International Law is broad and diverse: this briefing aims to give an overview of the different areas of work, jobs, skills and ways to start to gain experience
We take as a principle that ‘international law’ refers to either public or private international law as areas of practice: this briefing does not cover being a qualified lawyer overseas.
Public international law
Traditionally, Public international law deals with the law governing relations between nations. With the rise of human rights acts, it now also concerns how states treat their own citizens. It includes:
- International Human Rights Law
- International Environmental Law
- International Trade Law
- International Boundary Disputes
- Law of the Sea
- International Criminal Law
- Law of Armed Conflicts
- National governments (e.g. the Government Legal Service)
- Intergovernmental organisations (e.g. United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe)
- International Criminal Tribunals and Courts
- NGOs (e.g. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, JUSTICE, Friends of the Earth)
- Private law firms with a public international law practice area. A good list can be found at Chambers’ top ranked firms
- Armed Services
Private international law / International business law
Traditionally, this deals with the legal issues which arise in cross-border transactions between individuals, corporations and organisations (sometimes this is referred to as ‘conflict of laws’). This area includes:
- Taxation, Financial Securities and Banking Law
- Business Arbitration, Trade Transactions, Corporate Governance and Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)
- Intellectual Property and Competition Law
- International Arbitration
To find potential employers, search for firms with relevant practice areas (e.g. ‘M&A’ or ‘International Arbitration’) on the Chambers & Partners website.
Public / Private divide?
In an increasingly globalised world, the division between public and private international law is becoming blurred. Top corporate law firms describe their public international law practices as serving the relationship between nation states and private corporations (for example in investor-state dispute or advisory work). Lawyers increasingly take their skills with them as they move between public and private areas of work, with many training in the private sector at the start of their career.