Should 1Ls take international law?

So asks Duncan Hollis. The answer is No! There is no reason to take international law in your first year. There is no reason to take international law in any year unless you want to work as a lawyer in the State Department or certain obscure precincts of the Justice Department, hope to work for an international organization such as the United Nations or an international NGO with a legal agenda such as Human Rights Watch, or have an academic or intellectual interest in international law and international relations. If you are in any of these categories, wait till your second year. For most law students, who aspire to work in regular law firms, or in prosecutor's offices and other government agencies outside the State Department, the chance that you will encounter the type of issue taught in a public international law course over the course of your career is close to zero. So don't take it at all--unless you think it might be interesting.

Do not confuse public international law and private international law! Private international law, which essentially involves choice-of-law issues, could be useful if you expect to work for a law firm whose clients include corporations that do business across borders. Do not confuse public international land and comparative law! Comparative law, which introduces you to foreign legal systems, could conceivably be useful but probably is not. The types of public international law concepts that might come in handy for a law firm lawyer—such as treaty interpretation—are easily picked up.

Law schools have always offered public international law courses, as they should. These courses have always been poorly attended, which is also how things should be. In recent years, a number of law schools have expanded and highlighted their international law offerings, and have created elective or mandatory international law courses for the first year. These changes do not rest on any coherent theory of pedagogic priorities. They are marketing gimmicks that play off buzzwords like globalization. They do little more than reflect transitory intellectual fashions. They are patronizing efforts to turn you into citizens-of-the-world. If you have time on your hands and want to learn something that might increase your value to future employers, take statistics!