Pursuing an international legal career: key tips

For law students and junior lawyers, there are a number of ways in which you can gain greater international exposure and experience. Many top law firms in London, New York, Paris or elsewhere work with an international client base. So, it is valuable for lawyers to speak different languages, have a working understanding of another legal system and/or understand the cultural norms of an overseas business environment. In this article, we will give a brief overview of five key ways in which an ambitious student or young professional can internationalise their career trajectory. 

Exchange programmes: for many students, their university may organise exchange programmes with overseas universities. Often, because it is an official university programme, you will receive logistical support eg in looking for accommodation abroad or language lessons. Further, study undertaken at the host institution overseas may count towards your degree, or perhaps result in the award of an additional standalone qualification. Whether going abroad for a few weeks, a few months or even a full year, such university-organised exchange programmes can be a wonderful way to gain exposure to a new language and/or culture in a relatively relaxed way while still being able to depend on the support of both your home and host universities to help smoothen the process. 

Intensive language programmes: perhaps you are no longer a student, or there is no suitable exchange programme offered by your university. In which case, you may want to consider an intensive language programme abroad. In particular, many universities in France, Germany, Spain and beyond offer intensive language classes over the summer. These may include accommodation and/or a range of cultural activities. Of course, there are a range of language schools around the world. Always, it is important to do research on the quality of the programme before signing up. For certain practice areas, having a good level of knowledge in a foreign language can be very helpful. For example, French and Spanish are especially helpful for individuals hoping to pursue a career in international arbitration. 

Internships: While it is not always easy to know about internship opportunities overseas, these opportunities do exist. While each individual will need to do their own research to find internships that are aligned to their own interests, perhaps your university’s careers office will be able to give you some pointers. Just as an example, the United Nations (including its various agencies and offices globally) is always on the lookout for suitably-qualified interns. Professors at overseas universities might want a temporary research assistant. Also, international non-governmental organisations may seek interns from around the world. Alternatively, there is no harm in writing to the Human Resources departments of overseas law firms if you are interested in the work which they do, so as to enquire if they have any potential opportunities. In particular, some major international law firms do offer dedicated internship programmes for students from around the world, particularly in places like Paris or Dubai. 

Secondments: For those of you are either looking to join or have joined a large, international law firm, secondments are another great opportunity to gain direct exposure of the legal sector in another jurisdiction. Many law firms in London will send their trainees / junior lawyer to spend about 6 months at their affiliate offices around the world. Some popular secondment destinations include New York, Washington DC, Paris, the UAE, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

Working overseas long-term: While not all law firms offer international secondment opportunities, the above-mentioned locations are all places where English-qualified solicitors have found permanent positions over the years (depending on their practice area). Another option for English/Commonwealth-qualified lawyers is spending a few years with an “offshore” law firm in the Caribbean or Channel Islands. Qualified lawyers usually find roles overseas with the help of recruiters. 


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