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International Legal Practice

Advising Contacts | Discover | Learn | Specialty Pathways in International Legal Practice | Experience | Network

Advising Contacts

Career Development Office
Co-Directors, Center for International and Comparative Law
Faculty
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Discover

Spurred by globalization, the scope of international law has expanded with the proliferation of international tribunals, bilateral investment treaties, international environmental rules, as well as the increasing vitalization of human rights law. This internationalization of law in turn has led to a similar internationalization of the legal profession. Lawyers assist clients who come from, work in, and engage in activities in jurisdictions throughout the globe. Clients purchase goods from foreign suppliers, execute cross-border mergers, litigate before foreign and international courts and arbitral tribunals, and pursue international human rights and environmental claims before domestic, foreign and international courts and agencies. Studying international and comparative law is a way to prepare for practice in a world in which national borders have become far less significant than in an earlier era and in which knowledge of U.S. law alone will no longer suffice.

Any legal specialty becomes an international practice when multiple national jurisdictions apply to a problem. Any legal counselor becomes an international legal counselor when the organization she represents engages in international activities. Criminal law, civil litigation, corporate transactions, real estate financing, labor and employment law, and family law are some examples of practice areas where knowledge and experience of international and foreign law are helpful tools in a lawyer’s repertoire. In addition, new lawyers with interest in international law and issues of globalization can embark on a career path with the government, such as the U.S. military Judge Advocate General (JAG) program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or clerkships on the U.S. Court of International Trade. In addition to working as a lawyer, legal training can be useful preparation for work as a policy analyst in a state or federal agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Further, the United Nations and its affiliated agencies offer opportunities for legal and policy work on issues of peace, security, international development and human rights.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also provide opportunities for working in the field of public international law. Groups might focus on global human rights work, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Human Rights First, or undertake projects concerned with international environmental law, such as Greenpeace and the Center for International Environmental Law, or be concerned with peace and security issues, as in the case of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security or the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Security.

As with all areas of law, professional membership organizations can be a way of learning more about the law and meeting experts in fields that are of interest. Student and young professional memberships are available in the American Bar Association (International Law Section, International Human Rights Section), the American Society of International Law (ASIL), and the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA). In addition, the New York State and New York City Bar Associations have committees dedicated to topics such as international organizations, international law, foreign law, and international human rights. These all provide opportunities to learn more about current developments in the law and participate in broader legal research and reform projects.


Learn

Students often say that they want to study “international law,” but when asked what specifically interests them, they are not sure. Before selecting courses and discussing career advice with your professors and counselors, it may be useful to describe what some commonly-used terms refer to.

International law has traditionally been described as including the legal principles governing the relationships between nation states. It broadly includes the law that governs all those who participate in international relations – states, international organizations, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, and even individuals (such as those who invoke human rights protection or commit war crimes).

This general definition is sometimes subdivided into private international law, concerning relations between individuals and private entities such as companies, and public international law, concerned with the law governing nation states and international organizations. A related term is the foreign relations law of the United States, which is not actually international law, but U.S. domestic law governing how international law is incorporated into the laws of the United States at the national and state level and how international law may or may not be invoked in federal or state courts.

Comparative law, by contrast, is the study of the similarities and differences among domestic legal cultures.

And, to top it all off, there are specific substantive areas, such as international business transactions, international tax law, international environmental law.

You can take classes in all of these areas at St. John’s.

International Legal Practice Curriculum Overview

The survey course International Law, a core elective, is useful to any international practitioner as it considers the sources of international law itself and the structure of the international legal system. It is the basic introduction to public international law, although some areas of private international law are also covered. The course focuses on the analysis and interpretation of the sources of international law, such as treaties and custom, and how international law affects and is affected by actors such as nation states, international organizations, private enterprises, and individuals. Considerable emphasis is also placed on the interplay of international law and the foreign relations law of the United States. The course includes a survey of selected substantive areas in international law such as human rights, international criminal law, the use of military force, and the management of the global economic system

If you are primarily interested in being a counselor to business enterprises, International Business Transactions (IBT) and International Tax are key classes. IBT introduces the major legal issues that arise in doing business across national boundaries. Consequently, this course covers topics in both private international law and public international law. Among the topics to be considered are the international sale of goods and services, foreign investment, technology transfer, national, regional and international regulation of international trade, extraterritoriality of economic regulations, and planning for cross-border dispute resolution.

Future international commercial litigators should consider, in addition to International Business Transactions, classes such as Conflicts of Law, International Litigation and International Commercial Arbitration. Conflicts of Law, a core elective, studies the resolution of problems that arise when legal matters have a relationship to more than one state within the United States or to the United State and one or more foreign nation. Topics covered include the circumstances under which courts will adjudicate disputes (jurisdiction), the recognition of judicial decrees by other states (recognition of judgments), and the criteria for determining the substantive law applicable to multistate transactions (choice of law). Although U.S. lawyers tend to use the term “private international law” to refer to the law concerning transactions of private parties across national borders, most other countries (and European countries in particular) use the term “private international law” to refer to what U.S. lawyers call “conflicts of law.” International Litigation explores selected procedural issues affecting foreign litigants in the United States, U.S. citizens litigating in foreign jurisdictions, and special problems which arise in multi-party complex litigation. There will be an emphasis on comparative law analysis. International Commercial Arbitration examines the ways in which private parties from different national jurisdictions invoke private arbitration as means to avoid domestic court adjudication of cross-border disputes. This course examines the law and policy of arbitration as a mechanism for the resolution of international commercial disputes, emphasizing topics such as arbitrability, the selection of arbitrators, choice of law, and enforcement of awards.

Students who would like to pursue work in international human rights or other public advocacy may want to consider courses such as International Human Rights, International Criminal Law, and International Environmental Law. Those interested in international law enforcement or security issues would want to include National Security and the Law and/or Counterterrorism Law in their curriculum

These are just some of the core courses and electives offered that “bring the world to St. John’s” and help prepare students for international legal practice. But these courses only scratch the surface. There are many more electives, externships, practica, and co-curricular activities in international and comparative law than you can possibly have time for. It is important, therefore, to think through what type of career you would like to have and choose carefully which courses to take.

Keep in mind that to be a good international lawyer, you must build on a solid foundation of American legal expertise, so do not neglect key domestic law classes. For example, anyone who wants to do international transactional work should take courses in Business Organization, Securities Regulation, and Tax.

Study International and Comparative Law Abroad

Besides the Law School’s global curriculum—that is, “bringing the world to St. John’s”—the Law School brings “St. John’s to the world” by expanding the opportunities for our students to gain overseas experience. The heart of this initiative has been establishing study abroad programs. Students can take summer classes in our Rome campus, take part in “travel courses,” such as Transactions in Emerging Markets, which are taught in Queens but include a one week overseas travel component during spring break, or spend a semester abroad in a “practicum,” such as the NATO Practicum that places students in a NATO office in Belgium.


Specialty Pathways in International Legal Practice

Cross-Border Transactions and International Business Counseling
International Dispute Resolution and Litigation
National Security and International Law Enforcement
Public International Law and Human Rights

Other International Careers to Consider

Some students may be interested in non-lawyer jobs in international business, government service or non-governmental bodies. A law degree can be great preparation for a career in the diplomatic service (U.S. State Department, United Nations), the federal government (Dept. of Homeland Security, Defense Department), lobbying groups (international trade councils, industry groups) and human rights advocacy groups (Catholic Charities, Human Rights Watch). Transnational corporations – including large management consulting firms and other service providers – see a law degree as valuable preparation for management professionals.

Talk with the Career Development Office to explore how you can put your international and comparative law experience to work for you in seeking out non-legal professional positions.


Experience

Clinics and Practica
Students who participate in a clinic are exposed to a practice area through the representation of actual clients under faculty supervision. The following clinics are relevant to this pathway:
Externships
Externships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
Co-Curricular Activities
St. John’s boasts numerous scholarly journals and award-winning competition teams in ADR, trial advocacy, and appellate practice. The following organizations allow students to compete in these disciplines, while conferring academic credit for students who rise to leadership positions:
  • U.S. Court of International Trade
  • International Criminal Court  (ICC)
  • Auschwitz Institute
  • United Nations
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
  • US Department of Justice, International Trade Field Office
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Customs & Trade Law Firm
  • JAG (summer internship)


Network

Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both at St. John’s and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. The professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interests through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.

Professional Organizations

Student Organizations

 

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