Skip to Main Content
Because the type of work varies from one agency and one country to another, highlighted below and in the narratives section, are some examples of the breadth and uniqueness of international work.
International governmental work can involve everything from advocating for a particular policy, to drafting and negotiating public international agreements, to representing the U.S. Government or its agencies around the world before inter-governmental bodies such as the WTO or the WHO. It also involves interpreting standards and requirements of various laws and regulations, granting trade preferences, actively advancing U.S. foreign policy interests, and ensuring that U.S. development assistance is carried out in accordance with U.S. law and policy.
Katharine Mueller (HLS ‘99) served as Assistant General Counsel for the Office of the USTR in Washington, D.C. During her three years at USTR she has worked on a WTO dispute settlement, bilateral and unilateral trade negotiations, and trade policy formulation. Highlights of her time include developing and implementing legislation, granting trade preferences to countries in the Andean region, negotiating an agreement covering trade in textiles and apparel between the U.S. and Vietnam, appearing before the WTO Appellate Body in Geneva and serving as the chief lawyer for the Free Trade Agreement that the U.S. is negotiating with the Southern African Customs Union.
Karen Doswell, Foreign Service Adviser to USAID, provided advice to selected government officials in Uganda and Rwanda in support of USAID’s commitment to transparency in government service. In furtherance of its anti-corruption campaign, the government of Uganda established a new ministry called the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity. The newly appointed Minister requested assistance from the U.S. government in developing, among other things, a code of ethics and standards of conduct for its government employees.
Sarah Miller (HLS ‘07) also had a unique international experience with a U.S. government agency. She spent her 1L summer at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Asset Control (OFAC) in the compliance division. The division, often focused on crisis management, handles everything from day-to-day enquiries from banks regarding possible matches to OFAC’s list of prohibited entities to resolving contentious policy issues arising from highly complex financial transactions. Briefings have included matters such as how intelligence reform legislation will implicate the division to hot topics like the conflict between U.S. and Cuban sanctions and European Union (EU) blocking legislation. Sarah explained that what made her experience so exciting was its amazing combination of both abstract foreign policy issues and very practical legal matters. Such varied experiences are valuable to understand whether one ends up in government or in private practice.
The legislative branch offers several opportunities to work with international public interest issues. Some committees such as the Armed Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary cover international-related issues. However, the two international relations-focused committees are the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SCFR) and the House Committee on International Relations (HCIR), each with one full committee and seven subcommittees. Despite the different names, both do essentially the same work. Each has a minority and a majority staff with one or more counsel positions for each full and subcommittee. You’ll work on a broad range of issues dealing with international law and affairs – some legal, some not. Committee counsel are influential in members’ policy decisions, however, votes are made by the members– not the staff. Those wishing to push their own agendas rather than that of a member may want to consider work with an NGO or a private firm.
The major responsibilities of a committee staff member are research and counseling committee members on legal and parliamentary issues. Research covers a gamut of topics, most related to international relations. Particularly confident members request “Murder Boards” in which counsel creates mock debates before the member, who is cross-examined. Committee counsel keep their positions as members change, though they have what most consider the heaviest workload on the Hill. Luckily there is downtime in August, when committees are out of session. While member staffs are working on members’ election campaigns, committee staffs are on vacation. The heavy workload yields the highest salaries of Hill staff, though pay cannot exceed 90% of a Senate or a House member’s salary. Salaries are allover the map, but typically fall into the $60-$70,000 range.
Committee jobs are difficult to come by straight out of law school – even with Hill experience during law school. Committees often value post-graduate work experience. Some employers to consider are governmental agencies like the EPA; international organizations; the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense; think tanks; and intelligence agencies. Of course, working as an attorney on the Hill in other positions is the preferred previous employment. Though not a pre-requisite, a background in international relations or international law through undergraduate or law school coursework and/or in professional settings helps. Ideally, candidates will have some kind of expertise– whether it be regarding a specific region or topic. Within a regional topic a candidate should be knowledgeable about a particular topic and within a topical issue, knowledgeable about a particular region.
Experience is not the only desirable skill for committee staff members. Committee staff members must understand parliamentary procedure, be able to present large amounts of information succinctly, and possess strong analytical, oral and written communication skills, while working efficiently under the pressure of deadlines. A key skill is the ability to cross-debate, the ability to argue either side of an issue. Committee members rely on their staff to know what the “other side” is thinking while having their own views placed in the context of international and federal law. There is no standard employment process on the Hill. There are job posting websites for Capitol Hill positions, such as Hill Zoo and Roll Call, but candidates should not rely on them. Networking helps, but without Hill or relevant experience, it may only yield a position in a member’s office. Those without connections might consider contacting home state representatives and senators, the staff director of the full committee and each subcommittee as well as the office of each committee member – unless you completely disagree with their politics. A member may or may not agree with views of his or her counsel, but will look to counsel for legal precedent and basis on new legislation. You need to be able to work with your member. People who come to work for committees frequently enter thinking that they will only stay for two years, but then those two years turn into a career. Committee staff members get to work with interesting people while holding a position that makes a difference in the world.
Those looking for more information should consult the Congressional Yellow Book and the Congressional Directory. Online information is available as well on the work of the U.S. Congress, or you can contact representatives and senators at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Working for an overseas legislative or administrative body is not out of the question and several HLS students have traveled overseas to work for foreign governments including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Koror State Government for the Republic Of Palau. Many African countries are desperately in need of good legislative and regulatory drafters that could assist in their efforts towards regulatory reform.
There are several White House offices that address foreign policy and international trade. Applications for summer internships can be addressed directly to the office of personnel. Though only a few positions exist for summer internships, if you have a strong interest in foreign policy or international trade the following opportunities should be explored: Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the National Security Council, Homeland Security Council, President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), USTR, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The structure of these organizations can vary
from one administration to the next, reflecting presidential management style, changing requirements, and personal relationships. Although these positions tend to be highly competitive, it is worth applying if your heart is set on having policy experience at the highest levels of our national government.
Although international development work can be obtained through various Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), exciting and challenging development opportunities exist in the government as well. The agencies and departments that play a critical part in international development include the USAID, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies in developing countries, the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. USAID is the largest federal agency involved in international development, responsible for development assistance policies and programs in more than 100 countries, and subject to the foreign policy guidance of the President, the Secretary of State, and the National Security Council. In FY 2007 USAID OFDA responded to 77 disasters affecting more than 94Mpeople in 57 countries. New attorneys at USAID are generally assigned to work in Washington, D.C. with one or more senior attorneys advising staff of one of the four regional (Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Eurasia) or program-oriented (Legislative and Public Affairs; Global Health; Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade; and Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Relief) bureaus in the Agency. The Agency’s legal advisors provide advice with respect to programs in a particular area, as well as draft and interpret legislation, regulations and opinions relating to US foreign assistance programs.
Major assistance programs at USAID include the Tsunami Reconstruction, Helping to Rebuild Iraq, HIV/AIDS, Darfur Humanitarian Crisis and the recent typhoon disaster assistance in the Philippines. Consulting work is also available at USAID with many opportunities to go overseas. USAID awards approximately four billion dollars each fiscal year in federal contracts and grants. Contracts are awarded primarily for technical assistance including legal analysis and feasibility studies. Legal consulting may include on the ground training of foreign ministers and government officials on the implementation of new legal systems, and providing advice and guidance on economic and legal reform.
A legal career with the U.S. Department of State can take many forms including Foreign Service Officer, Foreign Service Specialist, Civil Service, Local Employment in U.S. Embassies and Consulates. The U.S. Department of State provides unique services in support of foreign policy at nearly 265 locations worldwide. U.S. citizens interested in working at a foreign post who are not host country nationals must be legally eligible to work in the country of hire. In most instances, both the work and residency permits must be obtained before the candidacy may be considered.
The most popular Office for lawyers is the Office of Legal Adviser where approximately 175 permanent attorneys negotiate, draft and interpret international agreements and resolve international issues involving human rights, political and military affairs, legislation and foreign assistance, international disputes, trade, peace and security. The Office is organized into sections that roughly correspond with the Department of State’s various bureaus and regional offices and is divided into 23 sections, including the offices at The Hague and in Geneva. Generally only 2Ls are accepted for summer interns and only U.S. citizens can be considered as attorney-advisers.
Approximately 12 interns are hired each summer. Complete information on the Office including application deadlines, the Summer Intern Program, the Work Study (Extern) Program and full time employment can be found at www.state.gov/s/l/.
Due to the limited number of attorney slots available for summer internships and full time positions at the Office of the Legal Adviser excellent opportunities can be found as well in many other State Department Bureaus and Offices. As an example, last summer two HLS students worked in Riga, Latvia and Quito, Ecuador with the U.S. Department of State. Bureaus and Offices with interesting legal work include the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Inspector General, Legislation and Foreign Assistance, Law Enforcement and Intelligence, Human Rights and Refugees, Counter-terrorism and War Crimes Issues, and the Office of Treaty Affairs. For example, The Office of War Crimes Issues, advises the Secretary of State directly on U.S. efforts to address serious violations of international humanitarian law committed anywhere in the world. The office oversees U.S. support for the creation of courts and other judicial mechanisms to bring perpetrators of international law to justice. The Office of Treaty Affairs advises on treaty law and procedure, including drafting, negotiating, applying, interpreting and publishing treaties and other international agreements of the U.S. Constitutional questions including the powers of the President and the Congress are also addressed. Challenging and interesting legal work can also be found in the various regional bureaus under the Under Secretary for Political Affairs or the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs. As an example, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs promotes foreign policy and U.S. interests in the region on issues such as national security, NATO enlargement, coordination with the EU and support for democracy, human rights, economic prosperity, the war on terrorism, and nonproliferation.
The application process for summer internships at State, other than the Office of the Legal Adviser, is primarily through the Student Internship Program. It can be found online at http://careers.state.gov/students/gpg_students.html. The Intern Coordinators Office receives all applications and reviews them to ensure that they are complete and meet eligibility requirements. Applications are then forwarded to the bureaus identified by the applicant for selection. Any offer is not official until selectees receive written notification from the Internship Program’s Office and is contingent upon a complete investigation and issuance of a security clearance. Foreign language ability is an important factor for internships abroad, and relevant academic studies or work experience can increase your competitiveness.
For those who would like to stay close to home for the summer and still be involved in international work, there area surprising number of opportunities. One of the most common areas in which states are involved internationally is international trade and commerce and foreign direct investment. Almost every state, particularly those with substantial foreign direct investment and large multinational corporations, has a state agency that oversees international trade or international economic development, or it may be managed by the state’s Port Authority which is often an independent agency that contracts directly with the airline industry. The state agency may be funded in part by the federal government or serve as a sister agency to a larger federal agency.
Most states have a government website that provides a listing of international opportunities and organizations. State agencies with international investment and business development programs exist in many major cities including New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
For example, in Massachusetts the primary offices with international trade and foreign direct investment responsibility are the Office of International Trade and Investment (MOITI) and the Massachusetts Export Center within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport). The Massachusetts Export Center is utilized by small and large businesses considering exporting to other countries. The Center offers many courses and programs relevant to international business including offerings on the legal requirements for importing and exporting. Massachusetts maintains representative offices in Brazil, China, Mexico and Berlin and has entered into 15 country trade and investment agreements. Massachusetts state international trade and investment agencies can be found at http://www.moiti.state.ma.us/.
Other State International Offices include the California Centers for International Trade Development at www.citd.org; e Florida at www.eflorida.com; New York’s Empire State Development Corporation at www.nylovesbiz.com; and the Ohio Department of Development at www.odod.state.oh.us. State agencies also often have sister states or overseas offices where opportunities may exist for international legal work. Since September 11th, in addition to trade and investment, there has been a proliferation of state offices of Homeland Security involved in the protection of lives from acts of terrorism. Alabama was the first state in the nation to create its own legislatively enacted cabinet level Department of Homeland Security. The department is staffed to mirror the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and works closely with federal, state and local partners. A director and five assistant directors head the department, each managing a designated homeland security area of responsibility, including borders, ports and transportation; science and technology; intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection; information management and budget; and emergency preparedness and response.
To combat terrorism, New Jersey created the Office of Counter-Terrorism in 2002 led by a career law-enforcement intelligence and national security professional. The office is a separate unit within the Department of Law and Public Safety and has all the powers conferred by the Criminal Justice Act. It collaborates closely with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, county and municipal levels, and serves as the liaison to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The Federal Yellow Book, available in most law school libraries and career centers, also provides a complete listing of who’s who in federal departments and agencies and is published quarterly.
Surprisingly, there are no specific requirements to become a career diplomat in the Foreign Service other than achieving a high score on the Foreign Service written exam and oral assessment. However, due to the competitive nature of the process, as noted by the Foreign Service Officers below, candidates likely possess an advanced degree and/or a couple years of work in the international affairs arena. Language skills and familiarity with foreign government are also a plus, although not required as the Department of State has its own foreign language training program. The experiences below are helpful in understanding the prerequisites and the process. Bruce Williamson (HLS ‘81) has served as a career Foreign Service Officer for the past 19 years. In explaining how to join the Foreign Service, he points out that a law degree is not needed to enter. The evaluation process consists of the Foreign Service written exam administered once a year in the spring. If the applicant has a sufficiently high score, they are given a four-hour oral assessment. If accepted, the new Foreign Service Officer generally serves two tours overseas (two years each), often followed by a tour (again two years) back in Washington. Prior to assignment overseas, an officer may receive full time language training (dependent upon existing language skills and the language spoken in the destination country) that can last, anywhere from several months up to two years. There are a fair number of lawyers in the Foreign Service, though most of the incoming officers seem to have an international affairs background. Detailed steps to becoming a Foreign Service Officer can be found at www.careers.state.gov/officer/. Foreign Service Officers enter in one of the following tracks: Management, Consular, Economic, Political and Public Diplomacy.
Jay Raman advises that the best way to prepare for the Foreign Service Exam is to read the State Department examination study guide, which provides examples of the type of questions on the test. If possible, try to talk with someone who has taken the exam. More important than the written exam is the subsequent oral interview given only to those who pass the written portion. The State Department offers a half-day course on strategies for taking the oral interview in several cities. The interview does not test substantive knowledge and assumes no understanding of the State Department. Its primary purpose is to test for personality, judgment and motivation. According to several that have taken the interview, motivation is often what trips up many a qualified candidate. Because of the extensive training required and the demands on Foreign Service Officers, the Department wants to ensure that new hires are not likely to drop out after one assignment.
If both spouses are members of the Foreign Service they will generally be assigned in tandem to the same foreign office or embassy throughout their career, although such an arrangement cannot always be guaranteed. For those officers whose spouses are not members of the Foreign Service, life can be very stressful for their families, and according to one Foreign Service official is one of the top reasons that officers quit the service. Nonetheless, the Foreign Service provides many resources for families including a family liaison office in D.C. and at posts throughout the world. The Foreign Service community is quite large, and friendships are easy to forge with families in similar circumstances. Barbara Finamore (HLS ‘80), who provided a narrative on working at an NGO, provides an excellent example of how a spouse made her husband’s Foreign Service career work to her advantage. The State Department’s website (www.state.gov/m) includes frequently asked questions related to spouses who are not U.S. Citizens.
The primary mission of U.S. embassies abroad, in contrast to the mission of foreign embassies and consulates in the Guide, includes diplomacy and the advancement of foreign relations, as well as the provision of services for the millions of U.S. citizens living and working abroad. Embassies and consulates located in six different regions of the world carry out this work in more than 251 countries. Although the role of a lawyer may vary from one embassy to another, the general mission remains the same. Adam Smith was fortunate to spend his 1L summer working with the legal counselor to the U.S. embassy in The Hague, covering public international legal institutions in the city, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Typical citizen services provided by embassies include visa and immigration assistance, safety and security information, taxpayer help, processing U.S. passports and voter registration by absentee ballot. All of these services, of course, raise legal questions and require an understanding of various international laws and procedures.
Regardless of the type of work involved, the experience of living abroad and sharing in the important diplomatic mission set forth by the U.S. Department of State make this an extremely exciting and challenging opportunity for a summer internship or post-graduate work. Information on career opportunities can be found at the U.S. Department of State website of U.S. embassies and consulates at http://usembassy.state.gov.
There are more than 170 foreign embassies located in Washington, D.C. and an almost equivalent number of foreign consulates located in several major cities including New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Boston alone has more than 52 consulates and New York City has more than 100. The primary purpose of foreign embassies and consulates is to promote business interests and help foreign governments attract U.S. business opportunities. This is in contrast to U.S. embassies located in foreign countries where there is a slightly different mission as noted above. Despite the difference in focus of U.S. and foreign embassies, both can be accessed through networking. Getting to know the consul general and economic consulates from countries where you would like to work is an excellent way to develop contacts and handle issues that arise in international work. Most foreign embassies and consulates will employ U.S. citizens if there is a specific need to fill that requires knowledge and experience of the U.S. government or the private sector. A complete listing of foreign embassies, as well as selected embassy jobs in the U.S., are posted at embassy.gov.
Back to Top