The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Sept. 17, 2002

UI College of Law Ranks High in National Study of Comparative Law Programs

The University of Iowa College of Law's comparative law program was recently ranked as one of the top 15 in the nation in a study by a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a report published this year in a special supplemental issue of the American Journal of Comparative Law, Berkeley law professor Ugo Mattei ranked U.S. law schools on how well they provide students with opportunities to study comparative law, a discipline that examines differences in legal systems between countries. John Reitz (left), a professor in the college of law and associate dean for international and comparative law programs, said UI scored high in the study for the large number of faculty with comparative and international law backgrounds, numerous visiting faculty from other countries, a library well-stocked with books and periodicals about comparative law—including very strong collections in the primary language for French, German and Mexican law—and, by comparison with most other schools, a substantial opportunity to take comparative law courses.

The UI College of Law was one of the few that received excellent marks in the study. Others to finish in the first group of 15 include such schools as Tulane, Columbia, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana State, Georgetown, Harvard, Duke, Washington University at St. Louis, Cornell, New York University, Yale, University of California at Berkeley and Hawaii.

The UI law school was also noted as being one of only a handful of law schools in the country with at least one full-time professor of comparative law on the faculty. Iowa has two professors who devote themselves primarily to comparative law study and teaching; Reitz and Adrien Wing. Several other professors, including Enrique Carrasco, Marc Linder, Mark Osiel and Mark Sidel, have done substantial work involving other legal systems.

Reitz said about 20 students take the introductory comparative law class each fall at the College of Law; generally, about a quarter of them are foreign-trained lawyers working in their home countries and taking classes through the College of Law's Master of Law (LLM) program. At least four or five other courses contain a significant amount of foreign and comparative law content each year. Such courses have included comparative constitutional law, family law in the world community, European Union law, law in the Muslim world, cultural property, philanthropy and the law in American and comparative perspective, social justice, and comparative criminal law. In addition, Reitz pointed to the courses offered in the college's summer program at Arcachon, France, and its spring semester in London. A new exchange program with Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany, gives students further opportunities for comparative study.

"The richness of these offerings is enormously benefited by the large number of distinguished foreign visitors who come regularly to teach our students," Reitz said. Recent examples include Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, British barrister Andrew Wyeth, and Austrian Alexander Somek, as well as summer foreign visitors from Russia, England, New Zealand and Austria.

Reitz said the teaching and study of comparative law is becoming increasingly important in an age of economic, social, cultural and political globalization.

"Serious legal scholars are looking more and more at the international aspects of their work, even if they're not internationalists," he said. "People need to be much more aware of other countries and their legal systems' effects on their own domestic life. For instance, even a little Iowa agribusiness might sell seeds internationally, so it needs to know what legal systems are like in Argentina or Belgium or other countries where its customers are located."

The teaching of comparative and international law has a long history at the UI College of Law, dating back to its founding in 1866. The college's first dean was interested in Roman law and in the Roman law basis of the modern civil law tradition. He had a large personal library of nineteenth century French and German writing about those subjects, which after his death were donated to the UI law library, where they became the heart of the comparative law library (they are still in the library's rare books room today).

In Mattei's article, he praises law schools like UI that make comparative law a priority while bemoaning the fact that so few U.S. law schools have comparative law studies programs. He contends such lack of access to comparative law study breeds parochialism in U.S.-trained lawyers, which has been strengthened by U.S. hegemony in the world. But political and cultural hegemony is a fragile thing, and he contends those lawyers trained at schools with excellent comparative law programs will have a broader view of the law and a greater understanding of international legal issues that will better enable them to cope with a changing world.