Confronting Racism when Teaching International and Foreign Law Research

By Sue Silverman

One of the first things that struck me when teaching international and foreign law research for the first time was how Western and Eurocentric international law is, from the principles underlying multinational institutions such as the WTO and IMF to the dominant actors in negotiating treaties and setting “international” norms and standards. With the advent of movements such as Black Lives Matter that draw attention to capitalist exploitation and oppression of non-white people and communities, the demands from indigenous populations to have their voices heard, and the current conversations addressing lingering injustices from the colonial and postcolonial eras, it is impossible not to look at the history of law and its current state through the kaleidoscope of oppression, inequality, and injustice.   

As teachers, no matter what the subject, it is imperative that we avoid shirking these conversations in our classrooms.  After the murder of George Floyd, Brooklyn Law School held a town hall on racism in America during which students challenged professors to do a better job at including in the course curricula discussions about the structural racism pervasive within the subject areas they are teaching.  For example, shouldn’t students learn in their property law class about redlining and other discriminatory acts that have made it nearly impossible for blacks to take part in the mid-century home ownership boom in America, resulting in the wealth disparities we see today? Shouldn’t criminal law and procedure examine the racism inherent in our criminal statutes and their enforcement? As the students pointed out, structural and institutional racism permeate all areas of law and we cannot hope to eradicate these inequities without first learning about their existence.   

Beyond just learning where to find the law and secondary sources, teaching legal research offers a unique opportunity to help students learn how to critically assess their findings by examining their authority and bias.  In international law, the self-interest of nation-states in maintaining or achieving political and economic power inevitably fosters bias in favor of more powerful actors (nation-states and non-nation states).  Moreover, much of the current international legal framework is rooted in the colonial period, during which today’s most influential nation-states gained their power through the exploitation of indigenous and non-white populations.  

Thus, in teaching international and foreign law research, I have been trying to think of ways to incorporate discussions about structural and institutional racism within the context of researching international law into my course syllabus. Last semester, before the first class, I asked students to read the Introduction to Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law, by Antony Anghie, a seminal text exploring the colonialist roots of international law, which we then discuss on the first day of class. To demonstrate how nations’ self-interest in maintaining power and influence might affect the final outcomes of international conventions, I also ask students on the first day of class to search for an article by William Schabas on genocide in Max Planck Encyclopedias and to read the section on cultural genocide.  The article notes that cultural genocide (the destruction of the group through cultural means, such as prohibition of language or religion) was highly controversial, and ultimately excluded from the 1948 Genocide Convention. For a thorough discussion on the negotiation and interpretation of the Genocide Convention, see Laurelyn Whitt & Alan W. Clarke, North American Genocides: Indigenous Nations, Settler Colonialism, and International Law (Cambridge Univ. Press 2019). I then ask the students to think about why the concept of cultural genocide was so controversial in the early 20th century and which countries they think objected to it, drawing attention to the assimilation policies towards indigenous populations of some of the objecting countries, such as Canada and the United States. In so doing, I emphasize the importance of understanding the overall economic, social, and political context within which international law is made.   

Throughout the course, I try to incorporate current examples of inequities within the context of researching international law.  For example, I’ve had students research instances of environmental racism such as the notorious “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana and the destructive oil spills in the Niger Delta, then research potentially applicable international environmental and human rights law or developing law, including the movement to create a crime of ecocide under the Rome Statute.  In another exercise, I had students research COVID vaccine distribution and the relevant treaties to address whether international human rights law requires equitable distribution.  For students who wish to explore issues of structural racism in more depth, I suggest optional readings such as selected chapters from Settler Colonialism, Race, and the Law: Why Structural Racism Persists by Natsu Taylor Saito.  I also encourage students to take the implicit association test at Project Implicit to explore their own implicit biases and to consider how implicit bias might affect policy and law-making on the national and international levels.  

My hope is that students leave the class not only with knowledge about how and where to find international law, but also with a more complete picture of how racism, bias, and colonialism are woven into the fabric of international law. Thus, when conducting research on any international or foreign legal issue, they know to look beyond just the law to the undergirding economic and political interests of the actors involved and the historical power structures that persist to this day. The feedback I’ve received from students has been overwhelmingly positive, but I have much to learn on how to incorporate these issues into my class and I would love to hear ideas and suggestions from others on how to address these issues when teaching international and foreign law research.  

Teaching FCIL Research Online: Yes, You Can!

By Meredith Capps

In my prior posts, I discussed my decision to teach my Transnational Research Course online this fall, and the manner in which I structured the course (largely asynchronous, with a few synchronous elements).  How did it go?


  • Student learning: 
    • Because I did not have time (while also teaching two 1L legal research sections online) to evaluate each student’s weekly research exercise, I merely reviewed for completion, trusting students to consult my posted answer keys and recap videos. While I did review two exercises synchronously during Zoom class sessions, we are all by now acutely aware of the difficulties inherent in gauging audience understanding in the virtual classroom. 
    • Fortunately, I was heartened to find that student work on the weekly graded assignments and other learning activities, for which I did provide individualized feedback, did not suggest any significant deficiencies in understanding the material.
  • Individual meetings: 
    • At around the midway point of the course, I asked students to schedule individual Zoom meetings with me, ostensibly to discuss their final projects and course questions.  At 15-20 minutes each and with 25 students, these meetings required a fairly substantial time commitment from me during an otherwise busy time. 
    • However, I found the meetings to be quite valuable for several reasons:  (1) students were oftentimes quite forthcoming in sharing their overall challenges faced with respect to learning in an online or hybrid environment, (2) in certain instances students wished to discuss research more generally and career concerns, approximating the rapport building that occurs more naturally during class or office hours, and (3) even when students had few questions and meetings were very brief, I simply found it reassuring to see student’s faces at least once, and to personally encourage them to contact me if they needed support.
Photo by Pixabay on

Of course, one always concludes the semester compiling a list of things they might change:

  • Streamline deadlines: 
    • I typically require students to submit each graded assignment covering the prior week’s material 24 hours before the next class meeting, allowing me to review all or most submissions before that meeting, and to discuss common difficulties during class time while the assignment is still somewhat fresh in students’ minds.  I maintained that approach here, with class exercises and other activities then due the following day, by or during what would be our scheduled class time. 
    • I found, however, that students struggled more than usual with deadlines in the context of the online course.  Furthermore, students seemed no more likely to recall that work was due when I tied the deadline to our scheduled course time versus any other time.  If offering the class online in the future, I plan to select a single, easy-to-recall weekly deadline for all course work. 
  • Carefully planning live sessions: 
    • While I felt that my initial live Zoom class during Week 1 was valuable in allowing me to establish course expectations when I knew students to be (somewhat, hopefully) attentive, my final live class in Week 6 felt less productive. Though I hoped that students may benefit from a final opportunity to raise questions before completing their final projects, I saw no particularly strong reason to cover that week’s substantive content as a group, and my strategy of sending students to breakout rooms to discuss sections of the week’s exercise and report back to the class, without further structure or activities, fell flat at this late point in the class—students simply weren’t engaged. 
  • Clarify expectations surrounding student effort and collaboration: 
    • My, the tools students use these days to chat!  Though we know students today communicate with their classmates in an array of ways that were not available to some of us instructors way back when we were “_Ls”, I realized as the course progressed that, absent in-person contact, my students were leaning even further into chat applications and similar tools to discuss the course amongst themselves, which raised certain questions regarding standards for collaboration.  Though clarifying expectations regarding ethical standards is wise in any course setting, I learned that these expectations are particularly worth emphasizing in the fully virtual environment.

Nervous about teaching online?  So was I!  Creating an online course required me to learn new skills, thoughtfully re-examine my course goals and objectives, be flexible, and commit far more time than usual to designing my course page, offering feedback, and finding ways to connect with students.  I’m confident, however, that the experience made me a better teacher, and that, most importantly, enrolled students benefited from the course and improved their research skills.

Teaching FCIL Research Online: The Particulars

By Meredith Capps

In my last post, I discussed my decisions to (1) teach my Transnational Legal Research course online during the Fall 2020 semester and (2) to deliver the course primarily asynchronously, with a few synchronous elements.  Here I will discuss the particulars of the course design.

Style and Substance?

Before I discuss substantive content, a word on web design.  Early in the summer, I realized that the design, or lack thereof, of the pages I had maintained for prior courses would prove woefully, pathetically inadequate for an online course in which said page that would serve as students’ primary access point to the course content, to me, and to one another.  Being by no means a web designer, I spent a good deal of time learning how to maximize the features available in Vanderbilt’s course management software, Brightspace, and considering which design elements I felt, after reviewing a great many sample course pages, were pleasing and effective.  In creating a more robust course page I:

  • Incorporated a modest number of free web images and graphic icons to make the page more visually appealing, and in some instances more navigable (for example, including a video camera icon image next to hyperlinks for lecture or review videos).
  • For the same reasons, formatted text in my content descriptions where contrast or emphasis was appropriate.
  • Provided, in weekly modules, a narrative description of each week’s activities with embedded hyperlinks, as well as a list of activities for students who preferred navigating content in one or the other format.

Lecture Videos

For all six weeks of substantive course content, I recorded several lecture videos, posted in the Brightspace course page along with accompanying PowerPoint slides.  I chose to use the Kaltura software program, which Vanderbilt integrated into Brightspace, for two reasons: (1) Kaltura’s automatic captioning tool is fast and quite accurate, and (2) once uploaded to the instructor’s media page, I could embed quiz questions into the video in Brightspace, and I felt that these may offer students a real-time assessment opportunity, and a means for me to emphasize key points.  There being no perfect video tool, Kaltura did prove to have certain limitations.  Processing time was often quite slow once the semester began, and students experienced some errors that I could not easily troubleshoot (and for which the vendor offered no customer support).  Kaltura also offers limited editing capabilities, such that I often found it easier to simply re-record an unsatisfactory effort.  (Did any other online teaching warriors feel, quite routinely, that their videos were unsatisfactory?  Please say yes.)

Weekly Exercises and Assignments

I chose not to substantially alter any of the in-class exercises or weekly graded assignments that I had planned to provide, though I did supplement them in certain instances.  Whereas ordinarily I provide the weekly class exercises as a handout, I posted them a week in advance with that week’s module, so students could complete them at any time during the week.  For the two weeks in which I held a live class (the first and sixth weeks), students were asked to complete the exercise in advance to facilitate a more efficient review process, and in every week, they were asked to upload the completed exercise for participation credit.  Time constraints prevented me from reviewing every exercise, but for the weeks in which we did not meet, I posted a model answer as well as a review video (recorded in Zoom, rather than Kaltura, so that students could see my face in some virtual format each week).

Screenshot of course page on International Cases including information to Read, Watch, and Complete.

In the fully asynchronous weeks, I supplemented the typical exercise with one additional modest activity to promote student engagement or reflect.  These supplemental activities included:

  • In the context of a group activity wherein students reviewed a particular resource for ICJ materials (adapted from a typical in-class exercise), posting a reflection discussing something that they learned from another group’s review;
  • In a Google document utilized as a discussion board, commenting on one another’s anticipated challenges in researching foreign law;
  • Posting a reflection discussing differences between researching U.S. law and EU law;
  • And, the most time-consuming activity, individual meetings with myself to discuss the final projects or other course questions or concerns.

How did it go?  In my final post I will discuss what went well, what didn’t, and my overall assessment of the online course format.  (Spoiler for those planning spring courses:  take heart, it went generally quite well!) 

Teaching FCIL Research Online: To Synch or Not to Synch

By Meredith Capps

In this series I’ll reflect, over three posts, on my experience teaching my FCIL research course online.  Understanding that you, my esteemed colleagues, have your own insights to share, I look forward to the day when we can exchange ideas verbally while in the same physical space, but welcome suggestions or questions in any medium until then.


Transnational Legal Research
Fall 2020

Welcome to Transnational Legal Research! In this course we will discuss sources of international and foreign law, resources offering unique international and foreign coverage, and best practices for conducting international and foreign legal research. Throughout the course you will develop your research skills in this area through guided weekly exercises, more open-ended weekly assignments, and a final project researching a topic of your choosing. I have posted a video overview of the course for you to review prior to our first class; please also review the syllabus.

To go virtual, or ‘flex it?

In May 2020, the research librarians at Vanderbilt learned of our administration’s decision to hold fall semester 1L doctrinal courses in person (with hyflex virtual options), but to provide the required legal writing and research courses exclusively online.  While coping with my array of emotions as to this development, and immersing myself in Vanderbilt’s excellent online instructional support materials, the fate of my 7-week, 1-credit fall Transnational Legal Research course, I discovered, lay with me. 

Though I initially felt strongly about teaching the course in person, my determination flagged as I considered the limitations inherent in wearing masks in the classroom (advisable though they may be from a public and personal health perspective), as I considered supporting students attending class virtually along with those attending in-person, and as I gained a level of comfort preparing online course materials for my 1Ls.  The evening before registration was to open, I made the (bold?) choice to move my class fully online. 

In deciding that a Transnational Legal Research course, in particular, could be offered effectively online, I considered the following:

  • Enrollment in the course is limited to 2 and 3L students, who have already taken a U.S. legal research course, and are thus somewhat familiar with research course expectations, and with our course management software.
  • Many (though not all) students who enroll in the course are enrolled in international law courses and extracurricular activities, and have some familiarity with substantive topics therein.  Furthermore, as upper-level students they could likely navigate questions they may have surrounding those concepts independently.
  • A great deal of student learning in this course happens outside the classroom, and even during class, skews towards independent rather than collaborative work.

Fortunately, my existing course materials were largely updated and revised when I opted to make the change, but with only a few weeks to determine how to restructure the course, I encountered one consequential decision…

To synch or not to synch?

In determining whether to adopt a synchronous, asynchronous, or blended course model, I opted for a blend, and found a few choices to be quite easy.  Recording lecture videos seemed an immensely desirable alternative to lecturing live online each week.  (More to come, in subsequent posts, on the topic of video lectures.)  Course materials such as weekly exercises that I previously provided as handouts in class would be posted in the course page, with material posted well in advance of any scheduled class time or activity to allow students ample flexibility. 

Sign saying "you got this" next to a laptop computer
Photo by Prateek Katyal on

The decision regarding whether to hold any live virtual class sessions, or otherwise confine certain learning activities to scheduled class time proved, for me, far more difficult.  While I did not, perhaps, experience literal nightmares regarding a WiFi failure during a live class, throughout the summer I envisioned with anxiety such a technology failure every time I saw the dreaded “Internet Unstable” message during a Zoom meeting or, worse, suffered a complete loss of connection.   Having today moved, emotionally, past my fear of technology humiliation (or at least accepted its inevitability), this concern seems a bit overblown.  However, my related concern that my students may experience similarly technology issues and concerns was born out when I discovered that some used their phones for class meetings, and that at least one student was participating from another continent. 

Though I cagily refused to commit to a definitive schedule at the course’s start, reserving the option to adjust, I ultimately decided to hold a live class meeting during Week 1 and Week 6 (6 being the final week of content coverage before a week of student presentations), and required students to schedule individual virtual meetings with me to discuss their final projects during Week 3 or 4.  In other weeks, students were required to submit the research exercise we ordinarily would have completed during class, with some other brief activity to encourage engagement and critical thinking (discussions in shared documents, brief group collaborations, posting of reflections). 

So, how did it go?  More to come!

Instructional Design for Law Librarians Workshop: Empowering LL.M. Students to Learn and Thrive

By Alyson Drake

On July 28, 2020, I was among a large group of librarians fortunate to attend Professor Jennifer Allison’s portion of the outstanding three-day Instructional Design for Law Librarians Workshop, on “Empowering LL.M. students to learn and thrive.” As a librarian about to teach LL.M.s for the first time this fall, I walked away with a number of helpful tips.

Professor Allison comes to this topic with an uncommon dual perspective: she not only teaches LL.M. students, but was one herself, completing an LL.M. in German Law in Germany. Her background allowed her not only to share a number of helpful, practical tips, but to express the importance of empathy and connection during the LL.M. experience. She began by defining student sojourners as “people who travel to a foreign country to achieve an academic accomplishment and plan to return to home afterward.” She noted that student sojourners have different goals—improving language skills, getting a degree or job, meeting new people, challenging themselves, and much more.

Of the many challenges faced by LL.M. learners, culture shock is one of the most pervasive and most difficult to overcome. Culture shock is particularly disheartening because many students arrive very excited to begin their new learning experience, only to be hit by overwhelming feels of discomfort, anxiety, and self-doubt.  These feelings can be roadblocks that prevent LL.M. students from reaching the goals they set out to accomplish.

Photo by Pixabay on

Prof. Allison describes four types of cultural adjustment:

  • Separation: a type of isolationism, where one survives by maintaining one’s own culture and distancing themselves from the culture they’re visiting
  • Marginalization: another type of isolationism, in which the student lose contacts with both their home culture and the culture of the country they’re visiting
  • Assimilation: a type of acculturation in which students relinquish their own identity and miss out on sharing their own culture to absorb themselves completely in the new culture
  • Integration: another type of acculturation, where students embrace both cultures and grow in their understanding of both.

Here are some ways Prof. Allison recommends for how we can help these students succeed in the face of culture shock:

  • Show a willingness to learn about your LL.M. students’ cultures. Ask them questions, let them share.
  • Be aware of the services that exist within your law school for LL.M.s and be ready to share that information. Sometimes we see students that may not otherwise be visible in the library, so having this information and being proactive in offering it is critically important, especially because reaching out for help is something many LL.M. students may be hesitant to do.
  • Help students create an acculturation plan where they expect and plan for culture shock by drawing on students’ strengths.
  • Make it clear that you are here to help and that there are no invalid questions. The more connection they have, the less anxiety and isolation. Be proactive in welcoming them and demonstrating that the library is a safe space. Continue to demonstrate this after the official university and law school welcomes are past—after a month or two in.
  • Remind students that it’s okay to treat themselves with patience, kindness, and compassion. Normalize culture shock and asking for help.
  • Where you can, connect them with others who are open and welcoming. None of us exist well without a support system.[1]

Finally, Professor Allison gave advice for how we can help students overcome research-based culture shock. She reminded us that everyone’s information-processing matrix is built on their own experiences. Foreign students will come in with set ideas about what they expect to find on a topic and they may encounter some culture shock when their research findings differ from those expectations. In particular, we can help with this in the research planning phase by making sure that students understand that success on an in-depth research project requires knowing uncertainty will happen and planning for it. Professor Alison recommends Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. Professor Allison recommends creating a list of quick tips that your foreign LL.M. students can refer to throughout the research process.

For much more on this topic, see Professor Allison’s full-length work in progress, “‘You’ve Been Down This Road Before’: Framing Foreign LL.M. Students’ Navigation of the Acculturation Process as an Effective Model for Library Research Instruction.”  I highly recommend reading it for even more excellent tips on working effectively with LL.M. students inside and outside the classroom.

[1] In the presentation, Professor Allison shared her support system for surviving her own LL.M. experience. She challenged the audience to list and thank their own support system. I took up the call on Twitter, thanking my support system as I transitioned to a new job during a pandemic. I encourage you all to write down a list; it’s a great reminder of the important role our personal and professional circle play in our success and well being. Feel free to share yours in the comments below, on social media, or even just in your own journal.

AALL 2020 Recap: Fear and Loathing in Teaching Legal Research: Addressing Cultural Competence and Managing Implicit Bias

AALL 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting Panel Discussion Recap: Fear and Loathing in Teaching Legal Research: Addressing Cultural Competence and Managing Implicit Bias, Panel: Ronald Wheeler, Raquel Gabriel, Sherri Thomas, Mike Martinez

By Sue Silverman

One theme stood out in this panel discussion about addressing implicit bias and cultural competence when teaching legal research: implicit bias and race discussions are never going to be comfortable, but all the same, students want to have these conversations and it is our duty as instructors to not shy away from them.  In the wake of the BLM protests and the COVID-19 pandemic which drew attention to gaping racial disparities, there is a hunger to confront these issues. The failure to do so risks rendering legal education irrelevant to students whose lives have been upended by the pandemic and who have been disillusioned by the glaring marginalization and oppression of Blacks, Indigenous peoples, people of color, and LGBTQ communities.

Each speaker drew upon their own personal experience bringing discussions of race and implicit bias into the classroom.  One tip shared early on is the importance of setting the stage for these discussions – one way of doing this is assigning readings at the outset that address discrimination, oppression, and implicit bias. Professor Wheeler assigns an article he wrote, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Law Librarianship[1] which not only addresses these issues but exposes his own humanity and vulnerabilities. As Professor Wheeler pointed out, when talking about topics such as racism and homophobia, we are asking students to put themselves out there and it is only fair for us, as instructors, to do the same.  For those of us who are white and members of a privileged class, the panelists emphasized that in addressing racism and implicit bias, what matters most is honesty and authenticity.  It is important for us to research our own implicit bias, remain humble, and most importantly, as uncomfortable as we might feel in these discussions, we must try.

News printed on a piece of paper emerging from a typewriter

Photo by Markus Winkler on

The panelists presented several ideas for using exercises to address implicit bias.  One suggestion is to use news articles to bring what is happening in the world into the classroom.   Students should be asked to dig deeper into the articles: who is the journalist, how do they describe the events, what words do they use, how does their account compare to other journalist accounts?  We can also draft exercises that incorporate implicit bias.  For example, Professor Thomas uses a hypothetical student – Oyuki Tanaka, whose first language is Spanish – to point out the implicit bias in assuming this student’s first language is Japanese.  Professor Gabriel uses a landlord-tenant exercise in which she never mentions ethnicity or gender and asks her students to close their eyes and imagine what the client looks like.  She then asks the students whether implicit bias affected what they thought the client looked like and whether they would have researched the problem differently if the client lived in a more gentrified area – e.g., the Upper East Side of Manhattan instead of the Bronx.

In teaching search terms including potentially offensive search terms, the panel emphasized the importance of addressing racism directly.  This means delving into the history and evolution of language while explaining that students may have to use “colored” or “African American” instead of Black when conducting searches.  To forewarn students, Professor Gabriel suggested raising in the handbook or syllabus that law is a product of the historical systems within which it was created and we cannot avoid discussing use of these terms if we want to research effectively.  However – a word of caution about forewarning students – one panelist brought up an example where she was pulled aside by an instructor to warn her that in the upcoming class, they would be discussing slavery.  While the instructor meant well, the panelist felt singled out for her race.

Finally, the panelists discussed the daunting challenge of having these conversations in a virtual environment. As Professor Martinez pointed out, in law schools there is a deification of professors, but the pandemic has flipped this on its head. Education in this new environment will rely on collaboration between students and instructors and instructors must seek out new ways to form connections with students.  For example, the panelists all encouraged more one-on-one interaction with students even if this means setting up more virtual office hours.  It is also important to figure out what can be accomplished asynchronously as many students (and instructors) may have connectivity issues or other obligations due to the pandemic that may hinder live instruction.

To be an effective lawyer, it is important to find commonality and exercise empathy with clients.  Perhaps the best way we can teach this to students is to exercise empathy ourselves and, as uncomfortable as it might be, strive to find commonality as we directly confront the challenges in creating a fairer and more just society.


[1] Ronald Wheeler, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Law Librarianship, 107 Law Lib. J. 467 (2015).

5 Tips for Teaching Foreign Law Students (Webinar Recap)

By Caitlin Hunter

As U.S. law schools recruit a growing number of foreign students, law librarians are increasingly called upon to teach students who are new to the U.S. education system. On December 5, four librarians discussed their experiences teaching foreign law students, in a webinar moderated by Jessica Pierucci (FCIL librarian at UCI Law) and featuring panelists Jodi Collova (Director of LL.M. Legal Research and Writing at Berkeley Law), Karina Condra (FCIL librarian at Sturm College of Law), Heidi Frostestad Kuehl (Director of the Law Library at NIU Law), and Mike McArthur (FCIL librarian at Duke Law). Panelists described teaching foreign law students in a variety of contexts, ranging from short, pre-semester introductions to U.S. law for LL.M.s to full semester research and writing classes including a mix of LL.M. and JD students. The full webinar is available here.

Here were my key take-aways on how to help foreign law students succeed:

  1. Recognize students’ individuality and diversity.

It’s important to prepare for common struggles faced by foreign students but it’s equally important to recognize the diversity of cultures and individual personalities.

Some students need to be encouraged to speak up; others need guidance on interjecting tactfully. Some students need to be encouraged to visit their professors during office hours; others need to be warned that U.S. professors will not provide the level of handholding they expect.

  1. Teach students how U.S. law school works.

Things that are obvious to a librarian who completed law school in the U.S. and has worked at a U.S. law library for years are not obvious to a 25-year-old who just got off a plane from China.

Librarians can help students succeed in all of their classes by pointing them to resources that they may not know about, such as:

  • Study aids, online and in print.
  • Legal dictionaries. Show students where to find English legal dictionaries and discuss how the same word can mean different things in conversational versus legal English.
  • Office hours and research and writing help. Students may not realize that they can visit professors during office hours. Likewise, they may not be aware of the school’s writing center or know that they can ask reference librarians for advice on citations, research for other classes, and research in practice. Tell them!

Also, alert students to norms that may differ between the U.S. and their home countries, such as:

  • The Socratic Method and active participation. Many students are from cultures where being a good student means staying quiet and taking notes. Clearly explaining the different expectations in the U.S. can make students more comfortable speaking up.
  • In many countries, it’s normal for classes to start a half-hour or more after the posted time. Let students know that classes in the U.S. start at the posted time.
  • U.S. students are drilled from elementary school onwards to use their own words, rather than copying from the book. However, anyone who has ever taught U.S. law students knows how many of them struggle to understand what this means in practice. The problem is multiplied for foreign students who may have been taught that they should copy directly from the book to show respect for established scholars. Talk with students about the importance of using quotation marks and providing attribution in U.S. education.

Of course, many of these norms (especially the Socratic Method) are new to most law students. LL.M.s can benefit from participating in JD orientation, where they can join their American classmates in learning to brief cases and participating in mock law school classes.

However, foreign students face a particularly steep learning curve. LL.M.s may not know how to read a case at the beginning of the semester and, yet, by the end of the semester they must compete on exams with third year JDs.

  1. Create assignments that set students up for success.

Foreign law students are getting used to U.S.-style legal assignments and are typically reading and writing in a foreign language, so try the following:

  • Stay away from big stakes final exams and assignments with tight time limits and use a mix of methods to assess students.
  • Start the semester by having students memorize basic legal terms and then quizzing them. This gives students necessary U.S. legal vocabulary and memorization is familiar and comfortable for students from many countries.
  • Always provide written instructions.

Most foreign law students come from civil law jurisdictions, where law is based primarily on statutes with little to no emphasis on cases. These students tend to excel at dissecting and applying statutes but struggle with analogizing and distinguishing cases. To make the transition easier for students from civil law countries:

  • Start the semester with problems based on statutes and other codes, such as the evidence code, procedural rules, or rules of professional conduct for attorneys.
  • When introducing case law, provide exercises that teach students to make fact-to-fact comparisons between cases, rather than simply mining cases for sweeping rules.
  • Tailor cases and add discussion questions to make them more manageable. Have students discuss and compare cases as a group.

Although most of the librarians primarily taught legal research, they reported that many students’ biggest struggle was actually with writing and suggested the following:

  • Add a short memo or scholarly paper to a legal research class.
  • Try Plain English for Lawyers to help non-native English speakers get comfortable with English mechanics and help native English-speakers transition to the plainer American style from the more flowery style common in some other English-speaking jurisdictions.
  • During class, walk students through writing techniques that are less commonly used in other countries, such as drafting issue statements, case analysis and synthesis, and outlining.
  1. Be approachable.

Mike notes that:

Nothing can replace a positive, approachable attitude. Your demeanor conveys more than anything else and it can open and close doors with students.

He makes a point of participating in orientation week activities, such as lunches and barbecues, which provide opportunities to bring up differences in educational styles in a casual environment, where students can compare experiences with each other.Nothing can replace an approachable attitude

He also hosts a regular discussion group, where foreign students and scholars meet to discuss articles that he selects on unfamiliar U.S. legal topics that interest them, such as the mechanics of impeachment and why it’s surprising when Justice Thomas speaks.

Similarly, Karina coordinates an orientation event where incoming LL.M.s meet with four or five faculty, so that they can get to know and feel comfortable with their teachers and fellow students before classes start.

  1. Help students learn from each other.

Most students enjoy explaining how their own legal systems work and it’s easy to create opportunities for them to do so:

  • Ask for volunteers to discuss how the legal system and law in their jurisdiction differs from the U.S.
  • Encourage students to work together in class by pairing LL.M.s and JDs on in class assignments, grouping students from a mix of jurisdictions to discuss how a topic differs in their jurisdictions, or assigning students from a mix of jurisdictions to practice groups or firms to complete assignments.
  • Encourage students to get to know each other outside of class, by introducing JDs and LL.M.s, encouraging JDs to attend LL.M. events, and encouraging LL.M.s to participate in student organizations and journals.

The panelists universally agreed that foreign law students bring immense value to classes and that giving them the opportunity to share their perspectives provides invaluable benefits to other LL.M.s and JDs alike.

Donate to the Syllabi and Course Materials Database & Pay It Forward to Help Others

By Paul Moorman

I recently received a call from a student at my undergraduate alma mater asking for a donation. The student who called me was a pre-law history major who lived in the same dorm I had lived in and had received a scholarship to help pay for his tuition­—so basically he was me 30 years ago (although I was a political science major, but let’s not quibble over details). While I was talking to him, all the great memories I have from my undergraduate years came flooding back. When it came time for him to make the “big ask,” I was ready to say no like I usually do, but then I thought about it some more and decided that this time I would say yes and donate some money for a scholarship fund.  What ultimately helped me decide to make a donation was a realization that I had benefited from all those who had given generously to the school in the past.  I was now in a position in my life to be able to step up and help “pay it forward” by showing the same generosity that was shown to me by donating to others.

So why am I telling you this story? I’ll get there, but first let me start by saying that I’m one of the current co-chairs of the FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Interest Group. I, along with my co-chair, Amelia Landenberger, have a lot planned this year. One of our most important goals is to update the Syllabi and Course Materials Database and I am taking the lead on this project. As the readers of this blog likely know, it’s an amazing source of useful information for anyone teaching foreign, comparative, and international legal research and I’m confident many of you have used and consulted it while planning their courses. The database only exists because your colleagues have generously donated their courseware to help you. As useful as the current database is, it hasn’t been updated for a few years and it is starting to get long in the tooth. Legal research has changed dramatically in the past few years and FCIL-related legal research is no exception. As the tools and methods we use change, the way we teach our research courses needs to adapt to those changes.

So now it’s time for me to make my “big ask.”  Please consider this blog posting to be my first official request for you to donate your courseware to the Syllabi and Course Materials database. Unlike my alma mater, I’m not asking for money—instead I’m asking you to help by sharing your knowledge, expertise, experience, and hard work to help others who could benefit from it. If you have any FCIL-related courseware (you know who you are!), whether it be a syllabus, test, assignment, PowerPoint presentation, or even an entire module (really anything course related), now is the time to “pay it forward” and help your colleagues. If you’ve donated your courseware to the database in the past, please donate a more current version.  If you’ve never donated before, now is time to review your files and see if there’s anything you have that others could benefit from. Your colleagues have helped you in the past, now it’s time to help your colleagues.

My plan for the next few months is reach out to those who have donated to the database, and also to those who teach FCIL-related legal research courses, and ask you to donate your courseware to the database.  If you send the materials to me now by emailing it to me a, you’ll save us both a lot of time and effort. Thank you in advance for your generosity.  Your colleagues and I are grateful.

Upcoming Webinar — Cross-Border Cultural Competency: Teaching Foreign Law Students and Training International Lawyers

On Thursday, December 5, 2019, 12 pm to 1 pm US/Central, please join the FCIL-SIS and ALL-SIS Continuing Education Committees for a webinar on Cross-Border Cultural Competency: Teaching Foreign Law Students and Training International Lawyers. FCIL-SIS members can access a registration link here. ALL-SIS members can access a registration link here.

As law schools increasingly recruit foreign students, librarians are increasingly called upon to provide legal research training to foreign LL.M.s, S.J.D.s, and exchange students.

This webinar will provide insights from four panelists with extensive experience teaching foreign students in a variety of capacities:

  • Jodi Collova, Director of LL.M. Legal Research and Writing at Berkeley Law
  • Karina Condra, Foreign, Comparative & International Law Librarian at University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  • Heidi Frostestad Kuehl, Director of the Law Library at Northern Illinois University College of Law
  • Mike McArthur, Head, Foreign Comparative & International Law and Collection Development at Duke Law.

The panel will be moderated by Jessica Pierucci, Research Law Librarian for Foreign, Comparative, and International Law at UC Irvine School of Law.

The panelists will address cross-border cultural competency issues in answering a series of questions about their experience and learned best practices. Panelists will address helping foreign law students understand the skills needed for U.S. law practice and understanding, effectively addressing cultural differences that can impact learning, teaching classes with a mixture of U.S. and foreign law students, and bringing cultural competency skills to teaching U.S. students.

We encourage you to join us by registering now! FCIL-SIS members can access a registration link here. ALL-SIS members can access a registration link here.

Creating Training Resources for GOALI

By Latia Ward


Title slide from the GOALI Basic Course Tutorial.

Purpose of GOALI

Global Online Access to Legal Information (GOALI) is a project of the International Labour Organization (ILO) (a United Nations agency) and its partners which include publishers and academic institutions.  One of these partners is Cornell University Law Library where I work as a Research Services Librarian and Diversity Fellow.  As part of my work I have created how-to resources for conducting research with GOALI.

The purpose of GOALI is to facilitate access to legal information for researchers in the Global South.  To that end, GOALI aligns with Goal 16 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals:  “Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.”  Researchers have access to GOALI through their institutions and the Research4Life website lists nations eligible for GOALI.  In their paper entitled Global Online Access to Legal Information (GOALI) – A New Legal Training Resource for Developing Countries, Richelle Van Snellenberg, Unit Head of the ILO Library and Edit Horvàth, User and Outreach Officer of the ILO Library note that GOALI is about more than providing information resources to researchers in the Global South, but also about closing the “knowledge gap in academic research” between nations of wealth and nations of more modest means.  The facilitators of GOALI aim to close the “knowledge gap” through the provision of information resources from authoritative and current sources.  In addition, Van Snellenberg and Horvàth contextualize the implementation of GOALI within the Free Access to Law Movement and its Declaration on Free Access to Law which states that “Public legal information from all countries and international institutions is part of the common heritage of humanity.”  Included within this definition of public legal information are both primary and secondary sources of law.

GOALI is one of the five programs or platforms for information that the Research4Life partnership has produced.  Research4Life is a partnership of WHO, FAO, UNEP, WIPO, ILO, Cornell University, Yale University, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers, and other international publishers.  The four other platforms for information are Hinari (health research), AGORA (agricultural research), and OARE (environmental research), ARDI (development and innovation research).  GOALI, the newest platform, became available for use on March 6, 2018.

Through GOALI, researchers may access journals, books, databases, and reference sources.  GOALI includes resources from the legal field as well as other fields within the social sciences.  An example of resources provided by GOALI include open access resources which cover a variety of jurisdictions such as African Journals Online (AJOL) and the ILO’s NATLEX database of national labor, social security, and human rights legislation.

Guides for GOALI


Screenshot from the GOALI Tutorial Video.  Image of computer monitor from Pixaby.

During the spring of 2018, I created a video, tutorials (which consist of slides showing research paths), and exercises on how to use the GOALI database.  My goal in creating the video (for which I included closed captions), the tutorials, and exercises was to provide a step-by-step manual on how to conduct research within GOALI.

When I created the tutorials and exercises for GOALI, I began by familiarizing myself with the platform by searching for resources and reviewing training materials that other information specialists had developed for Research4Life’s AGORA platform.  I reviewed AGORA exercises and modules for the AGORA Portal and Summon Searching to use as templates (although I had to research and create exercises and tutorials specific to GOALI).

The first tutorial and set of exercises are called the GOALI Basic Course.  In the GOALI Basic Course, I explain how to browse the entire GOALI collection, how to locate specific journals, publishers, and subjects, and how to find specific citations.  In the second tutorial and set of exercises, I explain how to do a basic Summon search, refine the search, and conduct an advanced search within GOALI.  In the third tutorial and set of exercises, I explain how to access publishers’ websites from the GOALI platform, identify general features on publishers’ websites, and how to use these features to find articles.  In the GOALI video, I include demonstrations on how to find journals by title, language, and publisher and how to access full-text books.

News about GOALI

The GOALI Launch Event of March 6, 2018 is available on YouTube and includes additional information on why GOALI was created and commentary from Research4Life Partners.  To keep up with current news regarding GOALI, follow #GOALI on Twitter (look for posts related to @R4LPartnership and #Research4Life as there are many posts related to soccer and people named Ali) and visit the ILO’s GOALI website often.