New FCIL Librarian Series: Supporting the International Team Project Program

By Sarah Reis

This is the second post in a series of posts over the next year about adjusting to my new position as a foreign and international law librarian. I started my position at the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in February 2018.

At the start of this academic year, I took over as director of the International Team Project (ITP) program at Northwestern Law. In this program, students spend a semester studying the legal system, culture, and political system of another country and then travel to that country to conduct interviews with in-country contacts. Since the program started in 1999, students have conducted research in more than 40 countries.

During this initial first year of taking over this program, my goal is to provide a research guide and an in-class research presentation for each class. The countries of study differ from year to year and are typically not repeated in consecutive years, which is both a challenge and a great learning experience for a new FCIL librarian because it means that I need to quickly familiarize myself with researching the law of various foreign countries.

ITP courses are student driven: students are responsible for developing the syllabus with the approval of a faculty advisor, leading class discussions, setting up interviews with in-country contacts, and arranging travel. Generally, the law school offers one ITP course in the fall with travel occurring over winter break and four or five ITP courses in the spring with travel occurring over spring break.

Students in the fall ITP course will be traveling to Tanzania in a few weeks. Earlier this semester, I created a research guide on researching Tanzanian law and also visited their class to give a research presentation. This presentation provided the students with a basic introduction to international legal research as well as an overview of how to research the law of Tanzania and keep up with current events in that country. I customized the presentation to include hands-on exercises geared toward their research topics.

I have also been brainstorming methods to support the ITP classes beyond a research guide and in-class presentation. Students in an ITP class form small research groups of 3-4 students who work together on a research topic and write a paper together. I am eager to explore possible opportunities for students to publish these papers (as long as their interviewees give consent). Countries of study are selected in the spring prior to the academic year when the courses will be offered. The countries of study for the ITP courses being offered this academic year were set prior to my taking over this role, but I am looking forward to assisting students and faculty advisors with selecting countries and providing resources to help generate research topic ideas for next academic year’s course offerings.

So far, this role has been a helpful way for me to get to know students outside of the classroom and beyond the reference desk because approximately a hundred students participate in the program each year. I held a few trainings for the student team leaders earlier this year and frequently communicate with them on an ongoing basis about logistics pertaining to travel, curriculum, and finance. The program has also been a great way for me to get to know faculty members who I may not otherwise work with often because our library has a liaison system. Additionally, this role has provided me with the opportunity to work with other law school and university departments, including the Registrar, Office of Financial Aid, Alumni Relations, and the Office of Global Safety & Security.

Students in our five spring ITP classes will be traveling to Morocco, Switzerland, Iceland, South Africa, and Argentina. If other law schools have a similar program to this one or offer comparative law classes that require presentations or trainings by FCIL librarians on researching the law of particular foreign countries, I would love to be able to share materials, ideas, and exercises.

Reis - ITP Photo

AALL 2015 Recap: “International Attorneys and LL.M. Students: Filling Research Gaps”

By Alexis Fetzer

scalesThe late Sunday afternoon session entitled “International Attorneys and LL.M. Students: Filling Research Gaps” targeted librarians working with international students in an instructional setting. Each speaker presented on his or her experience working with foreign LL.M. students.

The first of the three speakers was Jinwei Zhang, Reference and Instructional Technologies Librarian at the University of Tennessee School of Law. Ms. Zhang had a unique experience in that she had been a foreign LL.M. student herself. She began by discussing some of the unique challenges instructors face in teaching these students, such as language barriers, cultural differences, and introducing a new legal system. One cultural difference that Zhang emphasized was a reluctance to ask questions in class. Many of these students are coming from learning environments in which they are not encouraged to interrupt a lecturer with comments or questions. It is important to be patient and encouraging of these students in order to get them to open up in class. One suggestion offered was instituting more one on one meetings with students in order to get them comfortable talking to instructors and to answer any questions that they are too uncomfortable to pose before an entire class.

Nina Scholtz, Head of Reference Services & Instruction Coordinator at Cornell University Law School, was the second of three speakers. Ms. Scholtz spoke on her experience as an academic law librarian instructing LL.M. students in legal research in their Principles of American Legal Writing course. In this course she instructs students in four class sessions and then works with students individually on their research for writing projects.

One challenge she highlighted was the difficulty in overcoming language barriers for legal citation abbreviations. It is important for instructors to keep in mind that what appears to make sense in the English speaker’s mind as an abbreviation for a court or publication may not always translate clearly to the foreign student. An instructor should look for ways to make this easier for students to understand and should be able to point to resources that can assist students in abbreviating or deciphering abbreviations of citations.

Scholtz shared one of the exercises she performed with her students, entitled “Thinking like a Common Law Lawyer.” This exercise focuses on the factual analysis that needs to take place before students can begin tackling legal research. Students are tasked with finding the basis of the case, generating search terms, and looking to other synonyms and antonyms of those terms. After the class performs this exercise together as a whole, students are broken up into smaller groups and given the same type of assignment with a different fact pattern.

The final speaker was Furman Scott DeMaris, Research Services Librarian at Reed Smith LLP, who spoke of his experience as a firm librarian when Reed Smith took on several Chinese LL.M. students as apart of work-study program with Temple University School of Law. One thing the firm did was to offer research refreshers and training for these students. Mr. Demaris found that it was important to let these students know that the librarians were there to assist them, because otherwise they might not have identified the librarians as a resource. Research guides were also offered to students on topics such as how to avoid research pitfalls and how to perform cost effective research. One challenge in hosting these LL.M. students was that, because they were guests rather than employees, they could not be given access to all of the firm’s resources. At the end of their time with Reed Smith, the students were asked to give a presentation on Chinese Law. This was a great way take advantage of the special knowledge of these foreign educated attorneys and to educate the firm’s attorneys on a foreign legal system.

After the final speaker, attendees were asked to discuss amongst members seated at their table the challenges in training foreign attorneys in an LL.M. instructional program or similar setting. The microphone was then opened for attendees to share and for the speakers to answer any questions.