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What are Different Types of International Law Jobs?

By H. Terry
Updated May 17, 2024
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International law is concerned with the conduct of nations, people and organizations engaged in international activities. International law jobs are related to diverse areas ranging from human rights, migration and international development to international trade and investment. Securing top international law jobs requires patience and, most commonly, a great deal of experience and specialized education. Internationally-focused lawyers can find employment within national governments, international and non-profit organizations and private enterprises.

People normally begin international law careers in their home countries. Preference for higher paying jobs is usually given to candidates with experience in a particular legal area. Such specific experience is sometimes more easily attained at home before going abroad.

Large corporate law firms commonly have an international department. Projects handled by such firms could include infrastructure and development projects, cross-border mergers, and any number of other pursuits. Working on such projects is an excellent way to gain experience and build contacts. These firms may also be able to provide a bridge to work opportunities with sister firms or partners in other countries.

National governments are an excellent place to look for a variety of international law jobs. Apart from work related to diplomatic missions within a foreign or international affairs department, there are many other government departments that may have international activities that require legal support; for example, environmental departments may work with other countries to implement agreements, such as occurred with the Kyoto Protocol agreement.

Another major source for international law jobs is the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Working for such organizations often involves unique intellectual and emotional challenges as well as rewards. Altruistic work has a reputation of being underpaid, but there are opportunities for specialized lawyers to make good salaries while helping such organizations affect positive change in the world. Previous experience living internationally is a common requirement for many senior positions.

Though it takes some courage, once a person has acquired some legal experience and training at home, the best way to find work abroad is by taking a chance and going to one of the countries in which the organizations that interest him or her operate. Even if one's dream international law job can't be landed there immediately, the best way to get a foot in the door is to be already living and working in the country where that door, and the organization to which it leads, exists.

Beyond appropriate legal studies, there are some other skills that international law jobs commonly require. Strong candidates typically have developed intercultural skills and are capable of working effectively within very diverse teams and in work environments that might be distinct from those of their home country. Strong language skills can also distinguish a candidate when applying to organizations in which several languages are used.

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