Practicing International Law

There are many forms of international legal practice and many possible careers which involve the use of international and foreign law. These include working at a law firm with a multinational practice, an NGO (within the US or elsewhere), an international intergovernmental organization such as the UN or the World Bank, an international court or arbitral body, a government (whether the US State Department or another executive agency) or in myriad other organizations established by government regulators, private parties or both, such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

International practice may involve litigation or arbitration, transactional work, or any other form of representation or advocacy with a transnational dimension. It usually requires knowledge of public and private international law, as well as aspects of the foreign law of other jurisdictions. Increasing numbers of US-trained lawyers engage in international practice while working in US-based private firms or even while working on seemingly “domestic” subjects such as family or tax law. JD students interested in international practice should also keep in mind that the internationalization of all forms of government regulation means that virtually all parts of the US federal government, such as the EPA, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commerce Department, the IRS, all branches of the US military and national security agencies, the US Trade Representative’s Office, the Justice and Treasury Departments, and many committees in the House and Senate provide potential career opportunities. The negotiation of, for example, an environmental international law agreement is no longer the exclusive prerogative of the US Department of State but may involve lawyers from other US federal agencies as well as state offices.

Not surprisingly, international law and its practice cover the entire spectrum of topics covered in law school. Curricular advice with respect to three common areas of international practicehuman rights, international business and litigation, and legal educationis offered below.

Human Rights

A common career path for those interested in human rights is work with an NGO or in intergovernmental organizations, such as the many human rights offices within the United Nations or within UN treaty bodies. Others practice human rights as part of their work in private firms (whether as part of their pro bono practice or for clients such as states or multinational enterprises) or as litigators in a wide number of international courts or tribunals, including international criminal courts. For those who seek to deepen their exposure within this specialty, NYU offers, in addition to an annual survey course in International Human Rights, specialized courses or seminars on European human rights law, economic and social rights, human rights fact-finding, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and courts, transitional justice, and international or transnational labor law. Year or semester long clinical offerings on human rights or global justice are also offered regularly, as are other “international” clinics (on international organizations, constitutional transitions, and international environmental law) that often raise rights concerns.

International Business, Litigation and Arbitration

The most common career path for those in this sub-field is private practice, particularly with law firms engaged in transnational business transactions or commercial or investment arbitration. But courses in international economic law, transnational litigation, or private international law may also be useful for those working in other settings, from NGOs to international organizations. JD students wishing to get a more thorough orientation to this sub-field, should examine the description of the LLM program in International Business Regulation, Litigation and Arbitration.

Virtually all the courses identified in that program are open to JDs. Students interested in this sub-field should also consider a number of cross-listed courses offered together with the Stern School of Business.

Legal Education

Given the increasing relevance of international law, those interested in teaching others this subject have a number of career paths. A number of intergovernmental organizations, including the UN’s Codification Division, offer teaching or other education opportunities. NGOs and corporate offices also engage in legal education efforts, here and abroad. Those interested in teaching in a law school (whether in the United States or abroad) either full-time or as an adjunct, should take advantage of the many opportunities offered at NYU to produce scholarship, a common prerequisite for such positions. Most of the seminars offered in this field provide an opportunity to write a research paper under direct faculty supervision and many of the relevant courses permit students, with faculty permission, to write a supervised paper for additional course credit. Other courses, such as the Hauser Colloquium and the International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Scholarship Seminar, expose students to cutting-edge scholarship in the field while encouraging students to develop their own scholarly agenda. In addition, at least two regularly taught courses, Advanced International Law, and the History and Theory of International Law, are particularly suited to those contemplating academic careers. Of course, those who see themselves in academia either upon graduation or sometime thereafter should also take advantage of NYU’s many extra-curricular activities to engage with the academy, including work on student or peer-reviewed journals or as faculty research assistants, as well as participation in academic programs organized by, for example, the IILJ. For more advice concerning academic careers, click here.