Law is an exceptionally competitive, diverse field, one in which adding an internship abroad with a respected organization – a law firm, NGO, or human rights group – to your resume will set you apart from the competition. Practical experience is an important addition to regular coursework, and it can help you make sure you’ve chosen the right area of law to pursue, or get you started in a specialty that you hadn’t considered. Law internships abroad range from learning the techniques of monitoring and analyzing courtroom sessions to researching human rights violations to exploring exploitation in the labor market, all of which will be vital knowledge for your future career.
The Hague. The Hague, the seat of government for the Netherlands, though not the nation’s capital, is the center of the universe in the legal world. The city’s population is just over a half-million and it is the home to more than 100 organizations that deal with international law and politics, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the European Patent Office, and The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes.
South Africa. South Africa has been a case study in extremes in almost all areas of law -- but especially human rights -- since its brutal apartheid system gave way to a largely peaceful democratic transformation and the writing of new constitution in 1994. Though in many ways a success story, it’s still a country struggling in the areas of human rights, land ownership reforms, conservation issues, and women’s issues. NGOs, humanitarian organizations, and some law firms offer law internships in South Africa specializing in human rights or other top societal issues, mostly in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
England. If you’re looking to intern in law and gain a historical view -- at least from an American, Canadian, Australian, or Western European point of view -- begin your search for internships in England. The roots of democratic law -- the separation and the powers between three branches of government, the concept of an elected national assembly representing the will of the people, and standard criminal and civil court procedures have roots that trace back to English law. London was the center of that progression, so it is one of the best places to intern abroad and explore the history and continuing evolution of legal procedures.
Law Internships Abroad
An international internship in law can help enhance your knowledge of the workings of the finer points of preparing legislation in countries with different styles of government. Your work will absolutely provide a vital service to the communities or individuals you work with, and almost as absolutely will enhance your own life and broaden your outlook and career path possibilities.
Most legal internships abroad are designed for law students specifically, often those in their second year or study. But there are also programs for recent law graduates seeking experience and the chance to get a foot in the door of their chosen field, professionals taking a career breather, or law students taking a gap year. There are also internship opportunities for people considering law as a career, or those with some law knowledge, good communication skills, and an interest in service, combined with the desire to observe, help, and learn from people with other customs and cultures.
An area with some of the most options – and most potentially rewarding experiences are International Law and Human Rights Internships. These generally involve doing research and assisting lawyers at firms or NGOs who are providing free or low cost legal services victims of abuse or exploitation or are working campaigns to raise awareness of human rights issues. Most require no special expertise, though some local language knowledge is helpful.
Many universities set up law internships abroad during breaks, especially over the summer, and many have fellowships or scholarships connected with them that help offset or take care of travel and housing costs. Internship placement offices at universities are usually good at matching student’s interest with the right destinations. University run internship programs are often closely monitored and supervised, and are unpaid, but offer academic credit.
Law internships abroad at private sector law firms, especially those affiliated with universities, often pay a token stipend, but the real compensation is academic credit for a semester’s work, the opportunity to network and make contacts, and the possibility become a full-time employee at the end of the internship. These legal internship programs usually involve about 20 hours of work a week, usually under a supervisor at the firm, and an academic advisor at school. The work varies according to each firm’s philosophy, but generally involves office work and research, and sometimes help in trial preparation.
Salary & Visas
Most legal internships abroad are unpaid, or close to it, and some commercial and nonprofit organizations require interns to pay a placement fee, which includes some food, housing, visas, and other support services. International law internships set up by universities in private firms, NGOs, and government facilities may provide a small stipend, or may also be funded by a scholarship or fellowship program. In the end, law internships abroad are about the experience, travel, networking, and resume building. You’re unlikely to come away with a monetary profit, the benefit is in the educational experience.
Some companies work with volunteer organizations in order to put together intern/volunteer packages that include meals, housing, visas, airport transfers and a staff member to introduce you to your workplace and supervisor. The cost, depending on the country and the organization, ranges from about $2,000 for one to two week periods to up to $7,000 for a summer or semester period, and generally does not include airfare. These law internships abroad are mainly in the human rights area, and have no salary or stipend.
Benefits & Challenges
Law students seeking legal internships abroad must have a strong desire to learn and be ready to embrace living and working in a new culture and working environment. Adaptability and flexibility are important, because the practice of law, and the legislation and governments that regulate it, varies widely from country to country. Law interns must be able to think independently, yet working seamlessly as part of a team, which can be tricky to balance in a new place.
Completing an international law internship will give you an edge in the job market by demonstrating you can adjust to diverse points of view and working conditions and that you possess both self-sufficiency and self-motivation. Also, any foreign language skills you have acquired or improved on while interning abroad will enhance your value to potential employers.
On a personal level, working abroad in any capacity broadens your perspective, and could lead to new interests and career paths you hadn’t considered before.