Ms. JD International

Ms. JD International: State Department, Part II: Civil Service Careers

Office of the Legal Adviser

Naturally, ladies holding JDs interested in a career in international law will look at the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser, “L.” The attorneys in L advise the Secretary of State, and all State bureaus and personnel on legal matters that arise in the pursuit of the Department’s mission, the development and execution of US foreign policy. As I described in my last post, L is divided into regional and functional bureaus that loosely correlate to the main bureaus at State. The Office of East Asian/Pacific Affairs in L counsels diplomats and civil servants in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and so on. Most attorneys in L rotate between the sub-offices, allowing for broad exposure to its areas of practice, from advising the Ambassador to Chile on what presents she may accept, to negotiating the lease for an embassy property in Hungary.

A colleague of mine once said that the best lawyers in L are those who ask what the client—the diplomat, the foreign affairs officer— wants to achieve, and then finds a way to make it happen, answering with “yes” and not immediately saying “no” to the client’s query, often the easier response. Creative attorneys are essential to support dynamic foreign policy.

L accepts applications from 3Ls and laterals for employment, and its hiring process is notoriously competitive, rivaling that of a top firm.

To learn more, check out:

Domestic Bureaus: Regional, Functional, and Everything in Between

If you are keen on practicing law, L is the place to be at State. But if you want to work in policy and get to the heart of what the State Department does, consider working in one of State’s many bureaus. Your JD will be an asset. Several of my colleagues and mentors hold JDs and/or LLMs, and are happily working in non-legal positions at State, as everything from chief desk officer of country in the middle east (every country has a “desk” at headquarters), a senior foreign affairs officer working in conflict resolution, and a foreign affairs officer specializing in human rights of European minorities.

When I questioned whether I would regret working in policy and not using my law degree, all of these individuals independently informed me that they indeed use their JD everyday in their line of work. Their legal studies impact the way they think about foreign policy, design policy, and implement policy. Two of these individuals are Ms. JD’s themselves, and each practiced law for a number of years before arriving at State. Both of these women told me that their JDs give them a level of authority and credibility that, unfortunately still today, women are not always granted in the professional world. A JD is a valuable credential in the international sector, whether or not you are practicing law in the traditional sense.

A civil service career at State is a fantastic opportunity for Ms. JDs, whether you have been practicing for years or are a new graduate. You will work on different projects and subjects every day, with talented and dedicated professionals, in fulfillment of US foreign policy. For a Ms. JD International, what’s not to like?

For more information on a civil service career at State, please see:

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