As the leading law school in the United States and possibly the world in the field of international law, NYU’s international law curriculum is extremely rich. Courses are divided into three sub-groups: Comparative and Foreign Law, International Law, and International Litigation and Arbitration. Each of these in turn embrace a multitude of subjects. In addition to the extensive curriculum in New York City, NYU Law Abroad offers specially-designed courses in Buenos Aires, Paris, and Shanghai.
Courses identified as dealing with “international law” address traditional “public law” topics, such as the actions of states and interstate organizations, so-called “private international law” (dealing with the regulation of persons or property), or modern regimes that blur such distinctions, such as courses on “global governance” or the World Trade Organization. The category also includes courses that focus on specific types of cross-border transactions, such as project finance or sovereign debt offerings. In addition, there are specialized courses on international topics such as human rights, environmental law, and investment law.
“Comparative and foreign law” courses deal with the foreign law of a particular jurisdiction, region, or religion or compare international and foreign rules with respect to a particular topic (such as courses on international and comparative antitrust or comparative intellectual property).
“International litigation and arbitration” courses address how US courts handle cases having a transnational element, the rules governing the arbitration of transnational contractual disputes or those involving foreign investment, or less formal methods for resolving international disputes.
To specialize or not?
Some students are eager to specialize within a discrete sub-field of international law, such as trade or human rights. However, our international faculty does not regard this as necessary—or even desirable—at the JD level. We advise students interested in international law to focus on becoming, first and foremost, competent lawyers in US national law. To that end, they should take foundational US legal subjects such as corporations, taxation, administrative law, or evidence before filling their second and third year schedules exclusively with international law electives. A student aspiring to be an international human rights litigator should have a solid grounding in US civil rights law, as well as US civil procedure, for example, while the student seeking to engage in international commercial transactions or arbitration should have a solid grounding in US commercial and corporate law.
Lawyers practice international law in any number of settings, including law firms, the general counsel offices of businesses, NGOs, the executive offices of state or federal governments (including but not limited to the foreign ministry), intergovernmental organizations, public/private organizations charged with forms of transnational regulation, and international and national courts. In any of these settings, having a background in the five foundational international law topic areas listed below may prove useful.
Core Courses and Topics
International Law: Students contemplating international practice should take the basic international law survey course as early as possible in their law school career. Those who take it as an 1L elective frequently find that they have a leg up on the competition when applying to highly competitive international law opportunities for their first summer experience, such as a summer externship within an NGO. Students who have had such opportunities also report that this elective deepened the quality of that first summer experience.
International Institutions: Formal inter-governmental institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and international courts and tribunals, are an important dimension of how international rules get made or enforced. Students interested in acquiring depth in this field should consider taking International Trade, or the course (and separate clinic) on international organizations, courses introducing the European Union or specialized topics of EU law, seminars (and colloquia) on global governance, and offerings on international criminal law and courts.
Human Rights: States today face supranational scrutiny with respect to how they treat individuals within their own territories, including their own citizens. Whether this scrutiny occurs in UN bodies, in treaty bodies charged with interpreting global human rights, or in regional human rights courts, international human rights regimes challenge the very conception of “inter-state” law. While the basic human rights course is an ideal introduction to these matters and provides a solid background for those who want to take clinical offerings in the field, students with some prior background in human rights or who face curricular conflicts might consider, as an alternative, more specialized human rights seminars.
International Business Law and Transnational Litigation: A broad international legal education requires exposure to the formation and enforcement of property rights having a transnational dimension, including transnational contracts, as well as the forums for resolving disputes about such rights. Foundation courses within the field of international business law or private international law include international business transactions, conflicts of law, transnational litigation, commercial and investment arbitration, international intellectual property, and international or comparative antitrust.
Foreign and Comparative Law: Students interested in international practice should be exposed to the law of some other country or to a course in comparative law that compares civil law jurisdictions to common law jurisdictions such as the United States. In addition to Introduction to Comparative Law, the law school offers courses introducing the law of other states or regions, such as Chinese law, East Asian legal systems, EU law, or Islamic law. The clinic on constitutional transitions or courses on comparative taxation, comparative antitrust or comparative contract law are other ways to seek comparative law insights. Last, but not least, NYU Law Abroad offers opportunities for in-depth study of the laws or legal traditions in Latin America, Europe, or China.