Maybe you’re taking an elective course in international law, are just interested in international relations, or are looking for a way to use your fluency in a foreign language, but whatever the reason, your curiosity is piqued and you’re not sure what a career in international law or abroad might look like.
First things first: it’s important to think about what we mean by international law. Generally, when we speak about “International Law,” we mean law that functions at an international level – laws that govern the interactions of different countries. But in addition to careers dealing strictly in international law, there are also legal careers that are simply international in nature. Whichever of these might interest you more, here are five potential career paths for the globally-inclined to think about:
1. International Arbitration
International arbitration is usually specified through contract as a means to resolve disputes between companies or individuals in different countries. In some cases, special treaties protect the rights of foreign investors. Different structures govern the disputes, depending on the contract and parties, but some commonly encountered ones are the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). International arbitration can be a great option for some, especially those who are interested in international law and are more litigation-minded.
2. International Trade
The world is increasingly connected these days and you can’t turn around without tripping over something made in or sold to another country. And all of that trade needs lawyers to keep it running smoothly. Countries have laws and regulations controlling what comes in and what goes out, and many companies need specialized help to navigate these complex waters. International trade work can include sanctions requirements, export control, customs, dumping, countervailing duties, Special Economic Zones and much more. This work can be advisory, or it can involve litigation –within the United States, another country, or before an international body like the World Trade Organization (WTO).
3. International Organizations
In addition to trade law, there are a number of areas where the United States is party to a treaty or agreement, and most of these need lawyers to support their regular operations. But just like trade law, the type of law is often subject-specific – the World Health Organization (WHO) for health law, or the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for IP law. So if there is a substantive area of law you are particularly interested in already, and looking for an international angle, this might be worth considering. There are comparatively few of these jobs though, and they may only be open to U.S. lawyers when the United States is a party or participating state, so keep this in mind as you consider your options.
4. Government Work
There are great opportunities for lawyers, both law and non-law jobs, working for the U.S. government. Many of the U.S. agencies and departments value legal training even for non-law jobs, and your law degree can set you up for more responsibility and more interesting work than might otherwise be available to you. Agencies to consider beyond the U.S. Department of Justice, that might not otherwise be on your radar include: The U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
5. Working Abroad Advising on U.S. Law
Although often not employing international law, there are many non-U.S. companies that need U.S. lawyers to advise them on their U.S. operations. These companies may have U.S. offices, but many of them hire U.S. attorneys to live and work abroad. Some large non-U.S. firms (or non-U.S. offices of U.S. firms) will also hire such attorneys. If you are fluent in another language, are originally from outside the United States and want to go home, or have always wanted to live abroad, this can be a great option, especially for those who are more inclined towards corporate law. And for those of you who already have a country in mind, an LLM might help position you for the job you want in that country — providing you with the necessary expertise in both U.S. and local law.
For those of you with international experience, or ambitions to work abroad, it is helpful to explore the possibilities and think about what options might best leverage your interests, goals, and skills. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and not every option will appeal to every aspiring attorney, but for those who might be interested, thinking through these more common paths can help you select courses intelligently, navigate the job search successfully, and find a career that is the best match for you.
Did you find this article helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Thinking Outside of the Box to Find Employment
- Job Hunting 101: Get Out and Meet People
- Not Sure You Want to Be a Lawyer? Consider Some Alternative Ways to Use Your J.D
- Caution! Don’t Restrict Your Job Search to the OCI Process
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.