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Why you should study international law

Have a burning desire to make a difference in the world? What better way to do that than through the law? Read our guide on international law here.

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What is law?

The first thing that comes to your mind would probably be of crime, the police and the prison. However, law is more than just crime-related. It encompasses all aspects of your life, there is a law for almost everything. From issues related to business, economics, personal finances, health, the environment, politics, human rights, international relations and many more.


Why international law?

In today’s increasingly globalised world, legal problems now span countries and often involve regional and international treaties and laws, so it’s essential that practitioners comprehend how the global legal system works. Law is no longer something that is unique to each country operating in a silo, and there is significant demand for lawyers that understand this.


Study route

Depending on the country that you choose to study in, the programmes on offer will differ. In most countries, such as in Singapore, UK and many others, law degrees are given out in the form of an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) and students will go on to take the national Bar or Law Society qualifying examinations in order to be able to practice as a lawyer. Sometimes a BA in Law (BL) or a BSc in Law is awarded instead. Bear in mind that some universities choose to differentiate between LLB and BA programmes, the former focuses exclusively on law while the latter allows students to take modules in other subjects. Graduate law degrees will have a greater focus on academic research and they are referred to as a PhD in Law, (JSD) Doctor or Juridical Science or Doctor of Laws. 

A JD (Juris Doctor) is offered in places such as the US, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. In these countries, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline and then proceed to take up legal studies at the graduate level. A JD lasts three years. Students are also presented with the option of earning a Master of Laws (LLM) in a chosen area of specialisation after completing their JD. For lawyers who don’t possess a JD, they can study an LLM which will enable them to practice in countries that require a JD. Prospective students who intend to study in the US will need to take the LSATs (Law School Admission Test) in order to gain admission into American law programmes.


What to expect from law degrees

Like most academic degrees, law programs start with compulsory core courses, and more opportunities to choose law topics tailored to a particular career path later on. Teaching is conducted through a combination of lectures, seminars, group work, presentations, class debates and ‘mooting sessions’ – practical law training in a courtroom setting to help students master important legal skills such as research and analysis, public speaking and argument formation.

Some may also provide students with the chance to work pro bono (voluntarily) with real-life clients, as a way to gain invaluable experience and gaining legal skills that will help when applying for positions later on.


Modules covered

In every law degree, the first year will cover the basic core modules such as introduction to legal techniques, the legal system, legal research, reasoning and literacy skills. Students will also be taught the seven foundations of legal knowledge- public law, criminal law, law of tort, law of contract, land law, EU law and equity and the law of trusts.

In your second year, modules such as criminal law, land law and international and comparative law will be covered. Then in year three, you will study equity and trusts, transactions and actions.

Other modules include:

·         Family Law

·         Employment Law

·         Human Rights Law

·         Environmental Law

·         Wills and Succession

·         Companies- Governance, Tax and Insolvency

·         Intellectual Property

·         Commercial Law

·         Criminal Litigation and Evidence


Legal training

Many graduates opt to continue their legal training beyond the undergraduate level to advance their legal career. The specific type of legal training required will depend on the country that they’re practicing and the type of legal career that you aspire to. Often times this involves further study, examinations and practical legal training through formal work placements.


Placement opportunities

Quite a lot of universities today provide plenty of internship opportunities for their students. For example, Kingston University’s International Law LLB programme offers their students two opportunities to undertake a professional internship of up to three months (either in the UK or overseas) or a period of study abroad to develop a broader understanding of the subject and how it is applied and taught in other parts of the world. The university also has a unique four-term Professional Readiness Programme that will prepare students to undertake an internship with confidence and prepare for the reality of work. Meanwhile, the Harvard Law School provide a myriad of placement opportunities for their students, they can choose to spend a semester abroad, working abroad in the summer or sign up for a joint degree programme with the University of Cambridge. Alternatively, you could also opt to seek independent internships on your own. To find out more information regarding the kinds of internship programmes that universities or college have, we suggest that you contact them directly. We highly recommend that students to complete at least one internship or placement before graduation to better your employment chances in a highly competitive job market. Internships and placements not only provide you with invaluable job experience, they also are the perfect platform to network with industry experts. Who knows, your internship might turn into a full-time job once you graduate!


Skills needed

As an international law student, it will be beneficial for you to pick up a foreign language. An international lawyer will be required to travel frequently and communicate with foreigners and other government agencies and most likely also interpret or translate various legal documents. Some of the most common foreign languages that you can consider are: Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Arabic.

Aside from studying a foreign language, you will also need these skills:

  • research and writing skills

  • commercially aware (understanding the basics of how businesses work)

  • public speaking knowledge (the art and science of effective communication)

  • negotiation and leadership skills

  • international study or work experience

  • knowledge of the basic differences between different legal systems around the world as well as their political and cultural contexts in different countries

  • adept at using technology

  • team player

  • critical thinker (the ability to rationally and logically assemble sound arguments)


Career paths

Most graduates understandably pursue careers within the legal sectors and in certain countries the usage of titles such as ‘barrister’ and ‘solicitor’ are used interchangeably or hold one title but can practice as both. Employers include government agencies, international agencies (such as the World Trade Organisation) and tribunals, intergovernmental organisations, nongovernmental organisations and private law firms.

Some of the titles that you can hold:


A barrister (or advocate in places such as Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Israel, and Brazil) specialises in representing clients (individuals or organisations) in court. Barristers are hired by solicitors to represent a case at court, only becoming involved when advocacy before a court is needed. You will provide legal advice for your client and plead the case on behalf of your client and your client’s solicitor, You will have an area of specialisation such as criminal, common or entertainment law. Most are self-employed while others work for various government departments, agencies, charities, corporations or solicitors firms. In the US, barristers were historical known as Although counsellors today the role of barristers and solicitors are no longer differentiated and are both called attorneys.


A solicitor (or attorney in South Africa) provides legal advice on a wide range of subjects (both personal and business affairs) and typically need to explain the law to their clients, be they individuals, groups, public sector organisations or private companies. You may act on behalf of your client in court (or instruct a barrister to do so) and throughout all legal negotiations in issues such as property transactions, wills, divorce and child custody, compensation claims and business contracts. Solicitors are required to prepare and research documents, letters and other paperwork in order to represent your client to the best of your ability. Employers include private law firms, central or local government agencies, banks or other commercial organizations.

Company secretaries

As a company secretary, you will ensure that the company that employs you complies with relevant legislation on a local, national or global basis. You are required to possess a thorough understanding of laws that affect the company’s area of interest, and by monitoring changes in relevant legislation, will be responsible for ensuring the efficient administration of your company in regards to legal and statutory requirements.

Other careers for international law graduates

Other sectors an international law graduate can enter are: accountancy, banking, business and management, commerce, finance, government, HR and recruitment, journalism, media, politics, publishing, teaching, the civil service, not-for-profit and NGOs, or think tanks and policy development.

How much does an international lawyer make?

Based on the report by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned a median salary of $115,820, as of May 2015.

JSD degree programs are a prime route toward teaching positions in law schools, especially overseas. The median salary for law school teachers was $105,250, as of May 2015, according to the same report.


Best places to study international law:



University of Melbourne

University of Sydney

University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Australian National University (ANU)



Harvard University

Yale University

New York University (NYU)

Stanford University



University of Oxford

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

University College London (UCL)

King’s College London


The Netherlands

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Maastricht University


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