I challenge international law scholars to write about the unpopular, the weird, the old, the outside, the unexpected, the obscurities buried in ancient tombs, and the unsafe topics that do not make headline news. – -Lyonette Louis-Jacques, 1 CJIL 108 (2000).
The very first issue of the Chicago Journal of International Law featured articles on “What’s Wrong with International Law Scholarship?”. In my piece therein on “Gaps in International Legal Literature,” I bemoaned the prevalence of the expected and the mainstream and challenged scholars to look for difference, to leave the beaten path, and find gaps that can be filled.
Usually in the quest to find an international law topic to write about, we look for unresolved or unsettled areas of law. Jurisdictional conflicts. Pending or recent international cases. New treaties or international agreements. New courts. Or we do original research. We look through primary documents. We look back historically. We do empirical studies. We scrape data. We think we’re contributing something novel to the literature, but is our perspective still new? No.
We’re still using the same types of resources to generate new ideas, to uncover new topics to write about. So I think we need a different, additional step. Pick a topic, and then change the geography. If it’s about an international issue in Europe, make it Africa. And see what happens. Subvert something.
In the next section, I’ll summarize the usual steps and standard sources for finding an international law topic to write about, and suggest alternatives.
What you choose to write about depends on your personal interests. You can also be influenced by local actors. People and events at your institution. You can be influenced by international law-related conferences, symposia, and workshops attended. Local events. International ones. Is there a major international law event to commemorate? For example, the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg war crimes trials is coming up. You can use that as an opportunity for a new take on the scholarship related to the influence of Nuremberg.
You can also identify new topics by checking international law blogs for current scholarship, commentary on new cases, new treaties, and other international legal developments. Top international law “blawgs” include: Opinio Juris, EJIL Talk!, International Law Prof, International Economic Law and Policy Blog, LawFare, JustSecurity, IntLawGrrls, Human Rights At Home, KluwerArbitration Blog, EricPosner.com. The International Law Observer has links to international law news in other blogs.
You can look through Oxford’s “Scholarly Guide to International Affairs” – their Mapping the Debate in Oxford Public International Law and their Public International Law News. ASIL Insights, International Law in Brief, ASIL Proceedings (also in Westlaw & Lexis), and ASIL’s YouTube Channel are some of the American Society of International Law resources you can use. Check the “Current Awareness/Developments” sections of the Electronic Resource Guide for International Law (ASIL ERG) . You can check the Annual Survey of International and Comparative Law. The International Lawyer has an “International Legal Developments: The Year in Review” section. You can use a search engine for law firm international legal news stories.
You can also check Bloomberg BNA topical e-newsletters and look for “Hot Topics”, “Top Headlines”, “Latest International…News”. See also:
- Law360: International Trade
- Law.com (“international law”, “The Global Lawyer”)
- JURIST (World Legal News)
- Practical Law: International Arbitration
- Global Legal Monitor (Law Library of Congress)
- Mondaq (Primary Topic: International Law)
- International Arbitration – Mealey’s Litigation Report
- Transnational Dispute Management (TDM)
- International Enforcement Law Reporter
- World Trade Law.net)
- War Crimes Prosecution Watch
- Lexology (global legal news)
The Peace Palace Library has several current awareness services that help with finding new topics, locating gaps in international law:
International law scholars rely on major newspapers, wires, and magazines to spot possible topics to write about. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Slate (see Eric Posner articles), etc., are frequently cited.
National & International Bodies
The United Nations is one of the best news sources. Check its website for the News Centre, Global Issues, Human Rights, International Law. Check its international law bodies such as the Sixth Committee, the International Law Commission, and UNCITRAL. Check the websites of other inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) such as EU, Council of Europe, World Bank, WTO, IMF, WHO, OAS, OECD, ASEAN, AU.
Check the websites of non-government organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (International Justice), Human Rights First, Lawyers Collective, etc. Look for IGOs & NGOs related to topics in your areas of international law interest. Check international law societies/associations: ABA (International Human Rights e-Brief, International Law News), ILA, IBA, ASIL, ESIL, Max Planck. Look for national government agencies, courts, and legislatures and their international law activities.
You can monitor and search the websites of international courts, tribunals, arbitral bodies (ICJ, ICC, ICTY, ICTR, ICSID, ITLOS, Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, ICJ, PCA, ECHR, IACHR, etc.). Look for “Pending Cases”, instances of shared jurisdiction. You can use Oxford Reports in International Law to identify new cases to comment on. The International Justice Resource Center has information on international courts and human rights monitoring bodies. Domestically (in the U.S.), you can use the U.S. Law Week Supreme Court Today Navigator and filter by Primary Topic “International Law” or “International Trade” to locate pending cases.
Besides blog and conference papers, you’ll find new international law scholarship that might identify gaps or issues to be researched in working papers and new journal literature. The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) has many topical/subject eJournals to which you can subscribe or search. There is also bepress, and SmartCILP (customized journal table of contents). To monitor new scholarship, you can also use the International Law Reporter: Scholarship, Events, Ideas.
These are fairly well-beaten paths to finding international law topics to write about. And the likelihood is that the novel topic is not really all that new. Write about something that’s difficult to research, and that’s out of your comfort zone. Follow international law bodies, scholars, etc. on Twitter you disagree with, who make you feel uncomfortable. Do likewise with email newsletters, e-alerts, listservs, and RSS feeds. Start with TWAIL scholars (Third World Approaches to International Law) like James Gathii and Jerusa Ali. Start with @twailgrrl.
Yes, there are still gaps in international law scholarship. I challenge y’all to fill them.