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Human Rights Lawyer: Job Info & Requirements

Human rights lawyers help protect the well-being of individuals, and a law degree and knowledge of international law is required to enter the field. Continue reading to learn more about professional requirements, career outlook, and salary potential for human rights lawyers.

Career Definition for a Human Rights Lawyer

Human rights lawyers investigate, evaluate, and defend people in litigation cases involving torture and abuse. Human rights lawyers often spend numerous hours examining the facts of a case; studying human rights laws, both domestic and international; and interviewing clients and witnesses. In their efforts to defend a client, human rights lawyers may also solicit and use media attention to promote awareness of human rights laws and violations.

Education Completion of a law school program
Job Skills Interviewing, speaking, and writing skills; advocacy and investigative ability; organization and management skills; ability to work as part of a team
Median Salary (2017)* $119,250 for lawyers
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 8% for lawyers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Aspiring human rights lawyers must apply to law school programs, which typically take three years to complete. Individual schools may offer concentrations in social justice or human rights law, and courses may include studies in human rights theory and history, immigration law, and gender justice. Students may also pursue topics in homelessness, school desegregation, and world poverty. Many law schools run law clinics, through which students may actively take on relevant cases and projects. Affiliation with a professional human rights organization can also help to increase one's credibility and exposure in the field.

Skills Required

Human rights lawyers must interact with clients, witnesses, and media outlets, and as such, must have excellent interviewing, speaking, and writing skills. Advocacy and investigative abilities are also essential. Human rights lawyers must also have the ability to organize and manage a case, draft legal documents, and work as a member of a team.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment opportunities for lawyers nationwide would grow by 8% between 2016 and 2026. The BLS also reported that lawyers in general received a median annual wage of $119,250 in May 2017 (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Besides lawyers, there are other options in the field of human service careers:

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators, like attorneys, rely upon the law to help disputing parties resolve conflicts and differences. The resolution process takes place outside of the courts, where an arbitrator's or mediator's activities can include conducting interviews and preparing settlement documents. While it is possible to enter the field with a bachelor's degree, some positions may require a law degree or graduate degree in business administration.

According to the BLS, 32% of arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators in 2016 worked for local and state government agencies. Nationwide, the BLS anticipated a 10%, or faster than average, job increase for these professionals for 2016-2026. As reported by the BLS, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators received a median annual salary of $60,670 in May 2017.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

An associate degree is usually the minimum educational requirement for obtaining a job as a paralegal or legal assistant, who typically conducts research, maintains files, and prepares court documents. Alternative educational options include a bachelor's degree and completion of a certificate program in paralegal studies. According to the BLS, a much-faster-than-average increase of 15% in jobs nationwide is expected for paralegals and legal assistants between 2016 and 2026. As of May 2017, professionals in this field earned a median annual wage of $50,410.


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