Marina Aksenova on Comparative Law Methodology

@IE University

The current global context calls for inspirational professors to train lawyers of international renown. Below, we get the opportunity to hear from one of them.

In today’s globalized economic context, future graduates need to prepare for life as effective leaders on the world stage—and it’s the responsibility of institutions of higher education to make sure that happens. At IE University, we work hard to develop dynamic learning approaches to provide talented individuals with the insights and resources to effect lasting change.

In all our law programs, our world-class faculty go beyond the confines of any single legal system to mirror the reality of international law. This high-impact methodology allows students to interact with the current trends, insights, and challenges present in key international legal jurisdictions to develop a wholly global outlook.

Marina Aksenova got her PhD in Law from the European University Institute, before going on the complete a post-doctorate at the University of Copenhagen. She is the founder of the Art and International Justice Initiative (Artij), which aims to “connect academics, artists, legal practitioners policymakers, civil society actors, and others wishing to explore the role of art in the understanding of international justice.”

This background and more has given Marina extensive experience in topics such as Art and International Justice, International Criminal Law, Public International Law, Human Rights Law, Criminal Justice, Conflict of Laws, and International Arbitration.

We spoke with her to discover how she brings these multidisciplinary insights to the classes she teaches at IE University.

What courses do you teach at IE University? (undergraduate & master’s level)

I currently teach two courses, Comparative Criminal Law I and Comparative Criminal Law II.

How do you approach the methodology of comparative law in your course?

I explain meta-concepts to students, such as culpability or defenses. I explain to them that the terminology used by different legal systems and the functions of various concepts are distinct. For instance, “culpability” can be described with terms such as “fault”, “mens rea”, “vina” (Russian), or “culpa” (Italian). Yet the function is the same⁠—to describe the mental state of the offender necessary to attract criminal responsibility.

I use different methodologies: we draw mind maps to exemplify divergence and convergence of various legal systems; students work with their respective criminal codes and then discuss and compare their findings in groups; students are invited to solve practical puzzles using the jurisdiction of their choice. We also have the International Criminal Moot Court simulation for Criminal Law II students, where they have a chance to work with International Criminal Law and actual moot court problems for that respective year.

Comparative law methodology makes the class both more interactive and more fundamental in conceptual terms (as we go beyond terminology). It is also fun as we can see and discover different legal values embedded in different legal systems.

What is, in your opinion, the added value of teaching with the comparative law methodology in an international environment?

IE University provides a natural environment for comparative methodology because students represent various jurisdictions. The selection of jurisdictions is so diverse as to reflect different legal families (e.g. Anglo-Saxon law, Germanic tradition, Scandinavian tradition, etc.). Therefore, it is easy to engage students in comparative law discussions and invite them to explore the meaning behind terminology by talking to their peers.

Comparative law methodology makes the class both more interactive and more fundamental in conceptual terms (as we go beyond terminology). It is also fun as we can see and discover different legal values embedded in different legal systems.

How would you define an IE Law School graduate? And how does the methodology of comparative law contribute to this profile?

An IE Law School graduate is a truly cosmopolitan lawyer. Their mindset is that of a problem-solver and they have been trained to see the bigger picture. An IE Law School graduate is able to grasp the legal issue at hand regardless of the jurisdiction in question and find solutions for this problem. They know where to look for answers and what kind of further advice to seek. An IE Law School graduate does not shun away from complex problem-solving and does it in the most elegant, efficient way.

Marina’s unique and multidisciplinary perspective on law challenges her students to think about the field in a whole new light. It’s through dynamic professors like Marina that IE University is able to prepare young legal professionals to tackle the global legal landscape of today and tomorrow