1. LANDING THE JOB
There is no clear and guaranteed path leading to a career in international public law. This is in part because of the great diversity of public international work done by lawyers. Additionally, organizations doing this kind of work have fewer resources than private corporations and law firms. Therefore, they have fewer openings, are less likely to offer formal training for young attorneys, and usually prefer to hire attorneys with at least three to five years of experience. However, opportunities for entry level work do exist. Breaking into a career in public international law may require taking short-term positions, seeking work as a consultant, or applying for fellowships or grants to fund your work. Despite the very competitive nature of the international public interest jobs, you may be able to find, or create, an opportunity if you are flexible and persistent; willing to research, track down people, or follow up on personal connections; and willing to work without pay.
For summer internships, 2Ls should begin contacting organizations that interest them in the fall, and 1Ls should begin as soon after December 1st as they are ready. Many of these organizations (often the foreign NGOs) will not be willing to engage in the process for several months, but some (for example, the U.S. Government) will follow a very structured and early timeline so it is best to learn the specific employers’ timelines before they expire. The same advice applies for post graduate opportunities. There are benefits to making contact early, even though many of these organizations will not know their needs until a vacancy arises or funding develops. Once again, the exception tends to be government hiring, which commonly has very early and strict application deadlines for entry level jobs.
Internships. Most federal agencies hire interns during the summer as well as during other times of the year, including winter terms. Most agencies have internship positions specifically for law students. Some agencies have summer honors programs, which can lead to entry level employment. About half the legal internship positions available are paid. Agencies with paid internship programs frequently will also hire law students for unpaid positions. Please click here for more information pertaining to internships offered by various offices.
Post-Graduate employment. Federal agencies usually seek candidates with several years of relevant work experience when hiring for international legal positions. A number have honors programs, such as the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Departments of Transportation and Treasury, that provide entry level employment upon graduation. Honors programs are quite competitive and previous experience in the federal government, such as a summer or school year internship, is often helpful.
Internships. The vast majority of U.N.-affiliated organizations hire interns year-round. Minimum qualifications include proficiency in one or more U.N. languages and background in the substantive area of the specific organization’s work. Most internship positions are unpaid. The minimum duration for U.N. internships ranges between one and three months, while the maximum duration is usually six months. Because of the U.N. bureaucracy, it is advisable to submit your application for an internship as soon as possible.
The United Nations Headquarters Secretariat Internship Program is for the United Nations Secretariat New York only and is offered on a two-month basis three times a year: mid-January to mid-March; early June to early August; and mid-September to mid-November. The program is normally full-time. For further information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post-graduate employment. There are various paths to working in the U.N.: fixed contracts, competitive examinations, short-term consulting positions, and “young” or “junior professional programs.” Because many U.N. organizations prefer to hire professionals with three to five years of experience, opportunities for entry level employment are limited. Most U.N. agencies post job vacancies on their websites. See www.jobs.un.org. Candidates of 32 years of age or younger, with fluency in either English or French, may apply to entry level positions via competitive national examinations. Please see http://www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/examin/exam.htm.
Other Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
Internships. The majority of intergovernmental organizations will accept law interns, though not all have formal internship programs. Internships are usually unpaid. Where formal internship programs exist, detailed information on eligibility and application processes is usually available online. Please note that some intergovernmental organizations restrict eligibility to prospective interns who are nationals of member countries. Also, IGOs typically have a rule that interns cannot be hired as employees in the six months following completion of their internships.
Post-Graduate Employment: entry level positions at intergovernmental organizations are very competitive. Many organizations post job vacancies on their websites. For most legal positions within intergovernmental organizations, experience related to the organization’s objectives, as well as knowledge of at least two of organization's official languages is extremely important. As with the UN, some intergovernmental organizations have entry level programs for young, relatively inexperienced professionals. Sometimes these programs are specifically devoted to lawyers. Other viable options for less experienced attorneys are to seek a short-term consultancy or a position in the domestic civil service - working in the U.S. Department of State or Justice, for example, might provide the requisite experience. Please note that many intergovernmental organizations only hire citizens or nationals of member countries although exceptions may occasionally be made. Most importantly, be patient. International organizations, especially intergovernmental organizations, have an extremely bureaucratic hiring process, and operate on a different hiring calendar than organizations in the U.S. The website of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State posts vacancy listings for a number of international organizations. Please see http://www.state.gov/p/io/
Internships. Many nongovernmental organizations rely heavily on interns, especially during the summer. Internships at nongovernmental organizations are as varied as the organizations themselves. Some are extremely competitive. A very small number of internship positions are paid and these are almost exclusively in North America and Europe. Most organizations with formal internship programs are also North American or European. It is usually possible to arrange unpaid internships at organizations without formal programs. Please see Section VII for more resources.
Post-Graduate Employment. For the most part, entry level professional positions are hard to find at nongovernmental organizations. With limited resources, most organizations prefer to hire experienced staff members. When entry level positions do open up, many NGOs look first to recent interns to fill the positions. In some cases, organizations that will not hire permanent staff members will hire short-term consultants or fellows. Some NGOs based in the U.S. have one- or two-year, internally funded fellowship programs—some geared specifically to recent law school graduates. Most organizations without internally funded fellowship programs would be happy to host a recent law graduate as a fellow for a year or two provided he or she has outside funding. An increasing number of law schools sponsor post-graduate fellowship programs in public interest law. Some of these fellowships are limited to the alumni of the sponsoring school while others are open to all recent law graduates. Eligibility may be restricted to particular practice areas. Please see Section VII for more resources.
2. CAREER PATH (Alumni stories to be added)