There is no one route in to a career in international law, and it’s worth remembering that there are roles for those who are not qualified lawyers too, particularly in supporting functions within the same employer, which can be more instantly attainable.
Requirements for entry
To work as a public international lawyer you will usually need:
- Qualification as a lawyer in a legal jurisdiction
- Relevant language skills
- Relevant international experience (e.g. an overseas seat as part of a training contract, YPP programme, a traineeship with an intergovernmental body and possibly more experience too.)
A Masters-level law degree (e.g. LLM, BCL or MJur) in a relevant area can be helpful, particularly for academic or EU roles, but this can be substituted for by relevant professional experience for those that move later into these areas.
To work as a private international lawyer you will usually need:
- Qualification as a lawyer in a legal jurisdiction
- Relevant experience with an international practice area (e.g. relevant seats during your training contract)
- Relevant language skills, if required
Qualifying as a lawyer
Full details are available within our advice for Solicitor or Barrister routes, but it’s worth pursuing international law options where you can: if you’re taking a law undergraduate degree at Oxford, the final year option of public international law, or other related topics such as International Trade, Human Rights Law, EU Law would be advised. If you don’t have a legal undergraduate degree, research your postgraduate (GDL) course providers to see which allow you to take international law options in addition to the core subjects. If you don’t have an undergraduate degree, a masters degree in law is likely to be particularly beneficial when competing against those educated in lengthier legal training.
If you have already studied or are studying a law degree/ GDL your LPC (solicitors) or Bar Course (barristers) is the next step in your training, followed by a training contract (solicitors) or pupillage (barristers). This vocational stage of qualifying is unlikely to be as highly specialised around your interests, as very few chambers take on only human rights cases, and you will be required to work in different practice areas for your training contract. However, both Pupillages and Training Contracts provide a solid base in legal knowledge and skills and will leave you with a professional qualification which might be extremely useful for you to deploy whilst you are looking for international law roles more suited to your interests, post qualification. However, it also means that an interest in the law itself, not just the cause, is essential. Gaining a broad understanding of the law in different contexts eg private practice firms and government departments can also be very helpful in giving you a very solid understanding of legal knowledge and concepts. Remember, if working on other areas of law isn’t something that will motivate you, it might be worth considering working in the field, but not as a lawyer (look for vacancies in project support, communications, policy, and research to explore other ideas).
Changes to Qualification as a Solicitor: the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE 1 & 2)
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the process of introducing a new system for qualification as a solicitor and this will ultimately replace the current route (of Qualifying Law Degree/GDL + LPC + Training Contract). The new route is beginning to be phased in from September 2021. Fo all those who have already started their law journey ( ie started a law degree, LPC or training contract) there is the opportunity to remain within the existing system to qualify - so long as the relevant courses still exist. For anyone who is at the very early stages and who has accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for a Qualifying Law Degree by 21 September 2021 (inclusive) can also continue in the old system so long again as long as the courses still exist.
From Sept 1st 2021 (unless you fall into one of the transitioning cohorts), to qualify as solicitor you will need:
- A degree (or equivalent)
- To have passed SQE 1 (legal knowledge & application of it) and SQE 2 (practical legal tasks)
- To have completed 24 months of legal work experience
- To be of satisfactory suitability and character
Please see the Solicitors briefing and the SRA for full details.
LLM or equivalent
A LLM degree (or equivalent legal Masters-level course) is sometimes sought for public international law roles. However, it’s worth remembering that those who wish to work as lawyers will usually pursue their initial legal qualification and work to develop excellence in their professional work first, and then might choose to return for LLM study later in their career. This allows more time to develop as a professional and gain experiences which will enhance your learning, and crystallise professional interests which could inform the choice of masters course itself. If you choose to take an LLM, it’s worth researching funding options and scholarships available, for example the Hauser Scholars Programme provides funding for 10 students to undertake legal masters courses at New York University School of Law.