Spotlight on: International and Comparative Law

Photo used under Creative Commons Licensing, Earth seen from the International Space Station.

“The flow of goods, technology, ideas, capital, and people across borders means that the work of lawyers, whether in private practice or public service, increasingly involves matters in which knowledge of legal systems beyond one’s own can prove important.” — from International and Comparative Law Overview,

HLS Case Studies authors have compiled several case studies that have an international or comparative law component. Continue reading to learn more about these case studies.

The WikiLeaks Incident is a workshop-based case study designed as a background document to set the stage for several hypothetical classroom exercises during which students play the roles of various stakeholders to broaden their understanding of the issues involved. The 2010 WikiLeaks shared leaked U.S. government documents, many of which were classified, resulting in legal maneuvering and tensions between Wikileaks, its critics, and its supporters. This case encourages students to ponder the question: What is the lawfulness and ethics of the actions taken? Students will analyze the government’s reaction to a large amount of classified material being published online, explore ways to respond appropriately to future leaks of sensitive material from the point of view of various stakeholders, and discuss ways in which the Internet as changed whistleblowing activity as well as the legal ramifications of these changes.

This case was developed for an Advanced Problem Solving Workshop in Cyberlaw and Intellectual Property, a second- or third-year elective course taught in the Harvard Law School J.D. program. The case can be taught in four 90-minute class sessions.

Sanctuary Cities asks students to engage in a legislative simulation before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. The subcommittee hears testimony from various groups on a proposed House bill that would cut federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. Students play the roles of majority and minority members of the subcommittee, representatives of various organizations with an interest in the proposed legislation, and correspondents from different media outlets

This simulation could be taught in Immigration Law courses, or seminars and clinical seminars on immigrant rights and advocacy. It could also be used in Legislation and Regulation courses.

“I wanted the students in my immigration law class to engage with the complex legal issues presented by the current debate over sanctuary policies and was eager to facilitate a productive debate.” – Professor Sabrineh Ardalan

Click here to read more on case Professor Ardalan’s comments about this case study.

The Case of the Lead Toys is a workshop-based case study that follows the story of toymaker Mattel that came under fire in 2007 when one of its European retailers found lead paint on some toys manufactured in China. The case asks students to play the role of the General Counsel for Mattel, determine what questions to ask their client, and draft a press release to communicate to the public about the crisis. The problem fits in the general category of avoiding trouble or distributing losses that have already occurred. Students will discuss whether lawyers should advise clients as if they were solely interested in taking maximum advantage of their legal rights or if their advice should encompass the full range of the client’s concerns, engaging the client’s moral compass in deciding whether it is right to pursue a legally-available objective.

This case was developed for the Problem Solving Workshop, a second-semester required course taught in the Harvard Law School first-year J.D. program. It has been used as the introductory case to highlight decisions faced by lawyers working directly for and with clients. The case can be taught in four hours over two sessions.

Ching Pow: Far East Yardies!! is a workshop-based case study based on the story of Jamaican filmmaker and entrepreneur Bruce Hart, who set out to make a low-budget box office hit called “Ching Pow: Far East Yardies!!,” a satirical redubbing of a kung fu movie that appeared to be in the public domain. However, with sponsorship secured and production underway, Hart discovered that there existed a copyright holder to the original film. This case follows Hart’s international quest to find the copyright holder and secure permissions to release his movie. Readers will take the stance of Bruce Hart’s lawyers and parse out the distinctions of derivative and orphan works in intellectual property law, identifying a systematic approach to problem-solving when faced with an unresolved issue.

This case was developed by Professor Charles Nesson for an elective course for the Harvard Law School J.D. program. Educators may want to pair this case study with a discussion of the United States’ unique policy of statutory damages in copyright infringement cases. This case can be taught in two 90-minute sessions.

Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, & Humanitarian Aid (Part A, B1, B2) is a free, 3-part case study that forefronts the 2011 Somalia famine to ground the teaching of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) with a real-world application.

Part A is a workshop-based case study that provides an opportunity for students to examine the potential impacts of U.S. material-support-to-terrorism laws in the context of humanitarian crises, through the lens of the Somalia famine. Participants are primed to problem solve, navigate potentially competing domestic and international law and policy, and make ethical and legal decisions in a high-pressure, complex international crisis. Then, in Parts B1 and B2, students will engage in role play exercises designed to expose the challenges in developing a consensus response among U.S. government agencies to a humanitarian crisis where a terrorist organization perceived as threatening U.S. security interests is involved.

Part B1 is best suited for two class periods spanning 90 minutes each. Part B2 can be taught in one or two class periods spanning 90 minutes each.

“…role-play exercises such as the Somalia Case Study help to contextualize IHL, introduce students to law’s real-world application, and potentially galvanize ideas about legal reform.” – Professor Rebecca Sutton

Check out our 4-part blog series about what students of Professor Rebecca Sutton’s Re-Imagining International Humanitarian Law course at the University of Western Ontario Law School thought about the use of this roleplay in a course on International Humanitarian Law. Read Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Want more? Browse through our 25 case studies that incorporate aspects of international and comparative law on our website.

Click here for more on International and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School and visit the Institute for Global Law and Policy.

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