By - - • April 07, 2012•Writers in Residence, Careers, Law School, Pre-Law
Ms. JD International: State Department, Part III: Foreign Service
The Foreign Service is the flagship arm of the State Department, and is an excellent career choice for Ms. JD Internationals seeking a career in the international sector. Ever dream about living an expat lifestyle? Attracted by the aura and mystery of diplomatic work? Want to represent the United States abroad? Then the Foreign Service may be for you. Whether you are straight out of law school or have been practicing for years, the Foreign Service is a great option to stoke your international interests and embark upon a diplomatic career.
Why Serve in the Foreign Service?
For someone determined to have an international career, I regard the Foreign Service as the pinnacle of professional opportunities for internationally-minded folk. Not only are you working on different challenging and dynamic issues everyday and representing the US with a significant amount of authority, you are also living in a foreign country, with the security and privileges the diplomatic life offers. You will move countries every 2-3 years. Your housing will be provided or covered by a housing allowance; you will receive cost of living allowance on top of your base salary to account for different living standards and prices in each locale; you will travel on a diplomatic passport, often escorted through certain remote airports to complete security and customs with ease; you will be working in a secure office and will be protected by diplomatic security personnel in even the most dangerous places; and you will be working with extremely talented, dedicated, and bright individuals to implement US policy abroad and represent our country.
I had the fortunate opportunity to intern for a summer at an embassy in Africa, and it was a phenomenal experience. Certainly, the experience you have depends upon the size of the embassy--all the officers will become a community in a small African post, while you may feel like a small fish in a big sea at a large European post. DC may control most of your meetings and decisionmaking at an embassy in a major US ally, while you may have much for freedom and leeway working at a small post in a more minor country. In most jobs, if you do not like your co-workers or supervisor, there is little you can do but quit. In the foreign service, you will have new colleagues every few months, as officers rotate in and out, and you will work in an entirely new office in 2-3 years.
Certainly, the expat lifestyle can be hard. Your spouse or partner will need to find work every time you move; your children will be switching schools every few years and growing up away from extended family. You may be working in a hardship or dangerous post, under constant pressure, and often without the types of food and necessities you are used to back in the states. Yet there are built-in solutions to these hardships: spouses can often find work at the Embassy or at the American school, or receive some help in searching; you have the ability to take R&R leave back to the states once or twice a post, depending on the hardship of the post; and children get to learn about the world in a way not possible in a classroom in the states. Diplomats also have the option to work in DC for a post or two, allowing a family to remain in the states for several years.
JD in the Foreign Service
Though one does not even need a bachelors degree to join, I have met several Foreign Service Officers with JDs through my internships at State. Most had practiced for a few years before joining, in careers as varied as a JAG officer in the military to an immigration and family law practitioner. Like I discussed in my last post about JDs in the Civil Service, JDs in the Foreign Service have chosen this path because they wanted to work in policy, but still “use” their JD everyday and benefit professionally from having this credential.
There are two branches of the Foreign Service: Foreign Service Officers, and Foreign Service Specialists. There are five “cones,” or career tracks, for Foreign Service Officers, and you choose one when you start the application process: political, economic, consular, public affairs, and management. The rule is you cannot switch career tracks once you join. However, after 2-3 posts, Officers are often able to work “out of cone” in a different track, so there is some opportunity for mobility. Foreign Service Specialists include Diplomatic Security agents, information technology specialists, and medical and health professionals. I have worked with both an FSO with a JD and a FSS with a JD, and both these individuals harness their legal education everyday on the job. Whether you are a consular officer building off of your former immigration law practice, or a Diplomatic Security Agent harnessing your legal background in investigating crimes committed against diplomatic persons or property, there are so many paths to take as a JD in the foreign service.
Entering the Foreign Service is a very competitive and lengthy process. First, you sit the FSOT, a written test on US history and foreign policy. Then, you submit several essays, and finally participate in an all day group and individual oral interview. It may take over a year from the time you sit the FSOT to receiving you security clearance and entering the A-100 training class for new Foreign Service Officers.
For more information, see http://careers.state.gov/work/worldwide