How to Be an International Lawyer

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beautiful view of the riverfront in Dinant, Belgium

We recently got a great question from a reader who’s wondering how to be an international lawyer. We turned to our law school/young lawyer correspondent, Nicole (who is currently working abroad!) for her tips, as well as Kat’s friend G (a DOJ lawyer on her third overseas assignment) for tips.

It’s worthy of noting at the start that if you’re working remotely for your company, there are 41 countries who now offer “digital nomad visas.” Here are Nomad Girl’s tips on which countries are best suited to remote workers.

First, here’s the reader’s question:

I am a 3L in law school with a job lined up in Boston for next year, but I know my long-term goal is to live abroad. This seems difficult to do with a JD (as opposed to an LLM), and I bet it is also more limited for those in other professions that require U.S.-specific degrees/licenses.

Nicole’s Tips on Working for BigLaw Abroad

I’m a U.S.-educated lawyer who lives and works in London. I have a JD, but I do not have an LLM, so you can definitely work abroad without having an LLM! I work for a law firm that has offices all over the world, and I was supposed to initially work in my firm’s Chicago office. However, there was an opening in the London office, and I jumped at the chance.

To maximize your chances of working abroad, I would try to work for a firm or company that has offices outside of the United States and then make it known that you would be open to working in one of the offices abroad. Certain practice areas lend themselves more to working abroad; for example, I know a lot of U.S.-qualified lawyers in Europe that do capital markets/corporate work. A few of my colleagues simply asked the firm to transfer them to London rather than waiting for an opening, so this is definitely possible.

Good luck!

{related: what to pack for extended business trips}

Kat’s Friend G’s Tips on How to Be an International Lawyer

G is a lawyer with the DOJ on her third overseas posting; unlike Nicole she DOES have an LLM in Public International Law (as well as a JD). She is not currently practicing as a lawyer; she does training for prosecutors. As she clarifies, “I don’t appear in court or file papers in court or anything like that.” (She was a prosecutor in the U.S. for almost a decade, though!)

G noted that while she DID get to choose which overseas postings to apply to, her status as a direct hire with a limited term means that these aren’t permanent postings; she has to renew her term annually.

G offered her best tips for someone working/living overseas for the first time:

For the first couple of months, don’t turn down any invitations. Force yourself to network and socialize even when you might not feel like it, because you want the invitations to keep coming. That’s how you’ll find your new tribe in your new surroundings, and finding your tribe can make the worst of circumstances so much better. Then, once you do, you can start being choosier about what you do or go to. But at first, be open! Try new things! Push yourself out of your comfort zone!

Big exception: anyone who gives you the creeps. Trust your instincts about anyone who creeps you out… it’s ok to turn their invitations down!!

Thank you for your great advice, Nicole and G!

{related: what businesswomen should wear in the Middle East}

Resources on How to Be an International Lawyer

Here are a few helpful online resources if you’re interested in working abroad as a lawyer, with some selected tips:

10 Things To Know About Working As An Attorney Overseas [Above the Law]

“The most common scenarios [for working overseas] include working in an overseas office of a U.S. law firm or as a local hire in a foreign law firm. But American attorneys can also work in-house for the local subsidiary of a U.S. multinational company, or directly for a foreign multinational company.”

Where can you work if you specialize in international law? [Quora]
Can I get a job in a foreign country after an LLM in international law? [Quora]

  • “If by ‘international law’ you mean corporate transactions or multijurisdictional litigation, it’s a vague term that refers to a hodgepodge of different countries’ and states’ contractual rules, plus treaties, plus certain regulations applicable to a particular area of practice. … You may get into a particular sliver of this kind of ‘international law’ if you get into a large, white-shoe law firm, but in terms of education, what’s really required is a background in contracts and and laws pertaining to specific business as they vary across different jurisdictions.”
  • “Almost everything not under ‘international law’ has an analogue under international law. There are international crimes, international IP issues, international contract issues. So, you can work almost anywhere doing almost anything.”

International Paths for JD Students [Duke Law]

  • Private law firms: “The large U.K. based ‘Magic Circle’ law firms and a number of U.S. based law firms hire U.S. law students to start directly in one of their foreign offices where they have a significant ‘U.S. practice.’ The most common places to start are in London and Hong Kong, though on occasion students have started in Tokyo, Paris, and other locations. Students usually obtain these positions as they would full-time positions with any other large law firm: by working their 2L summer for the firm and then receiving an offer for full-time employment.”
  • Public service organizations: “The many directions that attorneys with careers in international public service law take … include ‘human rights, diplomacy, foreign relations, democracy building, economic development, criminal prosecution, policymaking, treaty negotiation and convention enforcement, and all types of internationally oriented advocacy and activism.’”

Readers, have you ever lived and worked abroad (or investigated doing so)? If your job allows working remotely, have you considered a digital nomad visa? What are your best tips on how to become an international lawyer?

Stock photo via Stencil (and now I want to go to Belgium, sigh)



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