J-Term: Practicing International Law

by Alisha Mathew



The “Practicing International Law” intensive seminar is one of the many J-term classes offered at CLS over the winter break. While the decision to return to the Law School a week earlier than the rest of the cohort may seem a bit crazy, this intensive seminar was one of my favourite classes (so far) and was every bit worth the early return.


The seminar centred on the law of the sea and ran over the course of four days. The defining aspect of the seminar was that it focused on the practical application of the law, so we really hit the ground running in terms of applying the readings to real-life situations. Each day typically began with a re-cap of the readings that we had done the previous evening, which really helped to consolidate the material. In the afternoon, we would then be presented with a factual scenario, broken up into teams, and asked to apply what we had learned to resolve the issues presented in the scenario. Though this initially seemed like a huge task (given that most of us had little background in law of the sea), Professors Waxman and Harris did a great job of prompting us in the right direction and helping us to realise just how much material we had absorbed in a short time frame. The factual scenarios were particularly interesting given their real-life likeness, including issues of planning freedom of operations exercises, resolving maritime boundary disputes, and defining maritime entitlements. The strong focus on learning the law through applying it in practical scenarios was really a unique way of running a law school class, and one that I found to be hugely interesting and effective. 


Apart from the way in which the course was conducted, the other major highlight of the intensive class for me was the attendance of guest lectures. Professors Waxman and Harris organised for practitioners from diverse perspectives —including lawyers from the State Department, the Israeli government, and private counsel with a practice in international law—to attend different classes. The opportunity to learn from such established international lawyers was really invaluable, as they were able not only to further our understanding of the substantive legal issues in law of the sea, but also to shed light on some of the strategic political and international relations considerations that form part of this dynamic area of law. It was really eye-opening to hear about their experiences working in this somewhat shrouded area of law, and each of the practitioners were incredibly generous with their time in answering all of our questions. 


All in all, this course was really unique, interesting and dynamic. It was clear that Professors Waxman and Harris had put a lot of thought and effort into structuring the class, which really allowed us to get the most out of the four days. We even had an evening social event and lunch provided most days—which definitely helped sweeten the deal! Overall, I learned a lot not just about the law of the sea, but also about the practice of international law generally. I would really encourage all law students with an interest in international law to take advantage of this class.



Alisha is an LL.M student from Australia. Before coming to Columbia Law School she practiced in corporate law at Herbert Smith Freehills in Sydney, and worked as a judicial clerk for the New South Wales Land and Environment Court.