International and Comparative Law Program of Study


Reflecting the increased importance of a basic understanding of international and comparative law principles to legal education and practice, every first year J.D. student at HLS is required to take a course in international legal studies. The benefits of such courses are most obvious for students intending to specialize in the international arena, but even individuals who anticipate a career anchored principally in their own nation’s legal system have much to gain from such offerings. The flow of goods, technology, ideas, capital, and people across borders means that the work of lawyers, whether in private practice or public service, increasingly involves matters in which knowledge of legal systems beyond one’s own can prove important. Moreover, exposure to the ways in which others think about law has the potential to enrich how each of us understands what may (or may not) be universal in our own legal system and in the relationship between law and society in general. For instance, many students report that international and comparative courses open up ideas about alternative norms, rules strategies, and institutions that help them better see and understand choices made within the United States.

International legal studies at Harvard are, in many respects, a microcosm of the broader law school curriculum. Taken as a whole, they encompass familiar legal disciplines such as finance and criminal law, legal history and antitrust, among many others, even as they accentuate questions regarding both relations across national boundaries between states, entities and citizens and the transnational transmission of ideas about law. As with the curriculum in general, courses at Harvard in international legal studies embody a spectrum of methodologies, ranging from, but not limited to, empirical legal studies to critical legal theory to socio-legal studies. And, again paralleling the curriculum more generally, international and comparative classes include opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways the skills and professional responsibilities of persons working in the law.

This guide€”including the hypothetical courses of study that follow€”focuses chiefly on curricular offerings in international legal studies, but students should realize that there are many other avenues through which they may learn about international, comparative and foreign law. A number of general courses (i.e., courses not predominantly focused on international and comparative law) in fact devote significant attention to questions of international, comparative and foreign law€”reflecting the growing importance to lawyers and legal thinkers of developments beyond their home jurisdictions.

In addition, beyond the HLS classroom as such, there are multiple opportunities to cultivate expertise regarding international, comparative and foreign law. These opportunities, described in more detail below, include independent study with a faculty member; joint degree programs; the semester abroad program; opportunities for internationally oriented research and internships; moot courts; membership in the Harvard International Law Journal, the Human Rights Journal and other pertinent student organizations; participation in the array of workshops offered by the Law School’s doctoral students or other engagement with the students that HLS draws worldwide from more than 70 different jurisdictions; and work as teaching assistants in international studies offerings at Harvard and other area universities.