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How to Become an International Lawyer

August 25, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 05/12/23

If you’re interested in becoming an international lawyer but want to know more about this profession and what it entails, read on!

There are set rules, regulations, treaties, and policies in place to ensure countries can live in harmony and mutually benefit from each other. These agreements fall under the general umbrella term of international law. 

International lawyers are professionals that ensure these rules are upheld. As such, they help fulfill a larger responsibility of maintaining world peace—a big role to fill!

If you’re up for the challenge, this legal specialty may be the perfect fit for you. To confirm if it is, this guide will go over how to become an international lawyer, their duties, salary, necessary skills, and more.

What Do International Lawyers Do?

Simply stating that international lawyers maintain global peace is an overstatement. The specific tasks they perform day-to-day to achieve this goal include:

  • Negotiating settlements for foreign organizations
  • Advising newly elected officials on the international code of conduct
  • Drafting trade agreements for national governments
  • Drafting legal terms and treaty stipulations on behalf of state officials
  • Representing private charities over international humanitarian law violations
  • Assisting in negotiations to resolve or settle disputes
  • Assisting in international development
  • Represent individuals, organizations, and governments
  • Determining which jurisdiction’s laws apply to a case
  • Improving existing laws 
  • Gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses 

There are two main branches of international law that attorneys may specialize in:

Private International Law

Private international law involves cases between private parties such as individuals or corporations. 

Public International Law

Public international law is more complex and wide-ranging. It involves issues between nations and governments of sovereign states. Common issues these lawyers handle involve:

  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Drug/sex trafficking 

This branch of international law also extends to international humanitarian law (IHL), which is responsible for reducing human suffering by protecting those affected by armed conflicts. These types of lawyers aid in the following efforts:

  • Restricting weapons available to combatants
  • Providing medical personnel for wounded soldiers
  • Donating food and medical supplies

International law includes more than just upholding law and peace. Economics and diplomacy are heavily involved in this legal specialty.

How to Become an International Lawyer

Now that you have a basic understanding of the roles international lawyers play, you may be wondering how to become one. 

The path to becoming an international lawyer is straightforward but lengthy. Here’s what it’ll involve:

Step One: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

The very first step you’ll have to complete to become an international lawyer is obtaining an undergrad from an accredited university. Many students interested in pursuing international law major in Political Science, but the choice is ultimately yours.

No particular degree will give you an advantage in the admissions process but your GPA will. Choose a degree that you are interested in so you’re more likely to maintain a high GPA.

Step Two: Gain Useful Experience

Your GPA alone won’t guarantee you admission into your top law school. Another factor the admissions committee will consider is your resume. If you have any major gaps in your resume it will raise questions and can hurt your chances of acceptance.

To avoid this, you should participate in meaningful volunteer, work, and extracurricular activities throughout your undergrad. A great place to start is joining your school’s pre-law society in your freshman year. This organization can help you find more opportunities to strengthen your application and fill up your resume!

Begin developing core traits required to excel in the legal field: critical thinking, time management, attention to detail, leadership, collaboration, analysis, public speaking, and communication. 

Step Three: Build Strong Connections

Throughout the experiences you pursue in your undergrad, you should form meaningful relationships with your mentors and peers, especially your professors. You’ll be required to submit at least a couple letters of recommendation with your law school applications and want to ensure you have highly personal and glowing recommendations.

Be an active and engaged student, visit your professors during their office hours, and show an interest in their personal academic projects so you form a closer connection with them!

Step Four: Ace the LSAT

The other score the admissions committee will consider heavily is your LSAT score. This score is arguably even more important than your GPA so it’s essential you spend a considerable amount of time preparing for this exam.

Create a study schedule you’re confident you can commit to and use reliable study tools to increase your score. Top-ranking law schools will expect high scores, so it’s essential you have a target score in mind that you can work towards.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to retake the test, as a large percentage of students write the LSAT multiple times before reaching their desired score.

Step Five: Choose the Right Law School

Once you’ve gathered the necessary admission materials, ensure you apply to schools that can best support your goals and aspirations. Many schools offer experiential learning opportunities, course offerings, or concentrations in international law. 

Consider joining one of these schools to begin honing the skills necessary to become an international lawyer. NYU has the best international law program in the nation, making it a great option to consider.

Step Six: Complete a JD

After choosing the perfect law school to complete your JD, you can expect to spend the next three years learning about law in extensive detail. Law school is notorious for being difficult, so thriving in this environment will require dedication and hard work.

Use and further develop the study habits you relied on during your undergrad to maintain high grades in your JD. High grades will open more doors for you throughout your JD and afterwards.

Step Seven: Write the MPRE Exam

An important part of learning how to become an international lawyer is developing good test taking strategies. You’ll be required to write several exams throughout your legal journey, including the MPRE

This exam, which is typically written while students are completing their JD, assesses students’ ethical and professional standards. Passing this exam is necessary to progress onto the next steps of your career!

Step Eight: Consider an LLM

Once you’ve completed your JD you have the option of gaining more expertise by completing an LLM in International Law. This one-year program is not mandatory to practice law but can be helpful, as international law is highly complex.

Step Nine: Pass the Bar Exam

The final step before you can take on your first case is passing the bar exam. This exam will provide you with the licensing and credentials needed to practice as an independent attorney!

International Lawyer Salary and Career Outlook

Law school is an investment that is meant to have a high return; expensive JDs typically result in high-paying careers, and international law is no exception! 

Lawyers typically make around $127,990 a year, and international lawyers fall within this salary estimate. However, depending on their expertise and location, this salary can double!

With an increase in globalization, endless global conflict, and humanitarian threats, this specialty is in high demand but is also highly competitive.

What Skills Do You Need to Be an International Lawyer?

Presumably, you don’t just want to know how to become an international lawyer, you want to know how to become an outstanding international lawyer. To do so, these are the skills you should hone:

  • Analytic and research skills: to understand and be able to apply all the necessary and relevant rules, regulations, treaties, and policies affecting the nations involved in a case
  • Logical reasoning: to form strong arguments after analyzing the situation correctly
  • Foreign language proficiency: the most competitive international lawyers are proficient in several languages as their cases involve different countries
  • Adaptability: international laws are constantly being modified and international lawyers must keep up with these changes
  • Persuasion: to convince nations, governments, or judges of your argument
  • Flexibility: you will likely have to relocate or be willing to travel frequently to do your job effectively 
  • Time management: international law cases are often time-sensitive and require quick resolution

You are also encouraged to have a high degree of knowledge in economics, politics, and world issues to best represent your clients. 

For attorneys interested in international humanitarian law, in particular, you should also be aware of the emotional demands of these cases. You will encounter a lot of violence, conflict, and loss.

FAQs: Becoming an International Lawyer

In this guide, we’ve answered the questions, “what do international lawyers do?”, “how do I join this profession?”, and “how much do they make?” For any remaining questions on how to become an international lawyer, read on to find your answers.

1. What Do I Study to Become an International Lawyer?

There isn’t a specific major you can pursue to prepare for law school. Any technical knowledge you need to succeed in the legal field will be taught to you during your JD. Consequently, you should study a subject you’re interested in, so you can maintain a high GPA to become a more competitive candidate.

2. Is Becoming an International Lawyer a Good Job?

Yes! International lawyers play a significant role in maintaining peace and order. While this job can be arduous and demanding, it is extremely fulfilling! You will have a global impact and can know you are making a real difference in the world—a life goal almost everyone dreams of!

3. How Do I Start a Career in International Law?

You will have to obtain an undergrad, create a stellar law school application, attend law school, and pass your bar exam to begin a career in international law.

4. Is International Law in Demand?

Yes, this legal speciality is in high demand. There are strict and extensive regulations that nations are bound by. International attorneys are necessary to ensure these laws are followed.

5. How Long Does It Take to Become an International Lawyer?

It will take at least seven years to join this profession: four years to obtain an undergrad and three years to obtain a JD degree. If you choose to pursue an LLM in International Law, it will add one more year to your timeline.

This timeline also assumes you do not take any gap years between these steps, which many students do after their undergrad!

6. Is It Hard to Become an International Lawyer?

The journey to becoming an international lawyer will be challenging. You will have to bring your A-game to each step and won’t be able to afford any slip ups. For instance, your undergrad GPA will play a huge role in the types of law schools you get accepted into, which in return will affect your job prospects.

As international law is highly competitive, it’s recommended you attend a high-ranking law school to build a competitive application and have the most opportunity. Getting into these schools will be difficult and thriving in them will prove even more challenging. 

Your learning and training won’t just stop after your JD. As international laws constantly change and increase, you’ll be expected to keep track of these modifications and know how to apply them!

7. How Much Do International Lawyers Make?

The average international lawyer salary is well over $120,000 a year.

Final Thoughts

No legal career is easy—especially not becoming an attorney. While each legal specialty plays an essential role in society, international lawyers not only protect their own nation, but several others as well. Follow the steps shared in this guide to join this high-impact profession!

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