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Harvard Law School offers three types of classes in international legal studies: foundational courses, advanced courses and seminars, and ‚Äúcapstone‚ÄĚ 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:

(a) 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

(b) 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; and 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 ‚Äúoutside the box‚ÄĚ 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: (1) The HLS and Cambridge University JD/LLM Joint Degree Program enables students to earn an HLS JD and a Cambridge University LLM in 3.5 years; (2) The HLS-Fletcher School JD/MALD concurrent degree enables students to earn both a JD and a MALD (Masters in Law and Diplomacy) in 4 years; (3) HLS students may also pursue dual degrees involving international studies with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard School of Public Health. 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. So it is, by way of example, that recently, Professor Howell Jackson engaged students to assist on a project concerning international securities law and Professor William Alford enlisted student assistance in his pro bono work concerning disability law issues in China. 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, she 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 his/her 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. He 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, she 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 her 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 she wants 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 her spring 1L semester to get an early start, satisfying our international legal studies requirement with a course that addresses development issues (such as Law and the International Economy or Why Law? Lessons from China?) and perhaps even choosing her elective from among pertinent upper year courses. There is an array of upper year courses from which to choose, depending on Student D’s particular interests, but she 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 her 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 her an opportunity to expand her professional network and deepen her 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 herself with pertinent research programs, join the Law & International Development Society, where she could join (or even lead) teams of students consulting with leading NGOs on international development topics during the academic year and she 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.


Harvard Law School

Harvard Kennedy School

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Fletcher School at Tufts


Joint Degree Programs and Semesters Abroad