On Opinio Juris and the Volokh Conpircay an interesting debate has taken place over the last few days with regard to whether first year US law students ought to choose international law as a subject (Kenneth Anderson lists the latest inputs here). In short, Eric Posner argues that unless you plan to work for an international organisation or simply find international law interesting it is not worth studying and instead students ought to dedicate time to statistics. Is any of this relevant for European law students?
First of all, Posner has a good point; if you plan to put your legal skills to the test in a local small-town law firm, international law is probably not all that relevant in Europe either. Likewise, if you plan to work for a local government or other mainly nationally focused institutions, you might be better off pursuing other topics. However, a few other points are worth making. For some European law students (this is a very gross simplification as legal education does vary significantly across Europe – even post the Bologna Process) international law is not optional but mandatory. This was, for instance, the case when I did my undergraduate studies in Copenhagen. At that time, public international law was even taught as a part of what is roughly equivalent to constitutional law (shock horror). This may have changed by now. Moreover, in some countries, for instance the Scandinavian countries, the law degree is a lengthy affair taking five years where the first three years form the Bachelor, which is made up of a series of compulsory courses, and the last two years form the Masters degree (or LLM), in which students choose from a series of courses (at least that is how it works in Denmark). A fair bit of the courses taken as part of the LLM would touch upon some international legal issues, either private or public, making a basic knowledge of international law an advantage. On the other hand, in the UK, international law remains optional in either the students’ second or third year. Moreover, UK students do not have to do an LLM, and very few choose to, perhaps making the case for international law less clear.
Still, international issues and law would, at least for certain European countries, seem to play an important role in national law, such as for instance the European Convention on Human Rights, making a basic knowledge of international law an advantage regardless of subsequent profession. In addition, the enlarged role which the European Union seems to play as an international actor outside Europe would add weight behind recommendations for European lawyers to study international law. Finally, the initial question of the relevance of international law is in some way answered by European students themselves in that international law (both private and public) would appear to be fairly popular courses. In this regard, one piece of advice would be that students ought to be more critical of certain aspects of international law. In the end, however, the best advice to prospective students would be to choose what they find most interesting, as this make for a more motivated studying, while keeping an eye on employability.
Comments appreciated if you have any thoughts on this.