Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research — From the Beginning

By Beau Steenken

First, allow me to start with a brief disclaimer: though I will be contributing regularly to DipLawMatic Dialogues on the topic of teaching FCIL research, I have taught a course on the subject exactly one time. In fall of 2014, I read an LRSQ article by Cassie DuBay about specialized legal research (SLR) courses and how they represent an improvement over offering just the traditional Advanced Legal Research (ALR).[1] The article got me to thinking about proposing an FCIL-themed course, and the following spring our faculty voted to shift research instruction at the University of Kentucky College of Law (UK Law) to an ALR-SLR rotation, with ALR to be followed by three distinct SLRs, so that we have an upper-level research course offered each semester. My Foreign & International Legal Research course was the first SLR to be offered at UK Law in the Fall 2016 Semester. I will teach it again in Fall of 2018.

Because I am relatively new to teaching FCIL research, and because my class, being new, is still fairly fresh in my mind, I thought I would use my first blog post to go over the steps I took in creating the course. After all, teaching FCIL differs enough from 1L research that it requires a lot of preparatory work before you even get to the teaching part.

Screenshot-2017-10-10 Syllabi and Course Material DatabaseThe first preparatory step that I took was to consult the database of FCIL syllabi that the Teaching FCIL Interest Group of FCIL-SIS maintains on the FCIL-SIS website.[2]  Being able to consult and compare syllabi actually used by more experienced FCIL-SIS colleagues proved invaluable. It also made apparent the need to make an initial choice that I had not considered before looking at the syllabi, namely the decision whether to propose a 1 hour or a 2 hour course. While syllabi are available for either possible iteration, ultimately I settled on a 1 hour course for purely local reasons. First, our ALR is a 2 hour course, and I felt like the SLRs should offer less credit so that students would view them as an addition to ALR as opposed to a replacement. Also, I suspected that offering a 1 hour course might help drive enrollment as UK Law did not have any other 1 hour courses, and over the years I have often overheard students in the library discussing the fine art of schedule-balancing (an art which appears to have the twin goals of staying on pace to graduate while avoiding overloading any one semester).

After choosing the 1 hour format, I focused on 1 hour syllabus samples to gather inspiration on how to fill out my draft syllabus. Based on previous interactions with journal students trying to track down comparative authorities, I knew that in addition to Foreign and International Law components, I also wanted to emphasize European Union research. After seeing how other classes divided these subjects, I ended up with a syllabus featuring an introductory class, three foreign law classes, seven international law classes (my background is more in international law than foreign or comparative law, so the unbalanced components are probably a result of my own bias), and three E.U. classes. I did the foreign component first, followed by the international component, and then closed with the E.U. component, under the notion that E.U. research combines elements of foreign (implementing legislation) and international (treaties!) research. For the most part, I think my initial division worked ok, though when I teach the class again next year, I plan on flipping the international and foreign components, as I think the class I devoted to private international law would be a nice bridge between the two and would work better as a transition moving from international to foreign law rather than the other way around.

Around the same time that I put together the draft syllabus, I also created a list of the overall learning objectives for the proposed course. Partially this was to help in identifying what the focus of each class meeting should be, but mostly it was because the curriculum committee at UK Law started requiring outcome-mapping for all new course proposals following the ABA’s adoption of the standards requiring law schools to use outcomes-based assessment. As such, my proposed learning outcomes incorporated language from our programmatic learning objectives, but I actually found that mapping what I knew I wanted to teach to a pre-existing assessment scheme to be easier than creating outcomes completely from scratch (which I had done during a 1L curricular revamp several years before the ABA and UK Law adopted outcomes based education more broadly). I settled on seven broad course outcomes that could then be tweaked for individual class sessions and individual assignments (the bold parenthetical language are the programmatic outcomes that correspond to my course outcomes):

  • In completing weekly pre-class and in-class exercises, as well as periodic graded assignments, students will find relevant foreign and international legal authorities and apply them to given fact patterns. (#2 – applying rules of law to a focused area of law, namely international law)
  • In order to find relevant authorities, students will learn to recognize the varying sources of law used by foreign/international jurisdictions and the limitations of those sources of law. (#5 – explain ways in which laws are made, what gives different forms of law authority, and how authority is limited)
  • Students will conduct research based on hypothetical fact patterns, since real world research derives from fact patterns. (#10 – analyze a set of facts to determine what legal issues are presented)
  • Students will conduct research before class, in class, and after class. Readings will be about research, as will class discussions. (#11 – research the law)
  • Through exercises, students will read research results to determine whether their gathered authorities answer the hypothetical problems. (#12 – read and interpret complex legal documents)
  • Students will deliver the results of pre-class assignments as practice emails, the results of in-class exercises orally, and the results of post-class graded assignments as written research logs. (#17 – communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written form, including electronic media)
  • Throughout the course, students will be researching foreign and international laws, often teaching themselves about legal systems as a first step. (#25 – self-directed learning to close knowledge gaps.)

 The final decision that I made during the proposal phase then dealt with how to assess the outcomes identified above, in other words, what sort of assignments to include in the draft syllabus. The syllabi I consulted contained a range of different assignment types from traditional legal hypotheticals to more bibliographic focused student reports on either a topic under international law or a foreign jurisdiction. I chose the former for a couple of reasons. First, I thought hypothetical based assignments would make assessing my identified outcomes easier. Second, I noticed that a lot of the syllabi requiring student reports tended to be of the 2 hour variety, and I did not want to give up any of my limited class time in a 1 hour course. Midway through the course-approval process, I discovered a third reason to lean towards hypothetical-based assignments in that our curriculum committee wanted me to adjust the course to satisfy the new ABA requirements for experiential learning courses. This required “practice simulation” assignments as opposed to broader research assignments.

The four initial steps described above; namely, choosing a course format, constructing a syllabus, identifying learning outcomes, and drafting sample assignments; took me a couple of months to complete but resulted in a successful course proposal. Thus, I was able to teach Foreign & International Legal Research for the first time last fall. My next post on DipLawMatic Dialogues will focus on my experiences actually teaching the course for the first time. In the meantime, I encourage anyone considering proposing FCIL research as a new course to get a jump start by consulting the Teaching FCIL Interest Group’s Syllabi Database!

[1] Cassie DuBay, Specialized Legal Research Courses: the Next Generation of Advanced Legal Research, 33 LEGAL REFERENCE SERV. Q. 203 (2014).

[2] FCIL-SIS, Syllabi and Course Material Database, AALLNet, https://www.aallnet.org/sections/fcil/teaching/syllabi (last visited October 9, 2017).


Teaching FCIL Series: Using News Stories to Connect Students to the World

By Alyson Drake

Teaching my Foreign, Comparative, and International law class is one of the most challenging and exciting parts of my job.  Each spring, when it’s time to get the class ready, I think a lot about how best to engage the students with the content.

indexOne of the components that has undoubtedly been the most successful and that I’ve used ever since I started teaching the class several years ago is using a news story to start each class.  I don’t know exactly where the idea came from, but it was undoubtedly something I pulled from the wonderful set of FCIL teaching materials on the FCIL-SIS website.  One major disclaimer: my FCIL Research course is two credits and only meets once a week, so each class is one hour and forty minutes.

The basic guidelines for the news story assignment are that each student is assigned a week when it’s their responsibility to 1) locate a news story connected to foreign or international law and send it to me at least 24 hours before class (so I can familiarize myself with it and come prepared to help move the discussion in ways that will reinforce the course content, if necessary); 2) to locate/identify any sources of law that are mentioned within the story; and 3) come to class ready to present to the class for approximately five minutes on their news story.  They must also come with two or three questions designed to garner discussion among their classmates.  The students not presenting know that it’s part of their own news story grade and their class participation points to engage in the discussion.

It works well for a variety of reasons:

  1. It breaks the ice.  My class is a late afternoon/early evening class and sometimes students are tired from an already full day of classes by the time they get there.  Sitting in our square (I have a small class size, so I arrange the tables in my room into a big square) and having discussions about things going on in the world wakes them up.  The students end up really loving these discussions and do a great job picking topics in which their fellow students will be interested.  In a way, it allows students to set the tone for the class and to take some ownership over what they are learning.  By the time we’ve done the news story and I begin my lecture on whatever content we’re covering that class, the students are already used to talking during that class, and I’ve found they ask good questions and add to discussion throughout my lecture.
  2. It allows them to practice their skills.  I try to make this class as experiential as possible and by having to locate/identify any sources of law in the news story, which are almost never identified by citation, they have to use the methods that we’ve talked about in class.  If it’s a type of sources that we haven’t talked about yet, struggling to locate the sources being discussed in the news gives them a greater appreciation for what they are learning later in the semester.  It also gives students an opportunity to practice talking about legal issues and their research methods.
  3. It reinforces concepts that we’ve talked about in earlier classes.  Last spring, I had a student bring in a news story about North Korea testing its nuclear capabilities and it led to a wonderful discussion about what sort of enforcement mechanisms the United Nations had at their disposal.  We’d already talked about the Security Council and General Assembly and their given responsibilities, and the students brought up the difficulties the U.N. might have in taking particular types of actions on their own.
  4. It brings them in touch with the world. I find that many of my students are so focused in on law school that they rarely know what’s going on in their own backyard, much less what’s going on in the international arena.  The students are often surprised by how many interesting news stories from abroad there are in the press each day.  Students often email me early in the week with two or three stories they’ve found interesting and asking which might be the most appropriate.  I always leave it up to them to choose, but am encouraged that they are reading the news and learning more about what’s going on in the world.

I’m sure many people use a similar exercise and I’m certain it would work well in other research classes as well.  I particularly like it for this class because it allows me to have a discussion about the responsibility of a lawyer to be an engaged citizen who is cognizant of what’s going on in the world.  It’s my hope that one of the major takeaways for this class is a group of students who’s a little more aware of the world in which they live–and maybe reads the world news each day.

Organizing and Participating in the “Open Access to Legal Knowledge in Africa” Workshop in Uganda

By Heather Casey

uganda2This past December, I had the privilege of traveling to Kampala, Uganda and assisting with a workshop on Open Access to legal knowledge in Africa. It was for law librarians in Anglophone Africa. The workshop was organized through the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), in cooperation with the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL). It was sponsored by IFLA, IALL, and HeinOnline.

I was one of several organizers – with me were Mark Engsberg (Emory University), Joe Hinger (St. John’s University), Caroline Ilako (Markerere University), Sonia Poulin (Alberta Law Libraries), and Bård Tuseth (University of Oslo). Over the course of several months, we worked to bring together a group of African law librarians that came from the following countries: Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Our goals for the workshop were to empower participants to utilize the potential of open access legal sources in legal research. The workshop offered a method to build a network of law librarians across Africa in order to share knowledge and assist each other in solving practical legal research questions. Participation provided an overview of open access legal sources worldwide, the practical skills required to benefit from them, and an opportunity to establish contact with colleagues from different countries.

uganda1One essential component of the workshop was for every participant to give a presentation. Most were 5 minutes long and organizers spoke from 15 minutes to 45 minutes on various topics with Q&A sessions afterward. Our reasons behind having every participant give a presentation were several; first, it encouraged each participant to plan for the workshop and guaranteed active participation. Second, each participant shared information on the legal research environment in their jurisdiction, which allowed for other participants to learn more about jurisdictions outside their own. It also assisted with networking, as each presentation allowed participants to better acquaint themselves with one another. Getting up in front of their peers gave each participant a chance to exercise skills in public speaking that they may not have otherwise used over the course of the two-day workshop.

We also had three breakout sessions where participants were gathered into small groups to foster discussion. Organizers joined in at each group table to act as facilitators for the small group discussions. After 45 minutes to an hour of discussion, the entire workshop group would come together and people from each group would relay their group’s findings.

As organizers, we wanted to ensure that participants would continue to contribute to a network for African Law Librarians. To that end, we established several online forums after the workshop for participants and organizers to engage in virtual and practical collaboration with international colleagues. The forums included:

So far the email chain and WhatsApp groups have been very vibrant. Participants continue to reach out to one another to discuss resources and let one another know what is happening in their jurisdictions. The website has been good for exchanging slides from the workshop and members have discussed what they would like to further do with the website.

We are excited to see this group continue in its efforts to further the goals of the workshop and look forward to further collaboration with members of the workshop. The experience was unforgettable and one I personally was truly honored and humbled to take part in. It was also very enjoyable to visit Uganda and learn more about the vibrant culture there. I look forward to visiting again.

Recap: FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research Interest Group Meeting

By Loren Turner

This year, Catherine Deane led and coordinated the Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research Interest Group meeting at the AALL Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.  She invited three speakers to present on their teaching experiences:

  • Marylin Raisch shared a screencast, a MindMap, and a visual presentation, as examples of how she and her colleague, Charles Bjork, answer research questions in innovative ways.
  • Alexis Fetzer explained how she, as a librarian without the FCIL title, successfully proposed and taught an FCIL research course at the University of Richmond School of Law. You can read more about Alexis’s experience in the May 2016 issue of the FCIL newsletter.
  • Nina E. Scholtz spoke about her experience in creating an experiential learning course for LLM students. She shared her syllabus for that course and recommended implementing interactive discussion during class to overcome cultural differences.

An Experiential Learning Primer

Alyson Drake has published a helpful primer on the ABA’s experiential learning requirements on the RIPS-SIS blog today. Alyson has contributed significantly to FCIL-SIS through her work with DipLawMatic Dialogues. She is also Chair of the European Law Interest Group, incoming Co-Chair of the Publicity Committee, and a member of the Customary and Religious Law Interest Group.

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

by Alyson Drake

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by incoming RIPS-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair Elect Alyson Drake. Alyson is currently the Reference and Student Services Librarian and the Coordinator of the Excellence in Legal Research Program at the Texas Tech University School of Law Library. 

Experiential educationIt’s no secret that legal education is focused primarily on producing graduates who are “practice ready.” The ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. With new attorneys reporting that they spend 35% of their time conducting legal research, it is no stretch to argue that legal education should devote more time and energy to experiential legal research education.

Our research courses have always focused on practical skills, but what else does it take to make…

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The Special Challenge of LL.M. Students

By Jim Hart

animated-question-mark-clip-art-Kijead5iqLL.M. students face a challenge that is more daunting than the one our J.D. students face; their knowledge of their own legal systems and legal publications interferes with their learning of ours.  Indeed, it is something like learning another language.  At the beginning, it’s like doing a puzzle in which all the pieces fit.  You learn it at this stage by comparing the foreign language to your own language.  At the intermediate stage, the two languages are no longer always comparable.  A lot of pieces of the puzzle don’t fit any more and it’s confusing.  At the advanced stage students don’t compare the languages anymore.  The foreign language has become separate from the native language.  Using it is now unconscious.

At the beginning of the semester, many LL.M.s don’t seem to have a clear idea of why they have to learn legal research.  But as the semester goes by, they become increasingly engaged.  I think that the reason for this apparent disengagement at the beginning is that, like American students, the U.S. legal system is entirely new to them.  American J.D. students, on the other hand, come to law without any previous idea to interfere with their learning the system.  LL.M. students, however, are already trained in their home legal systems.

Lawyers are experts in the legal systems of their own countries, including gazettes, codes, and other publications.  Their knowledge is highly complex, implicit, and entirely automatic to them.  They have used it as professionals for some period of time.  It would be nearly impossible for such knowledge not to interfere with new learning!  Let me explain.  We represent knowledge in our minds in structures.  It doesn’t matter whether you call them schemata (sg. schema), or mental models, or frames as used by Minsky.  These structures are organized hierarchically with more general concepts encompassing more specific ones and specific concepts encompassing particular instances.  Students are just learning these concepts and structures, but experts have become so adept at using them that they are unconscious of their use.  In other words, experts use them automatically.

So when lawyers from other countries try to learn our legal system and its publications, they will find that the two systems do not have the same structures.  Some aspects of their native systems may not have corresponding features in ours at all and ours will have some aspects that their systems lack, not to mention those aspects that are partially congruent.  To make things worse, our legal publications form a bibliographic system that adds another system to the complexity.  If the foreign students come from a civil law tradition, they may have difficulty with the need for the volumes of case reporters that are essential to a common law system.  Our codes may seem like a disorganized hodgepodge of laws to someone who is used to codes that are written like philosophical treatises.  But, as they learn more about our system, they see the usefulness of our tools of legal research.

So I believe that our LL.M. students begin learning our system by comparing elements of theirs to ours.  As they learn more, they go through a period of confusion from which they emerge near the end of a semester.  At this point, they no longer compare their native system to ours.  They understand ours as a second, independent one.  This explanation is simplistic of course.  This is a blog post, after all.  I hope this will do.

I suspect that there is no complete solution to this problem.  But I also suspect that giving the LL.M. students an overview of our system that includes the bibliographic aspects at the beginning of the semester and reminding students of the role (purpose?) of the relevant publications in the system when they study them might both help.  In addition, this kind of experience can suck their self-confidence right out of them.  Give them sympathy and encouragement.  Of course a little tea and crumpets wouldn’t hurt either.

In summary, the idea is to link the structure and content of the legal system with the concomitant publications.

AALL 2015 Recap: Customary and Religious Law Interest Group Meeting

By Susan Gualtier

Front page of CARLIG flyer distributed at FCIL-SIS Exhibit Hall table.

Front page of informational flyer distributed at the FCIL-SIS Exhibit Hall table.

The Customary and Religious Law Interest Group (CARLIG) met on July 19 at 11:30 as part of the FCIL-SIS Jurisdictions Interest Groups Joint Meeting. The group briefly discussed the year’s progress, which included acquiring approximately 35 members in My Communities, developing several programming proposals for the 2015 conference, and publishing an article in AALL Spectrum describing the group’s formation, purpose, and goals. The majority of the discussion then focused on 1) improving communication with the group’s membership in order to generate better response to the My Communities posts; 2) increasing the number of blogging and book review opportunities on customary and religious law topics and soliciting participation by the group’s members; and 3) developing and prioritizing additional projects for the coming year.

CARLIG intends to continue proposing conference programming, and brainstormed a few ideas for the 2016 conference. The group discussed the possibility of putting together a panel of librarians and researchers who are currently working on comprehensive online portals or printed bibliographies of religious law resources. Kelly Buchanan, of the Library of Congress, also shared some preliminary information relating to an Islamic law program to be held at the Library of Congress in December. The group discussed potential opportunities for collaboration between CARLIG and the Library of Congress staff, which has been working on increasing the number of available customary law and religious law resources.

In addition to planning substantive programming, the group decided that CARLIG’s primary focus over the upcoming year should be to create teaching/research toolkits for customary law and for each of the major religious law systems. The purpose of these toolkits will be to encourage more librarians to incorporate customary and religious law research into their FCIL research classes or their presentations in substantive law classes. CARLIG will also work on some of the ideas proposed at the 2014 conference, including creating bibliographies of core resources for use in collection development, and identifying the major library collections in customary law and in each of the major religious law systems.