The International Law Institute was founded in 1955 at the Georgetown University Law Center (click here for the documents related to the establishment of the ILI). A sister institute, the Insitut für Auslandisches und Internationales Wirtschaftsrecht, was founded at the same time in Frankfurt, Germany. Professor Heinrich Kronstein, the Institute's first director, fled Germany in the 1930s and spent more than a decade studying and teaching at the law schools of Columbia University and Georgetown University. Professor Kronstein believed that closer ties between European and American legal systems would facilitate business and trade. The Institute's early years were marked by scholarly work and academic exchanges. (Click here for Heinrich Kronstein's archive of documents and publications)

Beginning in the early 1970s - under the leadership of a new director, Professor Don Wallace, Jr., of Georgetown University - the ILI expanded its focus to include professional training in the legal, economic, and financial problems of developing countries. An early collaborator in this work was Professor Robert Hellawell of Columbia University Law School.

The earliest courses offered were Foreign Investment Negotiation and International Procurement. Since then, the curriculum has evolved to reflect, and promote, the centrality of the private sector and an enabling role on the part of the public sector in promoting the conditions for economic growth. This direction was heightened in the early 1990s when the Institute's work expanded to include the problems facing nations formerly part of the Soviet Union as they began to make the transition to market economies and the rule of law.

Today the International Law Institute is an independent, not-for-profit organization. It continues to work closely with universities, governments, corporations and international organizations.