Globalizing the Curriculum Initiative

Here at Pacific McGeorge we have embarked upon a program of integrating international and comparative law issues into all relevant law school courses — what we call the “globalizing the curriculum initiative.” The idea is to ensure that all law school graduates have some exposure to international and comparative law so that they are prepared for practice in an era of increased globalization.

The most visible part of the initiative is the Global Issues book series. These casebook supplements are designed to allow professors to introduce international and comparative law issues into traditionally domestically oriented courses. Currently, Thomson-West has published thirteen books in the series, which cover Civil Procedure, Property, Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, Legal Ethics, Employment Discrimination, Labor Law, Family Law, Tax, and my own title (with Sam Estreicher), Employment Law. The books have already had adoptions at approximately fifty schools. An additional fourteen books are under, or expected to be under, contract.

The more normative question that I’d like to ask is whether this is having an impact. At Pacific McGeorge, almost every student now receives significant exposure to international and comparative law through required courses. Less clear is how this is impacting student understanding and attitudes. We are beginning to collect some data here in-house (based on student evaluation comments). I suspect some readers have introduced international and comparative law issues into traditionally domestic classes, and may have some data on the outcome (even if only anecdotal). If so, I would certainly be interested in hearing from you in comments, and I will make sure that the Global Issues series editor, my colleague Frank Gevurtz, will receive your input.

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9 Responses

  1. I have infused my classes–especially Bankruptcy, though others, as well–with international and comparative perspectives for years in a number of different schools, and much to my surprise (1) I have never EVER been criticized for this by students, even those who seem otherwise ready to pounce on anything not relevant to the bar exam or “real life practice” [that is, in the U.S.] and (2) I once had an evaluation that thanked me profusely for injecting the comparative commentary. This student had been really turned off and depressed by the “work-a-day” presentation of other classes, and the comparative perspective both offered a breath of fresh air and deepened understanding of the U.S. approach (and our analysis of it–how do we evalute when we have nothing to compare with?). I am very pleased that McGeorge is continuing its leading role in advancing this perspective, and my experience suggests that there are many very good reasons to continue to do this. Kudos!

  2. amused says:

    What portion of your alums is dealing with international or comparative law on a regular basis? What portion of your alums was offered a job that routinely involves international or comparative law, but chose not to take it? For those of your alums who turned down such a job: why? (Lack of training; the job doesn’t pay well; it’s too risky career-wise; not interesting, etc.) Break down the answers by subgroups of alums: one year after graduation; five years after graduation; ten years after graduation.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Amused: I’m J.D. class of 1983. Without question, the single most useful law school course for my actual practice was comparative law.

    Within six months of starting my first job at a Wall Street firm, the head of the firm’s Corporate Department asked me to write some “resolutions” for a Netherlands Antilles B.V. that was a sub of a U.S. company. It occurred to me, but not to any of my senior colleagues, that directors’ authority in a B.V. might be a bit different compared to in a Delaware or NY corporation, and that writing appropriate resolutions might be a different kettle of fish from the usual one. (Signature of one “director” can bind the company.) A couple of years later, when I was a third-year, the same senior partner and I were representing a Swedish client on a deal with an American company, and encountered unusual resistance from our client to a boilerplate indemnification provision. After a week of going around in circles on this, I remembered a bit of my comp law course and simply asked the client what he thought the indemnification provision meant. That exposed a (legal) cultural misunderstanding, which it took about 10 minutes to clear up.

    During the next 10 years or so of my career, deals with overseas companies were never the main focus of my career nor of the firms where I worked, but I did represent Dutch and Japanese banks, numerous other Japanese companies doing US deals, Germans doing entertainment deals in the US, and a French-based start-up incorporated in Delaware. I then landed at a Silicon Valley company, where I often wound up negotiating directly with companies in Europe, Japan and Taiwan, sometimes under non-US choice of law provisions.

    The past 10 years or so of my career have been very intensely focused on international deals, both on the business side and in solo law practice, and some occasional lecturing at a university in Beijing. But I would never have had such opportunities if I hadn’t had the basic background to know that other people think about law very differently from the way Americans do.

    Moreover, the old saw about if you want to learn how to speak English better you should study a foreign language also works well for law. Learning new concepts and categories will sharpen your appreciation of those pertinent to US law. And if you can actually read a foreign language — not necessarily something exotic like Mandarin but even a Romance language — new worlds of thinking about politics and economics will also open up to you. (To say nothing of being able to get more fun out of your life and career.)

    BTW, when I took comp law in law school, I never had any idea that it would actually be useful. It just seemed like it might be interesting. In the ensuing years, chance favored the prepared mind. The business world has gotten only more global since then. I think it’s great that schools are taking steps to integrate a comparative perspective more thoroughly into their curriculum.

  4. amused says:

    Sutter: your anecdote is lovely, but I was asking for data. I would hope the McGeorge faculty studied the needs of their students (as proxied by the real lives of their alums) before venturing into the internationalization of their curriculum at the expense of bread-and-butter subjects. I am sure the McGeorge folks didn’t base their curricular reform on a story of one alum of a top-tier school, who started off at a Wall Street firm and proceeded to have a satisfying career abroad. Of course, if most of McGeorge’s alums end up representing Japanese banks and negotiating deals in Europe, as you did, then, comparative perspective is entirely appropriate. That’s why I am waiting for Miriam to give us more details on the lives of their alums.

  5. I’m skeptical of this. It sounds like just another example of the academy acting in its own interest, rather than the interests of its students or of those who ultimately use legal services. (Sort of like a prof who ignores 70 percent of the text in the name of academic freedom.) I suspect that an incredibly small percentage of students, even from a coastal-area school, will ever practice this type of law. If you’re a professor, this is certainly interesting, and it’s a good way to avoid teaching students more mundane topics, but is it really in anyone’s interest to do it? (Sure, it’s easy to say that it is, but that isn’t enough. We need to be more skeptical of these overly-broad claims.) For example, in my own life, I love writing and publishing in law reviews, but I know it won’t benefit my clients, so I make sure I do that on my own time.

  6. Miriam Cherry says:

    Dear amused & Michael,

    I understand a healthy dose of skepticism, and can appreciate where it is coming from. At this point, however, Pacific McGeorge is well-known for its international programs, and from what we hear it is a draw that helps us attract a significant number of students.

    The question I chose to ask was different than a placement question (stats on this are hard to get – many people don’t respond to surveys, at least that is what surveys say :).

    While many of our students do stay in California rather than venture overseas, this has much to do with individual choice. Last year I had a research assistant who spent a summer internship in Africa doing human rights work related to the Rwandan genocide; he’s now working for the State Department. For those who are interested in international law, this is a great place to be.

    This globalization thing happens more often these days than you might think.

  7. amused says:

    This globalization thing happens more often these days than you might think.

    You just told us you have no idea how many of your grads do anything remotely related to international or comparative law. How would you know whether “this globalization thing” (presumably, meaning the lawyers’ exposure to international law) happens more often that I might think?

  8. Miriam Cherry says:

    Dear amused,

    Perhaps I was being rather flippant in my reply. The questionnaire you propose for alumni is an option, although it’s difficult to get people ot answer surveys (or so I am told).

    Do you have an anecdote from your own teaching or practice experience that you would like to share?

    Thanks, Miriam

  9. With all due respect, amused’s comments miss the point and illustrate why we have to be careful about explaining what we’re doing–an important reminder for McGeorge. So many people react, as amused does, to a perception that fluffy globalisation is *supplanting* basic coverage; that is, international and comparative law is being introduced “at the expense of bread-and-butter subjects.” After all, it is an empirical fact that a relatively few lawyers, even from elite schools, will encounter non-U.S. issues on a regular basis.

    This is not the effect or the purpose of *adding* international and comparative (and historical and economic) perspectives, though. As I suggested, and as the McGeorge faculty is doing, our goal is to *infuse* the course with new and useful perspectives from international and comparative sources. This is very much like the movement to infuse professional responsibility exploration throughout every course (for a slightly different purpose, and to a slightly different end, but neither movement intends to replace basic coverage with tangentially related material).

    I agree that it would be a mistake to sacrifice basic coverage of domestic law for discussion of international and comparative law, but what McGeorge seems to be doing SO WELL is to ADD an international and comparative perspetive to basic courses. This is the purpose of the wonderful line of books Prof. Cherry refers to (as well as others on the market). These books are designed to supplement basic corporations, property, civ pro., etc., with a different perspective, to challenge our settled ways of thinking and provide a counterpoint to U.S. practices that either are or might be less than perfectly effective.

    Indeed, the comparative law *course* is designed to do that and only that, too. We don’t fool ourselves into thinking that more than a few people will be practicing “international” law, and virtually no one will practice “comparative law,” but having some knowledge of each is extraordinarily helpful to both practitioners and especially policymakers. The modes of analysis and thought introduced in that course and in the supplemental units introduced by McGeorge faculty into basic courses will enrich understanding of basic domestic issues, much as a study of history enriches our understanding of current affairs.

    So fear not, amused! McGeorge graduates will be even BETTER prepared to address the domestic law concerns they will encounter in practice, as they will bring to bear an ability to think more broadly and creatively based on practices that work (or not) in other places. As Prof. Cherry notes, applicants MUST be choosing McGeorge in part for this reason, and McGeorge’s reputation will clearly benefit from the great press associated with this specialization–a fact that must be attractive to alums in this age of USNews rankings mania. 🙂