The world is interconnected like never before. The rapid increase in globalization has tested the umbrella of legal frameworks under which the nations of the world operate. As an international lawyer, it is you who will be called upon to mediate and settle these disputes and ratify these treaties. As these agreements cross borders and the legal systems of nations rub up against each other, there is an immense skill and insane complexity to working sensitively and constructively in resolutions between countries.
Studying international law gives you an insight into the principles and laws that guide the hand of international justice while also helping you apply them to the world stage. It explores some of the greatest (and worst) treaties and agreements that have been signed between nations and looks at the flashpoints and areas of conflict that still exist in the world today. An international law student will graduate with a solid analytical grasp of world geopolitics and practical skills to deploy the laws that govern it in offices, boardrooms, and parliaments around the world.
5 Great Reasons to Study International Law
An International Take on the Legal System
Doing a degree in international law not only teaches you the fundamental aspects of America's legal system, but the legal systems around the world and how they are codified through international treaties and obligations.
There are many examples. The Paris Climate Agreement is a multi-nation treaty that needs to be enacted and applied at an individual state level consistently. Companies who do business in one country leaping to do business in another may find the legal terrain different and must know how it affects their business model.
There are larger moral conundrums too. How do we go about applying global corporation tax — for example? Where does the international law stand on maritime activities in the South China Sea? Who owns the Artic? How do we approach the problem of Israel and Palestine? To some of these questions, there are no easy answers. To others, there are no answers at all. Yet international lawyers are those who deal with these questions day to day and help test, enforce and build the global legal scaffolding. By examining the interplay between the global legal framework and those of individual nation-states, students ask questions about where responsibility ultimately lies, how can it be enforced effectively, and how do we create, and test, new global laws?
Opportunities to Study and Work Abroad.
As you might imagine by the name, international law often involves a lot more traveling than other jobs — whether working at a multinational firm or an NGO. It's not essential you travel, of course. There are great international lawyers who barely leave home shores, but they are, in general, a rare case.
If you've got an appetite for travel, want to see the world, or already have the heritage or language abilities of another country and are keen to use them, then international law gives great prospects in working for companies seeking to do business abroad or going to places like the United Nations and working behind the scenes at the summits of world leaders.
Even in a "mundane" international lawyer job, working on cases frequently involves being wherever in the world the contract or dispute is taking place. So expect to be clocking up flyer miles. As for students, international law degree programs usually offer placements with international companies or run student exchanges with other programs around the world so that their students get a flavor of the cosmopolitan world they are about to enter. More than that, it's a significant competitive advantage to have various language skills or working knowledge of other country's cultures, so grabbing the opportunity to work abroad as an international law student is thoroughly recommended.
Good Job Prospects at Multinationals and NGOs
The analytical skills and global outlook — not to mention the fundamental legal skills — that an international law graduate has gives them excellent job prospects. You can work for Non-profit groups like Amnesty International, private law firms like Baker and McKenzie and Goodwin Proctor, and international organizations like FIFA and the United Nations. Other common routes for graduates include working for businesses that have offices in foreign countries or working as a lawyer for the government.
This is particularly true if you have language abilities or insight into another country that your firm, business or government are doing business with. If you know French, for example, you might find it easier to get work in the United Nations, whilst knowing Arabic will certainly boost your prospects if you want to take part in Real Estate investments in Dubai. Cultural or linguistic specialism in a foreign country is a definite plus when seeking a career in international law. For people whose roots are more international, or who excel at foreign languages, this can make it a compelling career choice.
It's not just as a lawyer either. International lawyers make excellent diplomats and policy advisors. Their thorough knowledge of international treaty obligations and "big picture" thinking skills make them excellent at the role. Particularly as international law will teach students how to present themselves in the very best manner possible.
Excellent Salary Opportunities
An international lawyer at the top of their game, who is drafting a trade agreement between two countries for example, can expect to earn an excellent salary upwards of $175,000 a year, while the median average salary is $122,960, and the outlook for growth 4% a year. Lawyers' salaries are high to begin with, and experts in international law add a specialism that both law firms and corporations are keen to take advantage of.
Globalization has meant even mid-sized companies are beginning to have offices around the world and spend time operating in multiple global markets. As the public and private sectors become ever closer across borders, firms smaller than you might think often need legal counsel that is proficient in international law. As such, work is available and salaries are good. International law is often studied at Masters level after completing a standard law program, but undergraduate programs also exist.
For other non-legal professions that a degree in international law opens up, Diplomats are handsomely rewarded for their work, earning on average $86,000 a year, while policy advisors pull down around $75,000 a year. A mediator in the U.S. earns on average $51,700 a year. Despite being a demanding degree, the rewards are certainly worth it.
Make a Difference to the World
It's not schmaltz to say that that international lawyers make a real difference to the world. They will often be involved in prosecuting bad actors for human rights abuses and defending vulnerable people from some of the darker sides of human society, such as human trafficking or war crimes.
Even if the cause is not quite so extreme, helping nation-states navigate pipeline routes or invest in foreign infrastructure has tangible real-world outcomes that affect both the economy and geopolitics. By working in international law, you are working on the largest of stages — and admittedly some of the slowest of time frames — brokering giant deals with thousands of represented interests, both competing and cordial.
If this sounds exciting, it's because it is. At least notionally. Be under no illusions, these cases take years to finalize and veritable mountains of paperwork to document. It's a tough career with long hours and not always positive outcomes. Yet, in exchange, you are on the frontier of international global politics.
What Interesting Areas of International Law Are There?
International law covers so many areas that you won't cover all of them in a single degree — it would be impossible. You often specialize as you progress through your program of study. Often, students go in with an idea of what they'd like to specialize in. New areas of study open up as the global situation shifts, while old fault lines that have always been the cause for arbitrage between nations still continue. Here are some interesting examples of international law you could go into.
Extradition Law and International Crimes
Crime is international. In every country, someone somewhere is breaking a law. But what happens when someone who breaks a law in one country then goes to another where that act isn't illegal? Say, also, that the country the criminal has fled to has unfriendly relations with the country where the crime was committed. Extradition law is where countries request, or occasionally demand, other nation-states to send back people who are wanted for crimes in that national jurisdiction. Of course, these can be extremely sensitive issues, and the rights of the individual need to be protected. An international lawyer will fight to protect those rights, but also the mandates of the countries who are seeking jurisprudence.
In the recent case of Julian Assange, who leaked classified American documents through Wikileaks and sought refuge and asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, we see a great example of the kind of work international lawyers do. Both the government lawyers seeking extradition and the lawyers defending him would be lawyers versed in international law. More soberingly, there will be cases of war crimes, genocide, and apartheid carried out at a grand scale. International lawyers working for the U.N will be prosecuting these crimes and be involved in the workings of the International Court of justice and International Criminal Court.
Aeronautics and Space Law
Aeronautical law is already an extremely developed legal framework, and one that comes into play every minute of every day as planes criss-cross through the sky and through various international and national airspaces. As humans start going to space, it's only going to get more tricky. Already, satellites launched by the USA, China, and Russia sweep above our heads in the night sky. The advance of commercial space flight, let by entrepreneurs like Musk and Bezos, will also run into uncharted legal waters. The heavens may well soon be carved up, and it'll be international lawyers arguing exactly how and why — and to whom the celestial will belong.
For as long as humans have traveled the high seas, the flow of trade through the oceans of the world has been tightly regulated — and fought over. Even in a time of rampant air travel and the colossal industrialization of train freight, most of the world's goods still flow through the waterways. Careful legal management, conflict resolution and treaty adherence the world's water is an ongoing hot topic. Imagine, if you will, the number of lawyers currently working on the case of the Ever Given. It's just a small taste of the type of work you'll be doing in this field.
Other fascinating topics include the construction of new landmasses in the sea. China has recently "built" islands in the South China Sea, and they're not the only nation that is doing this. The question arises about the "legality" of this, and what international laws cover this kind of activity. Then there is the matter of the Arctic, whose governance is a messy protocol of interlocking and contradictory treaties, but which still manages to remain usefully neutral and a hotbed of collaborative research — mostly due to the ongoing work of international lawyers.
International Trade and Investment Law
One of the most popular and most well-remunerated career choices for an international lawyer is working for businesses large and small that are looking to invest overseas and run commercial activities in another country. Having a keen insight into local laws, building relationships on the ground with offices all over the world, and brokering business deals that are being struck cross-border, and even globally, is attractive and challenging.
You will learn the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the regulatory body that applies a baseline of trading rules so that countries with no treaties can do business with each other in an accepted and viable way. You will also look at the legality of investments in foreign countries and what strictures they might be subject to by the country where the investment is located. A business-minded candidate would certainly thrive in this area, and the skills learned are useful in getting hired by the corporations that are seeking to extend their reach ever further around the world.
Digital, Patent and Copyright Law
An emerging sector in international law, copyright laws exist to protect creators and ensure that businesses who put time, effort and money into creating new products can benefit from what they produce. However, with the increasing power of technology and growth of digital assets, alongside the prevalence and impact of cybercrime, these patents and laws are becoming harder to enforce and the complexities of each case more nuanced. If international companies make exact imitations of each other's products, but within their own national jurisdictions, then what counts as acceptable use? How do you punish those who act in this way? Is copyright now unenforceable?
The answers aren't as clear-cut as you think. International lawyers in this field are dealing with rapidly changing landscapes. Activities in the digital world have certainly not been fully legally mapped out yet, so being a part of them as they are tested, fought over, and written is an appealing prospect to many.
International Law Gives You Global Reach
Studying law to become a lawyer is an exciting, challenging career with huge rewards. The same is true for people who study international law, with the added benefit and direction that your legal skills will be put to the test in arenas around the world.
If you have a passion for travel, a keen interest in other cultures and working across boundaries, and a fascination with geopolitics and the state of the world, studying international law might be an excellent choice.
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