Studying International Law: Degrees at a Glance
Studying international law at the graduate level can lead to careers where you deal with various issues and policies impacting countries around the world. Doctoral-level degrees typically award a Juris Doctor (J.D.), which is a professional degree intended for those who want to practice law. Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs are designed for those holding J.D. degrees who want to expand their expertise in specific fields, such as international law.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that lawyers would see 10% employment growth from 2010-2020 (which is a slower-than-average rate of growth for all occupations), it is worth noting that this is a popular and competitive career field. Another career you may qualify for with an international law degree is a judge; prior experience as a lawyer may be necessary before acquiring this position. However, the BLS anticipated that only a 7% employment increase was expected for judges from 2010-2020.
|Who is this degree for?||Aspiring lawyers or judges||Lawyers wanting to specialize further in international law|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary)|| - Lawyer ($113,000)*|
- Judge ($120,000)*
| - Lawyer ($113,000)*|
- Law professor ($149,000 - typically requires several years experience in the field)**
|Time to Completion||Three years, full-time||One year, full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - About 86-90 credit hours |
| - About 24 credits |
- Writing requirement
|Prerequisites|| - Bachelor's degree|
-Register with the Law School Admissions Council Credential Assembly Service
| - J.D. degree or other first law degree |
- Writing requirement
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures); **Salary.com (September 2012 figures).
Juris Doctor in International Law
Juris Doctor programs are common throughout the country, and since law is such a broad field, many programs provide various concentrations so you can tailor your curriculum to your career goals. International law is a commonly offered concentration, and some programs narrow the focus even more by offering sub-specialties, such as international business, public international law and comparative law.
Pros and Cons
- You can typically choose from numerous electives or sub-specialties for a more focused curriculum
- Several opportunities for experiential learning are commonly available
- Many programs offer study abroad opportunities
- Must pass the state bar exam to practice law, and separate bar exams are typically necessary to practice in multiple states
- Extensive experience in the field is often required to work in teaching or research positions
- Law is a competitive field that often requires long work hours
Courses and Requirements
In a J.D. program, the curriculum typically entails some core courses that are required by all J.D. students, regardless of the concentration. These classes are designed to build a foundation for your law studies by teaching topics such as civil procedures, legal research, torts and criminal law. Most of your coursework consists of electives that can include immigration law, human rights, environmental law and military law. Additionally, you can expect to conduct research and prepare a thesis or research paper on a specific subject in international law. Practical training is acquired through externships and clinical experiences. Study abroad options are often available in international law programs.
A few J.D. programs are offered online, but you may not be able to choose from concentrations within these programs. Instead, these programs may offer electives, and some may be relevant to international law. Electives you may find in an on-campus international law program, such as military or environmental law, may also be available in an online program.
Stand Out with This Degree
While earning your degree, acquire as many practical training opportunities as you can. One way to do this is through simulated court competitions where you conduct research, prepare briefs and present oral arguments. Competitions can be held at the regional and national levels, which may bring you recognition.
You can also look into joining professional or student law organizations. Some organizations may focus on international law-focused areas, such as human rights, immigration or specific countries or regions.
Master of Laws in International Law
Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs are typically designed for experienced lawyers looking to gain expertise in a specific area of law. For this reason, multiple concentrations are offered in these programs, including international law or related subjects, such as international business law. A J.D. or other first law degree is required to enroll in an LL.M. program.
Pros and Cons
- You can gain a thorough understanding of the international law field
- Programs often offer flexibility by allowing you to choose a large portion of your coursework
- Program can be completed in one year
- A J.D. degree is typically required
- A minimum amount of professional experience may be necessary for admission
- Degree isn't necessary to obtain employment as a lawyer
Courses and Requirements
Most of the 24 credits that are typically required in an LL.M. program are earned through coursework. There are usually a few required core classes that you must take, such as public international law and business international law. However, the rest of the coursework is usually left to your choosing and can include electives like comparative law, international criminal law, international taxation and immigration. A writing requirement in the form of a research project, paper or thesis may be necessary to satisfy the graduation requirements.
Some schools offer LL.M. programs online in order to accommodate working professionals. However, not all programs offer the multitude of concentration options that a campus-based program offers, so it may be more difficult to find one that specializes in international law.
How to Stand Out with This Degree
Becoming a member in international law organizations, such as the American Society of International Law, can provide you with plenty of benefits. Members are often provided access to the most up-to-date information regarding the international law field as well as professional development resources. You may receive invitations to attend or participate in conferences or join specific committees based on your expertise within the international law field.
Learning at least one foreign language will most likely come in handy since traveling abroad may be necessary. Additionally, learning as much as you can about a country or region's culture can help you better understand specific populations, which may be helpful when applying the law to certain situations.