Careers in International Law: A Comprehensive Guide (2024)

If cross-border issues like international business and human rights are topics that interest you, then a masters in international law is a great postgraduate option to consider.

International law is a highly specialised and interdisciplinary field. A postgraduate super specialisation, International Law is typically offered as an LLM degree that one can pursue after a bachelor’s degree in law. Simply put, it is the study of the fundamental framework that governs and monitors interactions between countries, be it trade or diplomatic relations, human rights or armed conflicts.

A masters in international law opens up opportunities for jobs in a wide range of sectors, including working for government foreign ministries, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations or consultancies involved in international affairs.

What is the scope of international law?

In simple terms, International Law establishes legal frameworks, guidelines and treaties to protect and promote human rights and maintain relationships among sovereign nations.

A postgraduate degree in International Law can cover a broad area of study exploring topics of contemporary significance including international corporate law, laws relating to migrants and refugees, climate change and the use of natural resources, transitional justice, and so on.

These facets can be studied as modules as part of the master’s degree or as electives that will help you specialise in a particular domain of international law.

A significant component of international relations, International Law provides the core framework in many fields including

  • War, Peace and Security
  • Global trade and investment
  • Climate Change and environmental protection
  • Telecommunications
  • Air travel and maritime navigation

While the scope of the law cannot be precisely defined due to the absence of an apparent authority to enforce its provisions, the law has been categorised into smaller constituent parts and made applicable to protect the interests of the states and human rights at large. Let us take a look at some of the branches of international law.

Branches of International Law

At the outset, the provisions of international law can be classified into public, private and supranational law.

1. Public International Law:

This branch of the law deals with relationships among nations and international organisations such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation. Commonly referred to as “the Law of Nations”, public international law essentially governs the behaviour of nation-states, ensuring that individual governments act in mutual respect of one another. Typically, rules and regulations related to the environment, the ocean, international business and human rights fall under the ambit of Public International Law.

2. Private International Law: Also called “Conflict of Laws”, private international law is narrower in its scope. Let us say there is a conflict between two citizens of two different countries that have two different legal systems. The provisions of private international law will come into play to determine jurisdiction and determine which law can be applied. This form of law deals with individuals rather than countries. Legal issues with numerous areas such as torts, international contracts, family matters, intellectual property, real property, and others come under the ambit of this branch of the law.

3. Supranational Law: In this branch of the law, the nations limit their judicial rights and submit to a common tribunal for some specific disputes. The judgments passed by these courts would supersede any decision made by the national courts. The United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice are two globally accepted supranational tribunals. Another example of the supranational framework is the European Union Law. The EU Court of Justice has the power to overrule individual member states.

In addition to these aforementioned branches, international law can be further categorised depending on their areas of governance. Some of the categories are:

  • International Human Rights Law
  • Environmental Law
  • International Criminal Law
  • International Trade Law
  • International Intellectual Property Rights and so on.

Why study LLM in international law?

A master of laws in international law is a sought-after postgraduate option for law graduates. In addition to the personal interest that drives one to pursue this programme, the following are the benefits of gaining a masters in international law.

  • Niche Specialisations: As mentioned earlier, a master of laws in IL opens up numerous specialisations that an international student can pursue a diploma in. You can choose to specialise in any of the niche areas ranging from international conflict resolution to criminal justice, in line with your interests.
  • Top Universities and Research Opportunities: Be it arbitration or advocacy, some of the top universities in the world provide multiple modules of study in their international law programme. Be it the University of Melbourne in Australia, University College London or Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, Harvard Law School in the USA, NUS in Asia or the Heidelberg University providing one of the best master of laws in Germany, universities across the globe provide quality education and research opportunities in the field of international law.
  • Demand for international lawyers:

    Globalisation has, in recent years, led to close ties between the private and public sectors, and this has fuelled a demand for international lawyers. The global legal services market is expected to have a CAGR of 4.5% from 2023 to 2030 to reach USD 1,362.81 billion by 2030.Owing to the phenomenon, we are also seeing a lot more big corporations opening global headquarters.

    The top 5 commercial law firms in the U.K namely Allen & Overy, Slaughter and May, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – are constantly on the lookout for Indian talent which is licensed to work both domestically as well as abroad.

    This cooperation with the Indian lawyers allows them to function in the country and even advise on Indian law which they are otherwise prohibited from doing.Moreover, developing countries also need lawyers to help them in their legal transformation. The role played by lawyers in the development of countries while assisting with new laws and amending current laws in legislatures and parliaments just can’t be overlooked. Also, international organisations like the United Nations, are in need of lawyers to interpret their charters and international law.

  • Understanding legal and cultural systems around the world: Another important benefit of gaining a postgraduate degree in international law is that it opens up your world view to perceive other legal and cultural systems across the globe. It equips you to better understand armed conflicts and international relations, making you a global citizen. An openness to these differences has a direct impact on your ability to network with professionals from varied backgrounds and contexts.
  • Scope for work in areas of philanthropy and profit: With this law degree, it is possible to build a career as an integral member of an international business organisation or find work helping some of the most vulnerable, marginalised people in the world.

What are the eligibility criteria required to study LLM?

Across the world, universities offer both full-time and part-time LLM programmes for international students, depending on their visa regulations. While the exact entry requirements vary with each university, here are some of the common criteria required to apply for a masters in law programme.

  • An undergraduate degree in law (LLB, Juris Doctor, or equivalent) with an acceptable GPA.
  • However, some universities accept other relevant bachelor degrees such as international relations, political science  and others to get into their LLM programme.
  • Most top universities for LLM also expect you to have 2 – 3 years of work experience.
  • While not common, some universities in the UK might also require you to submit LSAT scores.
  • English Language Requirements: Proof of English language proficiency is a mandatory requirement for international students wanting to study LLM. Standardised tests that assess a candidate’s fluency in English such as IELTS, TOEFL or PTE are required.
  • An updated CV, statement of purpose and letters of recommendation
  • Financial statement proving a candidate’s ability to afford tuition and cost of living in the destination country
  • A valid passport

What are the top universities to do a masters in International Law?

Let us look at some of the top universities that offer LLM degree programmes across the globe. The following table covers location, ranking and tuition fee.

Ranking University and Location Course Tuition Fee
1 American University in Washington LLM in International Legal Studoes ~$60,000
2 University of Cambridge, UK LLM £39,378 (~$50,000)
3 Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland LLM in International Law CHF 28,000 (~$31,600)
4 University of Oxford, UK MSc International Human Rights Law £16,985 (~$21,530)
5 London School of Economics and Political Science, UK LLM with multiple specialisation options £36,168 (~$45,842)
6 University of Helsinki, Finland Masters in International Business Law €15,000 (~$16,270)
7 New York University, USA LLM in International Legal Studies $76,878
8 Utrecht University, Netherlands Masters in Public International Law €18,332 (~$19,884)
9 School of Law, University of Chicago Illinois, USA LLM $76,479
10 School of Law, University of California Berkeley, USA LLM ~$73,000

The application deadlines and processes vary with universities and countries. The start date in most US and UK universities is September. The duration of the course is typically one or two years full-time. The programmes involve an in-depth study of the various modules of international law through coursework, seminars, assignments, research work, case studies and practical experience gained through internships.

What are the career options?

International law is a fast-changing dynamic field, and experts have no dearth of opportunities.  After qualifying in this domain you can choose to become a corporate lawyer, policy advisor, mediator, or a legal advisor, to name a few. You can also work with non-governmental or intergovernmental organisations.

For instance, international organisations like the United Nations are on a constant lookout for talented individuals inclined towards bringing forth a global change. Lawyers for the United Nations are employed in a wide range of fields including environmental law, maritime law, trade law and treaties. In such a situation, a person with expertise in international law holds a prominent edge above the others.

Here are some of the typical job roles after an LLM in International Law.

1. Corporate lawyer

They are the most active international lawyers today. The main task of a corporate lawyer is to aid clients in business transactions. They are champions of international business laws and ensure that a company’s operations are compliant with the international standards.

They represent clients in courts, defend their case and also initiate legal actions on their behalf while keeping them in the loop. However, professionals with expertise in local issues such as securities and regulations or trademarks are more likely to be hired. The nitty-gritty of the application of these in the international sphere can be learned later as well. On average, they earn USD 107,300 p.a.

In a typical law firm, you can enter the firm as either an associate or a partner.


Freshers who have just ventured into corporate law can join companies in the capacity of junior or senior attorneys. Working under the supervision of a senior associate, their task generally adheres to looking into the day-to-day affairs of their clients. While the work allotted depends on the size of the firm, the career growth is tremendous with increasing years of experience.


Their work generally pertains to supervising the legal and technical support teams of the law firms while running the daily administrative affairs. Other areas that are of interest to them include managing the new projects allotted by the clients and keeping an eye on vendor relationships. Their expertise lies in handling all the projects perfectly while ensuring that the work on the talent is balanced to receive the best outcomes.

A list of the popular industries hiring corporate lawyers include
Law firms
Law enforcement agencies
Corporate firms
Law institutions

2. Chief Legal Managers

An expert with years of experience in commercial law, a chief legal manager is the head of all the legal matters of an organisation. They are the legal face of the firms and preside over the entire legal procedure from the minutes of details to the biggest of deals. Compared to corporate lawyers who deal primarily with business operations, legal managers are expected to have a broader scope of knowledge including intellectual property and franchising, corporate law, international trade laws and so on.

3. Diplomat

Besides collecting and sharing information relevant to their client’s needs, diplomats also work towards maintaining healthy international relations. After all, the entire corpus of diplomatic law is derived based on state immunity and sovereign immunity. Moreover, they work relentlessly toward negotiating treaties and providing aid during crises. They earn USD 86,200 p.a. on an average.

4. Industry Experts

Their expertise is used in legal insight in all the essential matters of the organisation ranging from transactions and business associations to contracts and beyond.

5. Policy advisor

Besides working closely with policy analysts on the implementation of public policies, these experts lend their expertise in writing and presenting well-researched reports for government bodies. They basically have three interlinking roles: advising, negotiating and litigating. Over time, there has been tremendous growth in the scope of work of policy advisors thanks to the diversification of international law and the pressing need for specialisation thereby, the gradual codification of international law and also an increase in monitoring and accountability mechanisms. They can also evaluate potential risks on policy documents. Their average paycheck is USD 74,500 p.a.

A policy advisor’s job requires a high level of expertise. Therefore, a masters degree is recommended. Further, an aspirant can also go for a PhD to get more access to opportunities. The importance of internships and work experiences cannot be neglected either.

Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy and the Master of Public Policy, are also the more popular courses among aspirants. Since the degrees are quite broad in themselves, many of the students choose to concentrate on a particular area that interests them.

Another good decision would be to opt for entry-level jobs right at the bachelors level. This will give more insight into the professional lives of policy advisors, and the hands-on practical experience gained is indispensable. This will also act as a reliable platform for network building. Many students also volunteer for political organisations.

6. Mediator

Mediators study individual cases in depth. Upon doing so, they do their best to provide mutual solutions and avoid the possibility of a court hearing for both the parties. Being a mediator is all about conflict resolution so a person with good reasoning, problem solving abilities and peacemaking skills will reach great heights in this profession. Examples of conflicts that mediators generally strive to resolve include labour issues, health care disputes, environmental issues and international conflicts. This job is highly confidential. Mediators make over USD 51,700 p.a.

Though a degree in law goes a long way, education in mediation is the most important which can either be attained as an undergraduate course or an individual training course.

Mediation has always been a sought after option historically. Today, a large number of colleges have started offering courses in dispute resolution and conflict management keeping in mind the needs of the globalised world. The growth rate of this field is exponential, and it is expected to overtake all the other areas soon.

7. Legal advisor

As the name suggests, upon receiving all the necessary documents from the client, legal advisors work towards providing useful advice regarding legal issues and transactions. Their job is different from that of arbitrators as the parties are in no sort of prior agreement to accept the suggestions made unconditionally.

They are also known as “in-house counsel”, “in-house lawyers” and “corporate counsel”. Often, they specialise in issues such as contract disputes, compensation issues and other workplace related conflicts. This job can fetch you USD 78,700 p.a. on an average.

It is a highly competitive field and merely getting a diploma won’t cut it. At least an LLB course from a recognized university should be completed. Moreover, working as a Legal Assistant can fetch amazing opportunities on this career path.

Though the beginning can be challenging, this career brings forth an array of opportunities in a diverse range of sectors. The flexible working hours, possibility of self employment and the financial merits are the cherry on the cake.

8. Project officer/assistant

These officers generally work for organisations which have their presence in the legal arena as well, for instance inter-governmental organisations or NGOs. Their scope of work is pretty wide and can range from carrying out awareness campaigns and brainstorming in research to even collaborating with beneficiaries directly. On an average, they make $72,500 p.a.

As a project officer, you can be heading a team in a consulting company, a marketing or finance organisation or take on roles in global organisations such as the UN, UNICEF, WHO and others where you will directly be working towards the welfare of people at large.

How to pursue a career in international law?

International law is a diverse and unrestricted field. That being said there is no fixed route into it. In fact, even professionals who are not from the legal field can work with the employers in supportive roles such as finance and HR. However, if the legal aspects interest you, then here’s how you can pursue  a career in international law.

  • It is prudent to supplement your legal degree with a masters course in international affairs or a related field.
  • Knowledge and skills gained through internships are indispensable.
  • Besides a keen interest in pursuing law in a global setting, an aspirant should also have command over an international language and robust overseas experience. French, German, Japanese, Russian are the most in demand.
  • While the formal qualifications are vital too, the interpersonal skills shouldn’t be overlooked either. They include –
    • Keen interest in law
    • Relevant skills right from research and drafting to advocacy.
    • Incredible flexibility and adaptability to shine either in challenging environments or firms with a broader base which are indulged in other service areas as well.
    • Good grasp on cultural awareness to forge cordial bonds in a multinational setup
    •  Good eye for judgement and an analytical bent of mind

Let us get you into top courses with no stress

International law can immensely add to the depth of your career. By becoming well-versed in global best practices, you can open up many opportunities for yourself. While becoming an international student is very thrilling, the prep and paperwork of it all can get overwhelming. The easiest way to reduce your stress is to sign up with TC Global.

We simplify international education, learning, and mobility through connecting students, universities, and a global community on a single platform where there are over 1000+ education providers and over 80,000+ courses.

Our platform enables students to study anywhere in the world in just a few steps. From search and discovery and finding the right course fit for you, to applications, visas and departure – we see you through it all.

To move forward with us, download our app or visit and sign in to create an account on our student platform and onboard with us in quick, easy steps.! 🚀

Then simply set up a visit to pick a Relationships Team closest to you and choose a slot to meet with a Relationship Member.

Let’s shape your future together.

Date added

Filed under:



No spam, just your favourite topics.

Choose Insight topics that you are interested in to subscribe for your personalized newsletter.

A world
of possibilities awaits.
Join the movement.
Find your perfect university,
in one of 40 countries all over the world
Prepare for the future,
whether at university, business or in employment
Secure your future,
through STEM courses
Connect with leading international companies
and unlock the potential of your team
Fill in the form, so we can contact
you and start our journey together.