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How to Become an International Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an international lawyer. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as an international lawyer. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become an International Lawyer?

Lawyers help resolve legal problems by advising and/or representing their clients in court. A lawyer's most common job tasks include drafting legal documents, researching laws, handling settlement negotiations, and representing a client in court. An international lawyer is an attorney who focuses their legal practice on international disputes. These types of disputes may include international business, trade, or criminal issues.

Although lawyers have long educational paths, once established, lawyers of all kinds can earn large salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2015 that the median annual salary for lawyers was $115,820. Individuals working for private practices may earn more money than those who serve non-profit organizations or governments.

Lawyers work in office settings at least 40 hours a week, although some work much longer hours to grow their client base or to prepare for a case, and some travel may be required.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.); Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree for international business
Degree Field(s) Pre-law or other majors (for bachelor's); law school
License/Certification Must pass state bar exam
Experience None; must be licensed lawyer to apply to LL.M program
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research, and writing skills; thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office, project management, and accounting software, legal search engines, and other related software
Median Annual Salary (2015) $115,820

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

To become an international lawyer, you need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). You also must pass your state's bar exam. In addition to your formal training you will need skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research, and writing. You need thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office, project management and accounting software, legal search engines, and other related software.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Advanced Legal Research
  • Comparative Law
  • Energy and Environmental Law
  • Financial, Banking, and Securities Law
  • Health Law
  • International Business, Trade, and Tax Law
  • International Law
  • Law Degree
  • PreLaw Studies
  • Programs for Foreign Lawyers
  • Tax Law
  • US Law

Steps to Becoming an International Lawyer

Here are steps to take to become an international lawyer.

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program

Almost all law schools require that applicants have bachelor's degrees. The BLS states that there is no specific undergraduate field of study required to attend law school, and many law students possess degrees in economics, government, or history.

You may benefit from completing a bachelor's degree program in international studies. These programs can provide a foundation of information about international issues that may prove beneficial when studying international law in law school.

Also consider studying a foreign language. Developing fluency in a foreign language could help you when speaking with colleagues in, or traveling to, other countries. Many language programs also include lessons about a country's culture and traditions, and knowledge of local customs can be helpful when discussing legal matters.

You will also want to prepare to take the LSAT. Law school applicants must submit their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores with their applications. Most aspiring lawyers take the LSAT during their junior year of undergraduate study. Many schools offer multi-week preparatory courses that inform students about the exam's format and provide test-taking tips.

Step 2: Take the LSAT

The LSAT, which is a half-day exam, focuses on analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and reading skills. A student's LSAT scores play a large factor in their admission to law school.

Step 3: Attend and Graduate from Law School

Law school requires three years of full-time study. First-year students complete a curriculum of courses focusing on basic law subjects, such as contracts, property, torts, and constitutional law. Students in their second and third years complete elective classes, and they can participate in a judicial internship, or clinical experiences.

Some schools allow students to concentrate their studies on international law. These concentrations include courses in comparative law, comparative legal cultures, international sales and trade, foreign policy, and multinational business law.

Regardless of whether you complete a concentration in international law, completing elective coursework in the subject can provide you with a solid understanding of the field. Examples of elective courses include advanced international business law, arbitration of international disputes, international legal research, and international children's rights.

While in law school you'll also need to prepare for the bar exam. Not passing a state's bar exam means you can't practice law in that state. Proper preparation for the bar exam increases the chances of passing the exam on the first try. Private companies offer multiple-week preparatory courses that provide instruction about the subjects on the exam and test taking techniques.

Step 4: Take a Bar Exam

According to the BLS, each state requires that lawyers be licensed. Becoming licensed usually requires passing a bar exam, passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and being admitted to a state's bar association. Although the format of each state's bar exam differs, some consist of multiple days of testing. Questions are often in essay and multiple choice formats.

Step 5: Work as an International Lawyer

Government agencies and private firms hire lawyers to practice international law. Many times, these employers expect lawyers to practice other fields of law in addition to international law. Some employers may prefer to hire candidates with multiple years of experience, or a portable book of clients.

Step 6: Consider Earning an LL.M.

Some law schools offer licensed attorneys the opportunity to earn Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. LL.M. programs related to international law often focus on a specific sector of the field, such as international business, international human rights, law of international institutions, or public international law. The curriculum of these programs provides in-depth instruction about the chosen subset of international law.

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