I have a general interest in international law. Which courses should I take?
International law is a growing field of study and practice composed of many subfields, including international corporate law, international human rights law, public international law, international environmental law, international arbitration, international criminal law, international trade law, and international humanitarian law, among a host of others. Because there are so many different areas of study within international law, there are (strictly speaking) no “right” or “wrong” courses for those who have a general interest in this field. In fact, not a single law school in the tri-state region requires students to take a specific international law course.
Still, as a general rule, if you are broadly interested in international law and don’t know where to start, enroll in an introductory course which provides a broad survey of the area. These courses include:
- Comparative Law
- International Business Transactions
- International Law: An Introduction OR International Law in Contemporary Perspectives
- The UN and World Order
You need not take all of these courses. Instead, enroll in a course that is of interest to you. Furthermore, you don’t even have to take an introductory international law course. Many students have enrolled in courses such as International Finance and International Economic Law without first taking an introductory course. (Many international law courses at New York Law School don’t have prerequisites, meaning that you don’t have to take other courses before enrolling in them.) But if you want a broad overview of the area, take an introductory course first.
I’m interested in international business, finance, and trade law. Which courses should I take?
You should consider International Business Transactions and/or International Finance. Historically, many students have enrolled in International Business Transactions before taking International Finance. (The former course provides a wider overview of many different topics, while the latter course is more specialized. Still, you can take these courses in any order.) For students interested in international trade, consider taking International Economic Law which gives an overview of the components of the international trade system, including the World Trade Organization and specific international trade agreements. One practitioner points out that because “an international trade regulatory practice is largely administrative law,” it is also important to take a course in administrative law.
Although taking some of these courses is important, one lawyer said that students should “learn how to be a master of U.S. law first,” and that “being an international lawyer is like being a domestic lawyer” because you will be interpreting U.S. law for foreign clients. “A fair amount of my time is spent on advising my [foreign colleagues] on interpretations of U.S. law and helping the corporation with the U.S. side of transactional mergers, acquisitions, and divestments,” he explained.
Another practitioner added that “the international law practitioner must understand the legal implications of the transaction under U.S. law in order to advise the client effectively, which will require an understanding of U.S. federal tax laws, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S. Export Control Regulations, and even U.S. securities laws (e.g., the Sarbanes-Oxley Act), among others.” In summarizing the courses that a student should take concerning international corporate transactions, one lawyer simply said: “It is of vital importance, for purposes of an international corporate practice, that a young lawyer be well grounded, initially, in the basic commercial and business law curriculum.”
So, in addition to taking a few international law courses, you should consider courses in commercial and bankruptcy law, corporate and securities law, and tax law. To get an overview of which courses to take in these particular areas, read the publication “Planning Your Schedule” available from the Registrar’s office.
I’m interested in a broad overview of international human rights law and also public international law. Which courses should I take?
You should begin with an introductory course in international human rights which will provide a broad overview of this area. Afterwards, the advice may vary from one person to the next.
One expert advises, for instance, that “a human rights lawyer should know U.S. law well, should have had the fundamental courses in international law, and, in addition, specialized courses in human rights law.” Another legal expert says, “The courses that someone interested in public international law should take in law school are, at a minimum: the basic course in international law, the basic course in international organizations, and a third in a more specific area such as European Union law or the law of the sea.” Still another expert adds, “Courses in comparative law also are a plus. A good knowledge of the major legal systems of the world can help in discussions with national authorities on adherence to the pertinent treaties and their implementation.”
Here is a sampling of some courses to consider:
- Comparative Law
- European Community Law
- International Economic Law: Trade and Monetary Law
- International Human Rights Law
- International Human Rights Seminar
- International Human Rights Workshop
- International Human Rights and Transitional Justice
- International Law: An Introduction
- International Law in Contemporary Perspectives
- Islamic Law & Middle East Legal Institutions
- The United Nations & World Order
I’m interested in learning more about the laws of war and also the legal implications of the war on terror in areas such as civil liberties. Which courses should I take?
In addition to taking a basic course in international law, you should consider a course such as the Law of War. Around 70 treaties, conventions, customs, and principles of international law regulate how states and even non-state groups carry out methods and means of warfare and also require them to maintain certain humanitarian standards during hostilities. Analysts refer to them collectively as “international humanitarian law,” and also interchangeably with other terms such as the “laws of war” and the “law of armed conflict.” (There is no single “law of war” treaty encompassing every facet of warfare.)
To learn more about the legal implications of the war on terror, you should take courses in constitutional law simply because provisions concerning civil liberties are, well, found in the Constitution. Lawyers must deal with issues such as whether or not the government can detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without a trial, whether it must try such individuals using military tribunals or civilian courts, whether detainees have a right to challenge their detention in court, and whether courts can allow evidence obtained from detainees through coercive interrogation techniques.
One national security expert said that students should “take all of the constitutional law and administrative law they can get their hands on.” He adds, “when taking those [constitutional] law classes, pay special attention to the links between constitutional issues and foreign affairs.” Here are some courses to consider:
- The Constitution & Terrorism
- Constitutional Law: Individual Rights, Advanced
Also, please consult pages 11–14 in the publication “Planning Your Schedule” to get more information on which courses you should take in constitutional law.
I’m interested in international criminal law. Which courses should I take?
You should consider a wide variety of criminal law and criminal procedure courses. “All law students interested in this field should take the full package of courses available to all students interested in pursuing a career in criminal litigation,” said one practitioner in this field. “This includes criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence. Advanced courses in due process or rights of the accused also should be taken, if possible.”
The following is only a sample of some of the courses in criminal law and procedure offered at New York Law School. (Please consult pages 15–17 of the publication “Planning Your Schedule” to determine the exact sequence in which you should take courses in criminal law.) Also, remember that not all of these courses are offered every semester. Whether a course will be offered depends on many factors such as instructor availability and student enrollment.
- Criminal Justice Seminar & Workshop
- Criminal Law Clinic Seminar, Externship, Fieldwork
- Criminal Law & Procedure: Criminal Appellate Clinic
- Criminal Law & Procedure: Criminals & Our Urge to Punish Them
- Criminal Law & Procedure: Death Penalty
- Criminal Law & Procedure: Post-conviction Review & Remedies
- Criminal Law & Procedure: Sentencing
- Criminal Law & Procedure: The Mentally Disabled Defendant
- Criminal Law & Procedure: White Collar Crime
- Criminal Procedure: Adjudication
- Criminal Procedure: Investigation
In addition to criminal law courses, a student should also consider courses in international law. “Choice of courses in law school should include international law, human rights law, and comparative law,” said one expert. “Advanced courses or seminars in international humanitarian law, international criminal law, or similar courses should be taken if available.” Below is a partial listing of international law courses that may be useful in the practice of international criminal law.
- Comparative Criminal Procedure
- Comparative Law
- International Human Rights Law
- International Human Rights Law and Mental Disability Law
- International Human Rights Seminar & Workshop
- The Law of War (which is also called international humanitarian law)
Also remember that many staff members of international criminal tribunals—such as the International Criminal Court and ad hoc tribunals created by the United Nations—had once worked as prosecutors and judges in their home jurisdictions. Even staff members at human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have prior experience in the practice of criminal law. To read about the experience of one alumna who had worked for an international criminal tribunal, click here.
Which courses should I take if I am interested in other specific areas of international practice such as international arbitration, international family law, and international environmental law?
You should consider taking an introductory international law course followed by a course in the area of practice that interests you. In the case of international environmental law, one lawyer recommends “basic courses in public international law and domestic environmental law, at least, followed (if available) by a course in international environmental law. Especially for those interested in the domestic law aspect of international environmental law, a course in conflicts of law is highly advisable.”
If you are interested in areas such as international family law and international arbitration, follow the same advice—enroll in a basic international law course followed by the specific course in which you have an interest. Please consult the publication “Planning Your Schedule” to get more information on which courses you should take in specific areas of law.