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Reflecting the increased importance of a basic understanding of international and comparative law principles to legal education and practice, every J.D. student at HLS is required to take a course that satisfies the International and Comparative Law Course Requirement. 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.

Academic Offerings

For the latest academic year offerings in International and Comparative Law, please visit the HLS Course Catalog.

Harvard Law School offers three types of classes in international legal studies: foundational courses, advanced courses and seminars, and “capstone” seminars. Although we do not rigidly classify courses and there is no uniform format for any class, the foundational international legal studies classes generally are intended to introduce students to:

  • the history, internal rationale, basic institutions, and processes of norm creation and of norm interpretation of a legal system (national or international) other than that of the United States, and
  • the movement of ideas about law across national borders, be it by the actions of a court, the work of officials, businesspersons and non-governmental actors or the writings of scholars, and through this, how assumptions about law, the state, regulation, the individual and the interplay of modes of social control may (or may not) vary across time and place.

Some foundational courses available include:

  • Human Rights
  • Comparative Constitutional Law
  • Legal History:  English Legal History
  • Regulation of International Finance.

The choice among them is likely to be less important, especially for the non-specialist, than the decision to take something in this area.

For students interested in academia, the International Law Workshop provides the opportunity to undertake rigorous analysis of international legal scholarship.

Even for students wishing to specialize in international legal studies, there is no single prescribed path, given the richness of our curriculum and the enormous diversity of student interests. Indeed, we would counsel students to think “outside the box” in putting together their curricular choices.

Dual Degree and Study Abroad Opportunities

Harvard offers three types of dual degree programs pertinent to students with international interests:

In addition to the Cambridge program, Harvard Law students may apply to spend a JD semester in a law program abroad.

Independent Research Opportunities

As the faculty’s research interests increasingly involve international, comparative and foreign law issues, the number of opportunities to involve students in such projects has increased. Law School doctoral students include former Supreme Court clerks, law faculty and other leading young lawyers from a host of jurisdictions. Semester or year-long workshops offered in recent years concerned topics including legal education, law and development, comparative criminal law, the normative basis of law-and-economics, and gender and development. Although these workshops may not be offered for credit, JD and LLM students can do independent study papers with faculty in conjunction with them and receive writing credit.

Academic Careers

Students who wish to pursue academic careers in this area should think about combining the course work discussed above with opportunities for significant research and writing

Sample Courses of Study

  • International Trade

    Student A hopes to work in international trade. Beyond the Law School’s offerings in trade, they might, inter alia, consider selecting from among classes on public international law, international finance, international intellectual property, law and development, globalization, administrative law (considering the importance of ad law to the securing of trade remedies in the US), the European Union (both because of its prominence in the WTO and for the example it provides of a cross border economic entity), Chinese law, Japanese law, and the internationally focused legal research class. Student A may also want to consider courses offered at HKS, HBS, and Fletcher, the semester abroad program in Geneva, a summer or winter term placement with a pertinent international organization, governmental agency or NGO.

  • Human Rights

    Student B intends to work in human rights. In addition to specialized courses in human rights (including our rich array of clinical offerings), one could imagine such a student selecting from a broad range of other courses, depending upon their specific interests. At the Law School, these might include public international law (to understand the background within which international human rights agreements are situated), trade (given proposals that trade sanctions be used to promote greater compliance with international human rights), the law of foreign relations, immigration law, multi-culturalism, comparative constitutional law, or international criminal justice, not for profit organizations, an area specific course, such as Chinese, European or Islamic law (to understand how rights are viewed and enforced in different national settings) and the internationally focused legal research class. They might also consider taking a course at the Kennedy School, FAS Department of Government, or the Fletcher School. Student B might also want to involve himself with the Law School’s active Human Rights Program, spend a summer with a fellowship (preferably after having done some pertinent coursework) or a semester abroad (studying human rights) and work with a pertinent student organization or journal.

  • International Corporate Practice

    Student C envisions a career in international corporate practice, situated principally in the US. In addition to taking classes in corporate law, taxation, and international finance, they might well consider taking classes regarding the EU, Japan, China or comparative law more generally (to better understand different models of corporate governance and potential cross border issues), international tax, conflicts, international litigation/arbitration (if for no other reason than to understand problems to be avoided), law and development (given the increasing presence of developing nations in major capital markets), and the internationally focused legal research class. Such a student might also consider taking course offerings at HBS, a summer work experience outside the US, and the HLS-Cambridge University joint degree program (which would expose them to European thinking about corporate law and be an avenue for earning a graduate degree in law from a non-US institution of distinction).

  • International Development

    Student D aspires to a career in international development, and is debating whether they want to be based in the US or abroad. Development is a capacious term and one could imagine a variety of different emphases, some more thematically focused (be it on institutional design, core rights, or economic growth) and others more geographically focused or some blend thereof. Student D might consider using their spring 1L semester to get an early start, satisfying our international and comparative law course requirement with a course that addresses development issues (such as Law and the International Economy or Why Law? Lessons from China?). There is an array of upper-level courses from which to choose, depending on Student D’s particular interests, but they may be well advised to choose a broad cross section of classes from among, but not limited to, the following: Law and Development; Global Governance; Law and Economics; Community Action for Social and Economic Rights; Crisis, Globalization and Economics, International Finance; International Trade; The Legal Architecture of Globalization: The History and Institutional Development of Money and Finance; The International Law Workshop; Gender in Post Colonial Legal Orders; and Poverty, Rights and Development. During their 2L and 3L year, Student D might want to take advantage of HLS’ flexible cross-registration policy by choosing courses at HKS, FAS, Harvard Business School, or the Fletcher School. Cross-registration would offer them an opportunity to expand their professional network and deepen their understanding of the non-legal aspects of development in her chosen area of geographic or topical (e.g. finance, public health, or global governance) specialization. In addition, Student D might think of applying for HLS travel funding to do clinical work, internships and research projects abroad during winter terms and/or the summers. Student D might familiarize themselves with pertinent research programs, join the Law & International Development Society, where they could join (or even lead) teams of students consulting with leading NGOs on international development topics during the academic year and they might well want to take advantage of the fact that our students come from more than 75 nations and our graduates (including many who work in development) span the globe.

Fellowship and Research Funding Opportunities