Introduction to HKU Law Series (VI) Dr Massimo Fabio Lando

Dr. Lando’s academic journey began with a law degree from the University of Milan, followed by a Master’s and PhD at the University of Cambridge, where he benefited from outstanding research mentors. He then transitioned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as an associate legal officer. The ICJ fostered a dynamic and intellectually stimulating atmosphere, with many colleagues holding PhDs and actively participating in academic discussions. Upon leaving the ICJ, Dr. Lando accepted his first academic role at the City University of Hong Kong before eventually joining the HKU Law Faculty in 2023.

In our conversation with Dr. Lando, he highlighted several factors that led him to join HKU Law. Firstly, he was drawn to the institution’s esteemed reputation in both teaching and research. Secondly, he wished to extend his stay in Hong Kong, and HKU provided the ideal opportunity. Notably, the university’s intellectual environment, which focuses on areas closely aligned with his research interests, was a key attraction. In addition, HKU’s flexibility in organizing teaching schedules and allocating time for research was particularly appealing.

Dr. Lando shared that his experience at HKU has been highly positive, appreciating the support from both colleagues and the leadership team. He emphasized the importance of encouragement from senior members in an academic institution, as it fosters a nurturing environment for young scholars with promising ideas, often overlooked due to the focus on critique and improvement.

Dr. Lando observed that HKU students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, exhibit a high level of engagement and critical thinking. Unlike students from other universities he has encountered, HKU students actively question and analyze the material, often returning with inquiries and alternative interpretations. This interaction challenges Dr. Lando and contributes to his growth as a teacher. 

In order to have a successful LLM application, Dr. Lando underscores the importance of a high GPA and carefully selecting the right program. He acknowledges the pressure students face in achieving good grades, but meeting the GPA requirement is crucial for admission. Additionally, he advises treating a master’s degree as an investment in time, money, and future career. Choosing a reputable university is essential, rather than accepting any offer. If necessary, he recommends taking a year to improve one’s profile or gain practical experience to secure a place in a prestigious LLM program, ensuring a more valuable outcome.

Dr. Lando’s research primarily focuses on three areas: the law of the sea, international dispute settlement, and sources of international law. His interest in these fields evolved from his early publications, PhD, and experience at the ICJ. Currently, he is exploring the identification and formation of customary international law. Driven by curiosity and a passion for learning, he finds satisfaction in completing research projects despite initial challenges in choosing a topic and navigating the process.

Research comes with challenges, and for Dr. Lando, the most difficult aspect is refining arguments in his work. While identifying topics may be straightforward, perfecting arguments can be tough and may require a more focused, ambitious, or broader approach. Publication rejections often result from underdeveloped arguments. Contrary to the belief that all international law topics are exhausted, Dr. Lando maintains that new perspectives and global challenges like technological advancements, climate change, and sea level rise continue to present fresh problems and research opportunities within existing fields.

Dr. Lando also discusses the future of his three research areas. In law of the sea, the most exciting developments involve climate change-induced sea level rise and its implications for maritime boundaries and state rights and duties. The newly adopted BBNJ treaty is also significant. In international dispute settlement, Dr. Lando is currently working on a project examining standards of review, such as reasonableness, proportionality, and due diligence, and their application in real cases. The project aims to bring together different international courts and tribunals’ approaches to these standards, resulting in a collection of essays. Lastly, sources of international law are experiencing exciting developments, including the International Law Commission’s study on general principles and the emerging debate on the interpretability of customary rules of international law. Dr. Lando appreciates the academic exchange and diverse perspectives on this topic, despite his skepticism about the feasibility of interpreting customary rules.

We inquired about the articles Dr. Lando has been working on, and he provided two. The first, which is forthcoming in the Modern Law Review, concerns the English foreign act of state doctrine and was inspired by the UK Supreme Court’s 2021 judgment in the Venezuelan gold case. This case involved competing claims to the government of Venezuela and access to gold reserves in the Bank of England. The court had to decide if the UK could judge the acts of a foreign sovereign state on its own territory. Dr. Lando’s article aims to streamline and clarify the foreign act of state doctrine by borrowing an analytical framework from legal philosophy, distinguishing between constitutive elements of a rule and external exceptions to it.

The second article examines the approach of international courts and tribunals to selecting evidence of state practice and opinio juris to identify rules of customary international law. According to the two-element theory, a customary international law rule requires both state conduct and a conviction that the conduct is required by international law. Dr. Lando’s research uses a more empirical approach, examining decisions of international courts and tribunals that employ inductive reasoning to determine the existence of customary rules. He categorizes the evidence by type and origin, shedding light on the specific sources and states that have contributed to the development of customary international law. The added value of this paper lies in its empirical work, which confirms existing knowledge while providing new insights through an innovative methodological approach.

Dr. Lando also shares with us his experience of doing research, emphasizing that a promising academic proposal should be both feasible and original. In fields like international law where many issues have been extensively explored, originality may involve fresh approaches to familiar topics. Feasibility is crucial to ensure project completion within the given timeframe. Although individual research is common, collaboration offers benefits such as avoiding isolation and strengthening arguments. Collaborative elements often emerge in work-in-progress seminars, where researchers present their unfinished work for feedback. These forums foster a supportive environment for refining ideas, especially for junior scholars. In terms of publication, Dr. Lando cautions against over-publishing and suggests targeting one to three reputable journals per year. If a piece isn’t accepted by top-tier journals, consider incorporating it into a monograph or essay collection. Regarding research methodology, the focus should be on determining the most suitable approach to address the research question meaningfully, rather than adhering to a predetermined preference.

As the future Director of Studies for the 2027 Winter Session at The Hague Academy of International Law, Dr. Lando, with experience as a student at the academy in 2012 and 2015, will lead directed studies for advanced students. These sessions involve high-level discussions on current topics in international law, often associated with the general course and prevalent issues in 2027.

Dr. Lando values taking time off from work, ensuring at least one day off weekly. He spends his free time socializing with friends and participating in outdoor activities like hiking and trail running. These activities help him unwind and enjoy the outdoor experience in Hong Kong.

As our interview with Dr. Lando concluded, he shared his favorite books and movies. His top authors are Gabriel García Márquez and Jane Austen. His most-loved films include “In the Mood for Love” by Wong Kar-wai, the 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” directed by Joe Wright, and the classic 1942 film “Casablanca.” His cherished books comprise “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel García Márquez, “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar, and “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” by Ezra Vogel.

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