Making It Real: Hosting an International Law Speaker Series in the Legal Writing (or Any Law School) Classroom

Vol. 43 No. 2


Diane Penneys Edelman is a professor of Legal Writing and the director of International Programs at Villanova University School of Law. She is co-chair of the SIL International Legal Education and Specialist Certification Committee. She regularly integrates international law issues into her legal writing courses and has spoken on this topic at regional, national, and international conferences.

Breaking the Traditional Classroom Mold

When we think of the traditional law school course, certain characteristics come to mind—the Socratic method, chains of hypotheticals, problem-solving, drafting of memoranda and briefs, and the like. Regardless of which teaching techniques we use or projects we assign, the typical law student—especially, but not only, the first-year law student—wonders: how does what I am doing in the classroom relate to my career? How will it help me to get a job? How can I figure out what I want to do after law school?

Students learn the answers to these questions in a number of ways. Some come to law school with set ideas of becoming trial lawyers or public interest lawyers. Some do not yet have specific practice interests and explore a wide range of possibilities in and outside of class to ascertain what most interests them. Just as law students differ in this way, law school courses seek to impart subject matter knowledge and practical skills in different respects. Some law school courses are very practice-oriented—take, for example, legal research and writing, trial advocacy, and clinical courses. Others, such as those introducing legal theory and reasoning, a broad array of subject matter, and in-depth legal research, impart skills crucial to successful lawyering. But typically, only clinical courses introduce students to the practice of a particular area of law in a consistent way, a way that permeates the course from start to finish.

In this difficult economy, with law school enrollments down and students more concerned than ever about finding their first jobs, the introduction of guest speakers can play a significant role in both inspiring and reassuring law students and in offering them opportunities to network as well. Although law schools have always offered students ample opportunity to hear guest speakers as part of law school life, bringing speakers into the classroom on a regular basis builds a deeper connection between students and practitioners and opens doors in a different way than attendance at a schoolwide lecture and a question-and-answer session can do. And for those of us who want to inspire students to consider the relevance of international law to their future law practices, a speaker series that is part of a required first-year course may be the perfect means of doing so.

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