Friday, October 26, 2007

Study of International Law

For many people, including lawyers, international law is a nebulous concept. They really view it as something 'somewhere there' and really not applicable to their daily lives, especially because let us face it, most US lawyers do not get the opportunity or even a chance to practice international law. I am not even talking about lay people. This is also because understanding of international law begins from studying international relations and political science. International law is very policy-based and politics driven, more so than many domestic laws.

But the Internet and technological advancements have made it clear that international law affects everyone in myriads of ways on a daily basis. Beginning with your travel passports and ending with you clicking on 'I Accept' button on a website to purchase something, whether you know it or not the international law is at play. Therefore, even for those lawyers who do not really practice international law, it is crucial to know the fundamentals.

Regrettably, not all law students focus on international law while at law school. Since the Bar exam does not test on it, they do not take a basic course in it. I would really suggest that the California Bar add a subject on an essay portion-- International Law. I am planning to write a letter to them.

Most importantly, in the US the law students do not get the same exposure to international law as students in Europe. I had the fortune to lecture Russian law students from the Moscow State University. I was amazed with their comprehension of quite complex international law concepts. Moreover, as I spoke to them, they told me that they regularly visit various International Courts as part of their law school studies. Isn't that awesome? We, students in the USA, were deprived of those opportunities, because of traveling costs and closed gates. It is so much cheaper to travel to Europe from Russia. Plus, the Universities there subsidize much of these costs for students.

I believe, by virtue of our geographic distance from Europe, the center of International law making, we in the US have to work harder in getting closer to international law. It is very unfortunate. While the quality of our lawyers is really high because of intense competitiveness of the legal profession, most lawyers in the US end up generally not knowledgeable in international law issues. Moreover, they are not even interested in it.

That is a gap for our law schools and academics to fill. In the future I would love to participate in that process. For now, for the beginners in international law, here is the first class. What are the sources of international law? Where do we go to find that nebulous 'international law' on a subject?

Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice has the response (here):

a. international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states;

b. international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;

c. the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;

d. ... judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law.

This is the hierarchy of the sources for international law from the highest to lowest. How to approach each source, stay tuned for future lessons. But please, remember, international law is tangible and very live... It is perhaps the beginning of all law...

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