For many around the world, laws and human rights are foreign ideas rather than tangible, enforceable policies; therefore, many international agencies are focused solely on changing legal policies and practices, to ensure power is properly and legally distributed in every nation. Whether you are just beginning your career in law, are still studying, or have an established legal career, taking time to volunteer abroad will expand the way you operate in the field, while also exposing you to the awe-inspiring power legal policies have around the world.
Why Volunteer Abroad in Law
Those interested in studying law are typically interested in improving the lives of others through legal recourse; volunteering abroad then becomes a natural interest for many lawyers and law students. Volunteering abroad takes this leaning toward humanitarianism to the next level, since laws aren’t equally respected or well-established in every country around the world.
Those that volunteer abroad in law often come back more satisfied with their career choice and profoundly appreciative of their opportunities in life, as well as their legal education. Legal volunteering in an underserved nation will most certainly broaden your perspective of the field, the world, and the populations that need your legal help most. Without venturing outside the walls of your home nation, it can be easy to forget the importance and power that law has on your life, and therefore you may not realize the ability you have to change lives for the better abroad.
Lastly, the most practical reason to volunteer abroad in law is the valuable experience you are sure to gain. If you are applying to law schools, legal volunteering experience will be a huge selling point, and if you are already a practicing lawyer, volunteer experience will speak to your personal dedication to helping people, and may even be factored in when you are considered for promotions or professional advancement.
The most popular destinations for legal volunteering abroad are in the developing world, where non-governmental organizations are prevalently working to improve the lives of citizens by promoting legal action. Developing countries tend to be where human rights violations, mistreatment of workers and child labor, or poor compensation issues are most prominent.
Lawyers and law students alike can volunteer abroad in law in almost any country though, including developed nations; even countries with firmly set legal standards still struggle with exploitation, abuse, and a lack of equal access to fair legal aid.
If you’re interested in refugee legal aid, great locations for legal volunteering abroad are both Kenya and Tanzania, where hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have settled. Lawyers and law students who volunteer with refugees can work to ensure refugees are afforded necessary human rights, such as a living wage and fair treatment. Volunteering your time to provide legal assistance to those living in refugee camps will be a humbling experience, as volunteers will often get to work one-on-one with refugees.
For Spanish speakers, Latin America draws many legal volunteers to cities and rural areas in Mexico specifically. In many struggling cities, there is a larger population of abused women, who need legal assistance to rise above their circumstances. Many non-governmental organizations seek volunteers who can help individuals take legal action against their abusers, whether partners, employers, or strangers. Those who volunteer in law in Mexico can also advocate for better legal policy and practices that protect vulnerable populations and ensure offenders serve appropriate sentences for their crimes.
In India, law volunteers most often work in issues surrounding the societal caste system. Volunteers often help women and families combat discrimination based on family wealth, marital status, or physical limitations. Similarly, in Cambodia and Vietnam, law volunteers can seek out solutions to end human trafficking and violence against women, such as by pushing for stronger legal action against offenders and traffickers.
Legal Volunteering Abroad
Whether you already have an ideal location in mind or you are interested in a specific area of legal volunteering abroad, the perfect law placement is out there waiting for you. Non-governmental agencies, private law institutions, and firms involved in pro bono representation all have volunteer opportunities in law available at nearly all times of the year for any amount of time you can dedicate.
Many refugees flee their home countries due to political strife or extreme events only to find themselves stripped of rights, citizenship, and personhood in a neighboring nation. Refugee relief is an interesting branch of international law, which focuses on establishing asylum for those being persecuted due to political or civil strife and seeks to enable citizens to lead healthy and productive lives whether they choose to flee to or when they return home.
Similar to working with refugees, lawyers also often volunteer in immigration reform, a branch of law that aims to correct laws that profile people of certain nationalities, races, or religions when attempting to emigrate from one nation to another.
Most individuals who volunteer abroad in law are interested in human rights issues, or societal gaps and governmental policies that do not adequately protect the rights of citizens to live healthy, happy, and safe lives without fear of persecution or harm.
A subset of this wide range of human rights issues is women’s rights, which often comes in the form of women’s empowerment volunteer programs. Women across the world work hard to support and raise their families, despite the fact that many countries still refuse to grant women the same rights as men, such as the right to own property or vote in elections. Becoming a legal volunteer in women’s rights programs will allow individuals to promote policies and practices that are fair to women, but also help support women in becoming more independent and confident in standing up for themselves.
Those who volunteer abroad in law will most definitely gain valuable workplace experience that will look excellent on any resume or law school application, but there are additional benefits too!
Expand Your Experience. If your legal experience up to the present moment has only entailed paperwork and memorization, then legal volunteering abroad can take your passion for law to the next level. When you volunteer in law abroad, you will be exposed not only to new branches, practices, and policies, you will also be introduced to the people that these laws personally affect and protect. Legal volunteers will see first hand the life changing impact that standard legal documents or fair laws can have on individuals, and entire nations.
Take The Plunge. Legal volunteering abroad will introduce you to a type of cultural immersion you can’t get while simply traveling or touring. When you volunteer abroad you will get the chance to interact with local citizens, from all different walks of lifes, which will expose you to new situations, cultures, and stories; this experience will help you understand only a small slice of what life is like around the world, but it will help you better defend a larger population of clientele more easily.