Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Harlan G. Cohen

First Page



What role do lawyers, as lawyers, play in the creation, development, and maintenance of the international legal order? This is an oddly underexplored question. It has become increasingly popular to look at the role various non-state actors--nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), grassroots activists, scientists, insurgent groups, among many others--play in the shaping of international law. It has also become common to talk in terms of the "disaggregated state," and of how various substate actors--central bankers, regulators, judges, and military personnel--shape international law and policy through their interactions with each other. Nor have international lawyers ever been particularly shy about their importance to international law. Oscar Schacter famously described "the professional community of international lawyers ... though dispersed throughout the world and engaged in diverse occupations" as "a kind of invisible college dedicated to a common intellectual enterprise." Martti Koskenniemi has written that "[w]ithout international lawyers, there would have been no international law." The Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) even recognizes the "teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law." And yet, few have focused on the specific and unique role lawyers might play as state, non-state, and substate actors in the international system.