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Careers in International Law

You’re interested in pursuing international law, but what kind of career can you have? There are quite a few options and not all of them are exactly what you might expect. Whether it’s representing a corporation overseas or serving with the United Nations, opportunities can be found just about anywhere.

Lawyer at a private firm

  • Description: When you work for a private law firm, you are given cases based on what the firm decides to take on. Many times firms will have a speciality, like international business, contracts, and so on. For many lawyers, the ultimate goal is to make partner, which moves you from salary-based pay to actually owning part of the firm and sharing its profits. If you live in the United States, you’ll find most private firms with international connections on the East Coast. Depending on your language and law skills, you might go overseas to represent your firm. This gives you a chance to explore major cities in other countries and learn more about how the law works in a variety of places.
  • Qualifications: To be hired at a private law firm, you will need to have passed the LSAT, completed a law degree, and passed the bar exam for the state you want to work in. Work at a private law firm is typically very demanding. Depending on its size, you might be one of just a few lawyers, or a small fish in a big pond. When you’re just starting out, you should expect to work long hours and not always on the most interesting cases. You’ll have to prove yourself, just like you do with most jobs.
  • Salary: Pay depends on your qualifications and experience, but at law firms with less than 50 lawyers, the average pay for first-year associates is around $90,000. For larger firms, it can be much higher.

Corporate lawyer

  • Description: When you work as a lawyer in a corporation, you deal only with that specific company’s legal issues. Corporate lawyers are becoming very busy as companies choose to stay in-house and not reach outside for a private law firm. If the company has international connections and offices, you will probably be called upon at some point to deal with legal issues overseas. Many lawyers choose corporate law because they have a better chance of building a life outside of work. However, especially for those just starting out, the hours at a corporation can still be long and grueling. This will be especially true once you start working on international issues and travel more. You should also consider carefully what corporation you want to work for and if they represent your core values.
  • Qualifications: Qualifications will be the same as with a private firm lawyer – you’ll need a law degree and good standing your state’s bar. If international law is your dream, being educated in other legal systems and knowing multiple languages will really help your chances of getting sent overseas. Corporations will also look for lawyers with business-specific skills like contract management, commercial litigation, and so on.
  • Salary: Pay depends on how high up on the ladder you are. Corporate lawyers generally make a good living between $64,803 – $173,222.

Government lawyer

  • Description: Most of the lawyers working for the government can be found in the Department of State and Department of Defense. Every area of government will have some kind of legal office, however, and you can start in a number of roles such as litigator, regulator, adviser, or policy lawyer. Most government lawyers also have administrative duties, and even young lawyers are often given a lot of responsibility right away, which can be exciting. The hours are also long, but there are a lot of benefits like good health insurance and flexibility about leave. Most don’t go into government law for the money, however; it’s about serving society.
  • Qualifications: You’ll need the usual law school degree and good standing with your state’s bar. To work internationally for your government, you should have an expert knowledge of your home’s legal system and the system of the countries you’re working with. Understanding different cultures and customs will also be an essential skill.
  • Salary: You aren’t paid as well as you would be in a private or corporate firm. When you’re first starting out, a salary between $53,062 and $90,205 is common.

Intergovernmental legal officer 

  • Description: This is a similar area to government law, but it describes organizations of multiple nations. The United Nations is arguably the most famous (and one of the largest) international intergovernmental orgs in the world. These orgs promote the rule of law and justice across country lines. When you work as a lawyer for an org like this, you have opportunities to work on a variety of important issues like human rights, international trade, and so on.
  • Qualifications: Work in the legal department for an organization like the United Nations requires a lot of knowledge and experience. A law degree is just the beginning of the journey. You’ll also have to be educated on a range of legal systems, histories, and languages. It’s rare for someone just starting their career to end up in the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs or another similar org. They will have prior experience that backs up their knowledge of international law.
  • Salary: For legal officers at the U.N., salaries range from $97,422-$105,611.

Lawyer at a nonprofit

  • Description: Human rights has blossomed in recent years, so a lot of people go into law in the hopes of pursuing a career with a nonprofit dedicated to specific issues. There is lots to do in this area, such as advocating for victim rights, arguing cases in court, advising local communities, and helping the nonprofit manage its legal standing within the countries it operates in.
  • Qualifications: A law degree is a must. You’ll also need to be an expert on law in the country you’re based in, as well as the language and culture. Like any other law job, the hours will be long. You will travel a fair amount. The stakes will also feel very high in many cases, and you’ll have to watch out for emotional burnout. Depending on what you’re working on and where you’re based, you might be in a large city or a very remote area. As an international lawyer for a nonprofit, you need to be willing to sacrifice a lot for the greater good.
  • Salary: Lawyers for nonprofits make much less than their counterparts. Depending on your role, it ranges from $35,000 – $71,321.

Academic

  • Description: As a law professor, you are responsible for teaching, mentoring students, and publishing articles. This career requires many steps, like participation in a 1-2 year fellowship where you practice teaching, researching, and learning how the academic system works. Joining an organization like the American Association of Law Schools gives you access to resources, workshops, and a job-finding network. Once a professor, you will likely be required to publish work on a regular basis.
  • Qualifications: To be a law professor, you must have an undergrad degree and a J.D. degree. Like a lawyer, you must also pass the bar in the state you plan on teaching in. During this process, keep researching and writing to build up your name and authority on international law and specific topics in that field that interest you.
  • Salary: Pay as a law professor ranges from $38,500 – $75,000.

Legal researcher/assistant

  • Description: All lawyers need paralegals or legal assistants to handle the more administrative side of their job. Other institutions like courts, government departments, private businesses, nonprofits, and more also frequently need legal researchers. As a researcher or assistant, you will be responsible for the busy work like going through books, old cases, and more to find information that supports a case’s argument. Travel to libraries is normal. Analyzing the information you find is also an essential piece of the work.
  • Qualifications: A law degree is not required for paralegals in most areas; an associate’s is often all you need. Excellent research skills are a must; the importance of solid research on cases cannot be overstated. For paralegals in international law, knowing other languages will really benefit your chances of getting work overseas and working on certain cases.
  • Salary: In May of 2017, the average salary for paralegals was $50, 410. Paralegals working for corporations and private firms will probably make more than their peers in government or at nonprofits.

Mediator/arbitrator

  • Description: Whether it’s between corporations, governments, or individuals, negotiation is important and challenging. That’s when a mediator or arbitrator is needed. These people are trained to help resolve issues, come to an agreement, and keep everything confidential. Within the meditation field, there’s a lot of specifics to choose from, like family law, finances, public policy, intercultural conflict, and international geopolitics.
  • Qualifications: You don’t always need a law degree for this position. You will need at least a Bachelor’s degree. Many universities offer specific degrees for conflict meditation, and it’s a good idea to consider joining an org like the Association of Conflict Resolution or the International Meditation Institute. Since you are interested in the international law aspect of mediation, the more you can learn about how mediation works internationally the better, and having a few languages under your belt will help, too.
  • Salary: Pay can vary widely depending on what type of mediation you are doing. In 2015, mediators earned around $70,000 on average, while the top earners got $120,000.

Consultant

  • Description: Legal consultants (or advisors) help clients with legal issues outside the courtroom. They do not represent them; they simply give advice. Lots of corporations and law firms will hire these outside consultants during very busy times and/or when they need advice on specific issues like international trade, litigation, policy, and so on. A consultant travels wherever they are needed and sits down with the client to help with research, planning, and more. Frequently, legal consultants used to be practicing lawyers, but decided to make a change.
  • Qualifications: Since you are giving legal advice, you need a law degree to be taken seriously. You may not be required to have passed the state bar and actually practiced law to serve as a legal consultant, but it does look good on your resume, and most potential clients will want someone with experience. You will need all the skills a client would expect from a regular lawyer, like excellent communication, research abilities, knowledge, and so on. As with all these international law jobs, fluency or a good understanding of multiple languages is important.
  • Salary: Pay for a legal consultant depends on their experience and the client. It varies widely from $21,000 to $158,000. The average is around $74,000.
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Global Peace Careers

Global Peace Careers is a website dedicated to career related information in the sectors peace and conflict studies, conflict resolution, mediation and related sectors. On our website we collect and distribute information about entry level jobs, paid internships, affordable master degrees, online courses and other opportunities.

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