Greetings Ms. JD readers, and happy 2012! Ms. JD International here, one of the new 2012 Writers in Residence. Ever wanted to live and work abroad? Like to travel? Ever think your career would be nailed to US soil since you earned or are earning a JD degree at a US law school? Well ladies, you’ve come to the right place! For the next 12 months, I will be writing about all the ways one can pursue an international career with a JD. From practicing law to developing foreign policy, from working for a U.S. law firm in Paris to running a legal clinic in South Africa, the opportunities are limitless. So grab your passport, and let’s go!
Does a JD Restrict My Career to the US?
During my first semester of law school three years ago, I wondered if I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Not because of going to law school, or taking on so much debt, but because I was tying myself down to a career in the US. My JD would anchor me to the states, limiting my ability to pursue a career abroad. My wanderlust stifled, I would spend the next ten to twenty years at a desk stateside practicing American law that I learned at an American law school. For a woman who dreamed of living and working abroad, exploring new places and cultures, this was my greatest fear.
Thankfully, I soon realized that my fears were unfounded. Studying US law would not limit me to a career in the US. My dream of an international career would not be hindered, but enhanced, by my JD. I went to law school with the intent of studying international law, and boy have I! I must have taken every class with the word “foreign” or “international” in its title. To really satiate my thirst for all things international, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs simultaneously with my law degree. Best decision I’ve ever made!
Tips for Law Students Interested in an International Career:
1. Take as many international law classes as you want. Don’t be dissuaded by law faculty or administration if they try to convince you that law students must be generalists and take all the key “bar” courses. I went to law school to study international law, and by golly I am going to study international law. You can take all the international electives you want and still pass the bar
2. Take advantage of any and all international-related opportunities at your school. Join the International Law Society or go to networking events with international practitioners. International law is very in vogue these days, so it’s likely your school has internationally-oriented students and organizations, and your career center has international-related advice and events. If not, then create a student group yourself!
3. Keep up your foreign language skills. If you’re interested in an international career, odds are you have previously traveled or studied aboard and speak a second language. Practice! Listen to music, radio, and watch movies, read newspapers and books in your second language. Language skills are truly the most critical asset to have when pursuing an international career.
4. Cast your net wide. You don’t have to work for the UN to practice law abroad. You don’t have to even be practicing law to benefit from you law degree. There are many opportunities to acquire international experience while a law student— from externing at an international law or policy government office domestically to interning at a US embassy abroad— and even more opportunities for recent law graduates and long-time practitioners to pursue an international career. I recently met an attorney who worked as a state prosecutor for 12 years, and is now representing the Department of Justice in the Department of State’s Civilian Response Corps, where she has the opportunity to work in rule of law, anti-corruption, and transitional justice programs around the world. Bottom line, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about an international career and pursuing one!
That’s it for now. I’ll be back next month to discuss in detail some career options out there for you Ms. JD Internationals. Bon voyage!