International Law Practice Lab

The International Law Practice Lab represents the most innovative aspect of Vanderbilt's International Legal Studies Program. It allows students to participate in demanding, richly rewarding projects through which they are exposed to cutting-edge questions in international law and learn essential lawyering skills.

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 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.

Charlie Trumbull with Joe Biden“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.


Jason Hutchison, Class of 2007"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.



Supporting Human Rights Initiatives in Eastern Ukraine

International Practice Lab students Jordan Banks, Shawn Kallilian and Pamela Onyekaba drafted a memo detailing the best practices for collecting and compiling information related to human rights violations inside Eastern Ukraine for the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights. The memo supported ongoing human rights initiatives in Ukraine. As a result of the memo, the United Nations Development Program in Kiev invited Professor Michael Newton to participate in the ongoing program to aid civil society leaders in identifying, investigating, and reporting human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. During the Spring 2015 semester, students in the International Law Practice Lab are providing legal analysis to assist the defense team in the high-profile criminal case involving Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, who is currently being held in a civilian prison in Moscow.

December 2013: International Practice Lab students Joseph Williams '14 (BA'09) and Stella Yarbrough '14 (MTS'14) conducted a human rights review of the Syrian Penal Code and delivered recommendations for reform focusing on punishment, procedure, protection and partiality .

"Practice Lab students have supported ongoing judicial system reforms in Peru with various projects, including an amicus brief filed in the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights ," Newton said. "Peru is facing a wave of difficult human rights cases as a result of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorism of the 1990s, and its government is also in the midst of reforming the country's criminal code to move toward an adversarial model. We've been asked to work with the Peruvian courts to develop a broader outreach and education program for lower level judges, and I'll visit the Supreme Court again in fall 2013."

September 2011: Students in Professor Michael Newton's International Law Practice Lab completed an analysis of issues surrounding the political/legal dynamic of the trials that are continuing in the Extraordinary Chambers in Cambodia , commonly known as the "Khmer Rouge Tribunal." The tribunal is prosecuting senior Khmer Rouge leaders allegedly responsible for serious violations of Cambodian penal law, including the Killing Fields in Cambodia from 1975-79. The students' analysis formed the basis for a report issued by the International Bar Association , which has been circulated worldwide. Practice Lab students who worked on the report during summer 2011 are A.J. Gochenaur '11, Oluwafunmito Phillips Seton '12 and Valerie Han Wang LL.M '11.