Why international law should be part of every law grad’s education

Par Erika Schneidereit juin 28, 201828 juin 2018

Why international law should be part of every law grad’s education


The curriculum of law schools across the country is designed with this question in mind. While some fundamental courses (contracts, criminal law, and torts) are perennial staples of Canadian legal curricula, subjects like international law are notably absent from the program requirements. But are new law graduates at a disadvantage without a faculty-mandated understanding of international law? Or should Canadian law schools focus on equipping their students with more “traditional” tools of the trade?

Few law schools in Canada deem international law worthy of “required course” status. Of the 19 Canadian law schools offering common law programs, only four (the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, University of Windsor, and Université de Montréal) require students to receive some form of international legal education.

The content of these requirements varies – the University of British Columbia requires a specific course on “Transnational Law,” which introduces first-year students to the basic concepts of public and private international law. In contrast, the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor allow students to choose a course from a selection of international, comparative or transnational law options. Still, the vast majority of Canadian law schools — 79 per cent of them — do not consider international law to be a necessary element of a legal education and impose no international law requirement on students.

Why does this matter? Regardless of area or type of practice, law graduates receiving their diplomas in 2018 face a domestic legal environment that is increasingly intertwined with international law. In the public international law sphere, Canada’s expanding portfolio of international trade and investment agreements poses new legal challenges for both domestic businesses and foreign investors seeking to establish a presence in a new market. Canadian companies and other entities, operating at home and abroad, may also be subject to international conventions ratified by Canada. Lawyers who are unaware of the international legal dimensions of a client’s file are at a disadvantage in helping clients understand their international legal rights and obligations.

In matters of private international law, the ease of cross-border travel and the borderless nature of the internet have led to unique jurisdictional challenges for legal practitioners. This is particularly relevant to Canadians carrying on business operations in foreign jurisdictions. In family matters cross-border custody disputes are on the rise.

The need for lawyers to understand legal issues about cross-border disputes is all the more important in Canada, a country where two-thirds of the population live within 100 kilometres of an international border.

Of course, law schools must equip their students with the fundamentals. But they must also strive to be innovative and respond to changes in the field. While many students see program requirements as little more than stepping stones to graduation, requisite courses also represent the tools a law faculty believes its graduates need to tackle contemporary legal challenges. The domestic legal marketplace has become increasingly infused with international law. The next generation of lawyers must be ready to respond accordingly.

Erika Schneidereit is an articling student with the Department of Justice. The author's views are her and do not represent the views or the positions of the Department of Justice or those of the Government of Canada. The author's views are her own.

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