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International Law 2.0

On his monthly column, ASIL president José E. Alvarez recently wrote about the “Democratization of the Invisible College“. The concept of an Invisible College of International Lawyers was first coined by Oscar Schachter (the late Professor of Columbia University Law School) who saw it as “the active professional community of professors, students, government officials and international civil servants”. According to Alvarez, Schachter’s
“invisible college was simply a group of professionals capable of reaching international consensus precisely because, although each member was, as an individual, deeply enmeshed in the interests of his or her nation state, as a group they shared a common intellectual enterprise and a preoccupation with certain principles of justice.”

Interestingly Alvarez wants to renew this discussion by carrying this idea of an invisible college into the 21st century.

“Given all the venues where international law now gets made, interpreted, or enforced, international law is no longer the exclusive prerogative of a limited number of “statesmen” shuttling between a handful of academic and policy making posts. There are mountains of scholarship attesting to the international legal impact of non-traditional actors (including transnational regulators, quasi-public entities such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), international organizations in full-fledged ‘mission creep,’ as well as NGOs). Many have also addressed the power of transjudicial communications among a growing “international judiciary” and among those dispute settlers and national judges. Yet, there has been less attention paid to how all this activity has affected the sociology of the invisible college.”

What is even more interesting however, is the role Alvarez attributes to the Internet – and the role of International Law Blogs – in the construction of the invisible college of the present.

“But there is a more significant change from 1977 that is dramatically affecting the sociology of our profession: the technological changes bearing the label “Web 2.0.” Today, most international lawyers with daily web access are at least passive web “lurkers.” Most of us are at least consumers, if not producers, of web-based resources that permit active interaction, such as Opinio Juris, International Law Girls, World Trade Law, or OGEMID. Some of us have fashioned our own blogs or regularly contribute international law insights to web sites generally devoted to national law (e.g., Balkanization. The possibility that any of us, at the click of a button, has ready access to legal developments, even while these are occurring, and to practically instantaneous commentary on their significance, is radically altering the invisible college — at least as much as the rise in the sheer numbers of international lawyers.”

According to Alvarez, the invisible college which is perceived this was might not only contain the potential to do good to the active professional community of professors, students, government officials and international civil servants. However, in his mind the development taking place through the influence of the internet (he also mentions wikipedia and youtube) is very likely of democratizing the invisible college. In this sense, keep democratizing!

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