seem to keep up with the news, but they may not have my NPR-fueled Atlanta commute. I look for headlines in these sources, which I also browse for potential homework problems:
International law blogs will point out not just new statutes and cases, but the legal issues they raise. Keep in mind that a blog post by a professor may be a precursor to a full academic article that he or she has planned.
For students with an interest in human rights, topic ideas might be found in:
- The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s Media Centre
- Human Rights Watch
- International Justice Resource Center Newsroom
Students looking for a national security-related topic might find one in:
Students looking to research the more commercial areas of international law, such as international tax and international trade, might find ideas for topics in:
- Law360 for International Arbitration and International Trade
- Bloomberg Law News in International Trade and International Tax
- Business news from the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal
Just as students look for pending Supreme Court cases and circuit splits when writing about U.S. law, students might look at pending cases before international courts and tribunals such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
Students who have found a news article that interests them, but who are having trouble developing it into an issue, might look at other articles and blog posts to find differing views. They might compare one recent case with similar cases from other courts, using the Oxford Reports on International Law database, or they might compare legislation from other countries using sources like WIPO Lex and ECOLEX.
At this stage, students may have only a general idea for their article or paper topic. It doesn’t need to be fully developed yet, but they will have to do a lot of reading and research to turn their topic into an outline, and I can at least give them some sources for that reading and research.
If you have any great ideas for suggesting topics to desperate students, I would love to hear about them!