The Practice Lab also prepares students to participate in the externships available through the International Legal Studies Program. The lab's weekly meetings emphasize the interrelationship between legal theory and practice. For example, students learn the psychology of treaty negotiations and then apply those insights during in-class negotiations using actual treaty proposals. While international legal principles and practice serve as the primary teaching vehicle, Practice Lab graduates develop a range of concrete skills that benefit them in other legal disciplines such as litigation, arbitration, or international business practice.
Students work in groups on high-profile legal projects and serve the needs of real-world clients. Past clients include international organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program, non-governmental human rights organizations, other governments, and branches of the U.S. government, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. Students have provided support to ongoing treaty negotiations and helped shape pending legislation in foreign countries. Other recent projects have included providing support to the UNODC Human Trafficking Guide, Iraqi High Tribunal, the Law Library of Congress, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, and the Sierra Leone Special Court. In some cases, students have continued to work as externs for clients which they first encountered while participating in the Practice Lab.
Although the substance of most Practice Lab projects is protected by attorney-client privilege, some projects are tied to reports that are subsequently published. Our report on the Burmese government in exile, "Seeking Justice for Burma: A Case for Revoking the Credentials of the SPDC," was widely circulated around United Nations channels during the 63rd General Assembly session. In addition, Vanderbilt students contributed to a human rights report on behalf of the European Union that was compiled and published by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.
Many Practice Lab projects provide background information and analysis in support of legislative efforts both within the U.S. Congress and overseas. In 2010, Vanderbilt students helped to research and draft a comprehensive report that urged legislative action to aid Iraqi civilians who assisted coalition forces. Section 1236 of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 implemented a key recommendation of the Lab project by requiring a Report to Congress during the first quarter of 2011 as well as a plan “to expedite” the processing of asylum claims on behalf of endangered Iraqi civilians and their families.
For more information about the Practice Lab, contact Professor Michael Newton.
“In Professor Newton's class, I worked on a project for the Iraqi High Court, determining whether the court would have jurisdiction over the commission of certain crimes. That project required us to look at the Iraqi High Court statute and at case law from the International Crime Tribunal for Yugoslavia and the International Crime Tribunal for Rwanda. For our second project, we helped a client in Europe analyze how Shari'a impacts the protection of human rights. We looked at the role of the Shari'a in a number of countries' legal systems, the laws in those countries that protect human rights, the treaties they've signed that guarantee protection for human rights, and whether the country has respected those treaties. The international law lab is useful for anyone who wants to practice international law, and it's a unique experience to work with a professor who's had as much actual work experience as Prof. Newton. You get a slightly different perspective, due to number of years he's actually spent drafting treaties and serving as a diplomat.”
- Charlie Trumbull, Class of 2006, with Vice President Joe Biden. Charlie served for a year as a Deputy Legal Adviser for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and is now based in the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser in Washington, D.C.
"Applying your knowledge in a lab setting, where your mistakes become teaching points and your briefs become the next day's newspaper headlines, is something special."
- Jason Hutchison, Class of 2007 After graduating, Jason joined the U.S. Foreign Service, first based at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, The Philippines, and currently in Kigali, Rwanda.