International Paths for JD Students


Lawyers starting their careers abroad typically work for either a private law firm or a public service oriented organization, such as an NGO or international court.

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.

It is important to note that unless the firm has a substantial U.S. practice in its foreign office, it is often recommended that students start their careers in the United States with a firm that offers the possibility of working abroad once some U.S. expertise has been developed. In fact, more and more large law firms offer their mid-level associates the opportunity to work abroad for several years. Also, many law firms are involved in some type of international work, so a large number lawyers to need to employ comparative legal skills and cross-cultural understanding.

In addition to the firms that may offer graduates the opportunity to launch their careers abroad, many law firms ask Duke Law students if they would like to spend part of their second summer in a foreign office. These opportunities often include offices where a student is less likely to launch a career, such as in France, Belgium, and China, but where students could have a meaningful experience for a few weeks during the summer. Students who are interested in international experience should ask firms during the recruiting process whether opportunities are available and how they are assigned.

Public service organizations

By pursuing international public interest law, Duke Law students are very likely to develop a skill set largely outside what constitutes the "traditional" practice of law at a US law firm. Perhaps surprisingly, many US-trained attorneys begin their international public interest careers domestically, working for non-governmental or inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations, federal agencies such as the State Department or Department of Justice, or non-profit organizations created to benefit populations abroad. Because in-person interviews with agencies and organizations abroad are rare, a candidate may not have the opportunity to "check out" an employer before committing to work. Therefore, many attorneys choose domestic work to start so that they can get to know the reputable agencies and organizations that are doing work of interest before committing to an employer "in the field."

Expanding your public interest job search beyond the US can dramatically broaden one's opportunities geographically and with regard to practice. Serving the Public: A Job Search Guide, Volume II - International, a guide book frequently used by Duke Law students, notes the many directions that attorneys with careers in international public service law take. These 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." Students with a focus in international public interest also have many fellowship opportunities available to them. These fellowships are highly competitive and the most qualified candidates have, among other things, a demonstrated interest (prior experience) in an international public interest topic. Interested students are encouraged to seek opportunities to gain experience while in law school through faculty research project, pro bono, summer internships, etc.

Next Steps

A small number of international organizations expressed interest in specifically receiving Duke resumes. Please speak with Oleg Kobelev, Director of International Career Development, if you'd like to pursue a career overseas following graduation.