By John Sinden
International law is a varied and dynamic field. It is a field of legal study that focuses on issues — military conflicts, economic disputes, matters of immigration — that arise from the interactions between nations or between citizens of different nations. The field attracts students pursuing international development, international relations, law, and even LLM in US Law degrees. International law also appeals to those who are interested in working on issues that have a regional or global impact and focus. Like many other fields, one of the most helpful ways to gain hands-on experience as a student is to begin with an internship. Internships not only give students a first look at what a typical day in a given field is like, but they also help students develop professional relationships and apply what they learned in school to real-life situations.
Since international law touches upon a wide variety of issues, including human rights, conduct of war, international crime and refugees, it is important for students to take the time to find an internship the best aligns with their concentration or interests. Below are a few examples of internships with different organizations and agencies.
Government Agency Internships
- The U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of International Law (Open to J.D. candidates.) — This position offers interns the opportunity to play a role in transportation negotiations with foreign countries, international transportation safety and security, global satellite issues, aviation licensing and regulatory matters involving international transportation, and international aviation antitrust matters. Intern responsibilities include research, legal writing and review of legislation.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of the General Counsel (Open to J.D. candidates.) — Interns will work in one of the office’s departments, such as economic growth, acquisition and assistance, Asia and the Middle East, democracy, or conflict and humanitarian assistance. Responsibilities include drafting and reviewing legal documents and attending bi-weekly meetings with the entire legal staff to discuss ongoing matters. Interns will be able to sharpen their research, writing, analytical and communication skills.
International Governance Institution Internships
- United Nations, Office of Legal Affairs (Open to any graduate students and undergraduate students who are finishing their final academic year.) — The internship program at the U.N.’s OLA is highly flexible, and each intern’s experience depends on the needs of the office at the time, as well as his or her interests. Interns are assigned to a legal officer within the OLA and work under his or her supervision for a minimum of two months. Students enrolled in international development masters programs are particularly well suited to this position. Interns will gain real-world experience working in the diplomacy and public policy field. OLA interns will have the chance to grow their analytical, organizational policy and communication skills.
Private Practice Internships (Open to law students, undergraduates and other graduate students.) — Internships at private law firms vary widely, and often depend on the practice areas available at a given firm. Many large firms have robust practices involved in international corporate law and litigation. Tasks conducted by interns will also vary widely, but may include conducting due diligence in connection with corporate transactions, and organizing materials for litigation. Internships at law firms that are focused on niche areas, such as intellectual property and human rights of international law, however, are more competitive. Foreign international law practitioners looking to increase their knowledge of the U.S. legal system may want to consider a private practice internship.
These internships provide foreign students with the opportunity to work in a U.S. law firm and may also include a weekly lecture series on the topic of U.S. Law. Students who are currently pursuing an online LL.M. in U.S. Law will find private practice internships very useful because it will allow them to learn more about legal matters that directly impact or involve the United States. Private practice internships are also ideal for any students who want to strengthen their legal research and writing skills.
International Organization Internships
- Coalition for the International Criminal Court (Open to those with an interest in international law.) — Internships with this organization provide students with a chance to work on matters with respect to the International Criminal Court, international law, the United Nations, the role of NGOs in the development and promotion of human rights, and other related issues.
- Human Rights Watch (Various positions open to graduates and undergraduates.) — HRW offers interns a chance to participate in research, drafting documents, monitoring human rights developments in various countries, data analysis, and engaging in advocacy efforts aimed at curtailing human rights violations. Positions are located in offices around the world, and the focus of the internship will depend upon the position and office chosen.
Indeed, international law internships are varied and offer students a chance to learn about global issues such as the treatment of prisoners of war, immigration, and disarmament. Although significant research is required to identify all available opportunities, students should spend extra time exploring as many options as possible to determine which internship is the best fit.