International Law Majors: Career Options and Requirements

International law generally encompasses a broad spectrum of specialization areas, including business, human rights and policy. Continue reading for an overview of the program, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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A willingness to travel frequently and the ability to speak a foreign language are just a few of the prerequisites for becoming an international law professional. Those who are interested in pursuing this career are required to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher as well as specific licenses or certifications. Several job opportunities can be found in government agencies, international organizations and private corporations, to name a few.

Essential Information

International law includes specializations, such as human rights, environmental issues, foreign trade, business mergers, intellectual property and public policy. Additionally, international law professionals might choose to specialize in a specific region, country or continent, such as the African Union or the European Union.

Education requirements for international law professionals vary significantly, and many careers within the legal system require professionals to hold specific licenses or certifications in accordance with state or federal law. Due to the nature of this field of study, professionals may need to speak more than one language, travel around a fair amount, and communicate frequently with foreigners and other government agencies.

Career Titles Attorney Arbitrator Judge
Education Requirements Juris Doctorate (J.D.) Bachelor's degree and/or a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) Juris Doctorate (J.D.)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% * 9% (arbitrators, conciliators and mediators)* -1% (judges and hearing officers)*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820* $58,020 (arbitrators, conciliators and mediators)* $126,930 (judges, magistrates and magistrate judges)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

The majority of international law professionals are employed by government agencies, private corporations, academia, and not-for-profit, non-governmental or international organizations. The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch are some of the larger, more well-known employers of international law attorneys. Other career options may include becoming either an arbitrator or a judge who specializes in international law.

Attorney

Attorneys represent clients in courts of law, and international law attorneys specialize in law cases that have to deal with legal conflicts between states or countries. Besides specializing in international law, attorneys can further specialize by focusing on international law in relationship to business transactions, finance or immigration, as just a few examples. Common job duties for attorneys include meeting with clients, providing advice on how to move forward with legal matters, filing paperwork and depositions, acquiring evidence, meeting with judges and communicating with the public.

Becoming an international law attorney requires completing at least a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree program with courses in comparative or international law. Some international law professionals go on to pursue a Master of Laws (LL.M.), adding an additional 12-18 months of education. Many law schools offer a J.D./LL.M. dual degree program in international or comparative law. A dual degree program can sometimes include an externship or study abroad program, as well as summer study.

Lawyers must be licensed by the state in which they intend to practice. Becoming licensed requires taking and passing the state bar exams, which tests overall law knowledge. State bar exam requirements most commonly include the Multi-state Bar Examination (MBE) and either the Multi-state Essay Examination (MEE) or the Multi-state Performance Test (MPT). In addition to law knowledge testing, most states also require completion of the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), taken separately from the bar exams.

Arbitrator

Before people seek out lawyers, they often go to arbitrators to help settle legal matters outside of court. Arbitrators act as negotiators and liaisons. They listen to all sides of the argument, review evidence and then recommend possible solutions to which all parties can agree. Arbitrators who focus on international law may negotiate terms between businesses prior to an international merger, for instance.

In terms of education and training, there are many different pathways to becoming an arbitrator. A large amount of arbitrators are retired judges or currently practicing lawyers, so these professionals have a great understanding of the law, hold one or more graduate-level degrees and are licensed to practice law. Other arbitrators have a background in business within a specific industry, and these professionals may only hold bachelor's degrees, but they tend to possess many years of industry experience.

Each state has different licensure requirements for arbitrators. Some states require arbitrators to be licensed attorneys, and that process is described in the section above. There is also a national licensure process for arbitrators, which may be necessary for those who wish to practice international law arbitration. In addition, for arbitrators who specialize in international matters between the U.S. and other countries, those professionals may need to adhere to licensure requirements in multiple countries.

Judge

These professionals manage trials, research legal issues, converse with lawyers and pass final decisions on cases of law. Judges who specialize in international law listen and oversee legal cases that fall within this category. Unlike other jobs, people must be chosen to be a judge either through a formal election or through being appointed. However, interested parties can choose to run for election or submit their resume for review to a selection committee.

The majority of judges have previous experience as lawyers, so it is fairly common for judges to have graduate-level law degrees and for them to be licensed attorneys. Candidates who want to preside over international law cases often have a background in comparative or international law. Other than being a licensed attorney, other required exams to become a judge may include the U.S. Office of Personnel Management exam. Upon being appointed or elected to a judge position, individuals will need to complete an orientation training process.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that open positions for attorneys would grow by 6% between 2014 and 2024 while positions for arbitrators would grow by 9%. The BLS does not have specific records for professionals who specialize in international law. Since judges are appointed or elected to their positions, job growth in this field was projected to show almost no change during the same decade, per the BLS.

In May 2015, salary statistics reported by the BLS showed that the median annual salary earned by attorneys in general was $115,820. Data from the same source and the same year showed that arbitrators earned $58,020, and judges earned $126,930.

Graduates of international law may choose to pursue a career as an attorney, arbitrator or judge. Each of these positions plays a different role in resolving conflict and require individuals to be licensed or certified before practicing. While job growth is not at an all-time high this decade, professionals can expect to earn anywhere from $58,020 to $126,930 annually.

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