If you are a law student or prospective law student wondering about your career options, you might be interested in international law. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the foundations of international law, its significance in today’s global landscape, and provide you with a roadmap to realising your ambitions as an international lawyer.

What Is International Law?

International law is a set of rules and principles that govern the conduct of states, international organisations, and individuals in their interactions on a global scale. It is a multifaceted legal system designed to regulate relations between sovereign states and ensure stability, order, and justice in the international community.

The scope of international law covers a broad range of issues, including diplomatic relations, human rights, armed conflict, trade and commerce, environmental protection, and the settlement of disputes. It encompasses both customary international law, which arises from consistent state practice, and treaty-based law, which is created through formal agreements between states.

The sources of international law include treaties, which are binding agreements between states, and customary international law, which consists of long-established practices that are recognised as legally binding by the international community. Judicial decisions from international courts and tribunals, as well as general principles of law, also contribute to the development and interpretation of international law.

International law operates within a framework of international institutions and organisations that play a crucial role in its implementation and enforcement. These include the United Nations (UN), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), regional organisations, and specialised agencies focusing on specific areas such as trade or human rights.

International law serves as a crucial tool for promoting cooperation, resolving conflicts, protecting human rights, and advancing global interests. It provides a framework for states to interact peacefully, negotiate agreements, and participate in international affairs. By establishing rights and obligations for states and individuals, international law contributes to the maintenance of global order and the pursuit of justice in an increasingly interconnected world.

Key Areas of International Law

International law encompasses various key areas, each addressing distinct aspects of global interactions and legal frameworks. By exploring these diverse specialisations, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances within international law.

Public International Law

This is a fundamental area that focuses on the legal framework governing relations between states. It covers topics such as the principles of sovereignty, state responsibility, diplomatic relations, and the resolution of disputes through peaceful means. Additionally, public international law includes crucial fields like human rights law, which protects and promotes the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals worldwide. It also encompasses international humanitarian law, which governs the conduct of parties during armed conflicts, aiming to minimise human suffering and protect vulnerable populations.

Private International Law

Also known as conflict of laws, this deals with the regulations applicable to private legal matters with an international dimension. This includes cross-border transactions, international contracts, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Private international law provides rules for determining which legal system applies when conflicts arise in areas such as commercial transactions, family law, and civil disputes involving parties from different countries.

Other Subjects

International law further branches out into specialised fields that delve into specific subject areas. International environmental law addresses the preservation and sustainable use of natural resources, tackling issues such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, and pollution control. International criminal law focuses on the prosecution and punishment of individuals responsible for crimes of international concern, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.


Want More Advice on a Career in Law?

Sign up for our flagship Aspire conference for vital information and tips

Book now

How to Become an International Lawyer

Becoming an international lawyer in the UK requires a combination of education, skills, and practical experience. This specialised field of law offers opportunities to work on international relations, human rights, and other global issues. Here are some key steps to pursue a career as an international lawyer in the UK:

Obtain a Law Degree

Start by obtaining an undergraduate law degree (LLB) or its equivalent in the UK. Focus on international law courses and subjects during your studies to gain a solid foundation in this area.

Pursue Advanced Studies

Consider pursuing a master’s degree (LLM) with a specialisation in international law. This will provide in-depth knowledge and expertise in the field. Look for reputable universities that offer specialised LLM programs in international law.

Gain Practical Experience

Seek internships or volunteer opportunities at international organisations, NGOs, or law firms that specialise in public international law. This will provide valuable practical experience and exposure to real-world cases and issues.

Language Proficiency

Develop proficiency in foreign languages, especially those commonly used in international law, such as French, Spanish, Arabic, or Russian. This will enhance your ability to work on international cases and communicate effectively with clients and colleagues from different backgrounds.

Networking and Professional Development

Attend conferences, seminars, and workshops related to international law. Join professional organisations such as the International Law Association (ILA) or the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL). Network with professionals in the field and stay updated on the latest developments and opportunities.

Specialise in Subfields

Consider specialising in specific subfields of public international law, such as human rights law, international humanitarian law, or international criminal law. This will allow you to develop expertise in a particular area and enhance your career prospects.

Stay Informed and Engaged

Keep up-to-date with current international legal issues, landmark cases, and changes in international law. Engage in research, publish articles, or participate in moot court competitions to showcase your knowledge and skills.

By following these steps, aspiring public international lawyers can pave the way to a successful career in the UK. It is a challenging yet rewarding field that offers opportunities to work on pressing global issues and contribute to the development and application of international law.

What’s the Difference Between Public and Private International Law?

Choosing between public and private international law requires careful consideration of your interests, skills, and career aspirations.

Public international law focuses on the legal framework between states, human rights, and international organisations. Examples include working at the United Nations or specialising in international humanitarian law.

Private international law, on the other hand, deals with cross-border transactions, international contracts, and resolving disputes between private parties. Examples include working for international law firms, specialising in international trade law, or facilitating global business transactions. Assessing your passion for global issues versus corporate law can guide your decision-making process.

Studying The Subject

When considering studying international law in the UK, there are several reputable universities renowned for their programs in this field. Some of the notable universities offering international law courses and degrees include:

These universities provide excellent academic resources, faculty expertise, and opportunities for networking and career development in the field of international law.

Areas to Pursue in International Law in 2023

In today’s world, international law encompasses a wide range of fields that address pressing global challenges. Pursuing a career in these areas not only offers exciting opportunities but can also allow you to contribute to shaping the future of our interconnected world. Here are some fields of international law that are particularly interesting and relevant:

Technology Law

With the rapid advancement of technology, this field focuses on the legal implications of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, data privacy, cybersecurity, and intellectual property rights in the digital age.

Climate Change Law

 Given the urgency of climate change, international law plays a crucial role in addressing mitigation, adaptation, and the protection of the environment. This field involves working on international agreements, policies, and regulations related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, and addressing the legal aspects of climate change.

Global Health Law

The intersection of law and public health has gained prominence, particularly in light of global health crises. International law plays a vital role in responding to pandemics, ensuring access to healthcare, addressing health inequalities, and managing issues like vaccine distribution, disease control, and pandemic preparedness.

Human Rights Law

Human rights are at the core of international law and encompass a broad range of issues such as civil and political rights, economic and social rights, and the rights of marginalised groups. Practitioners in this field work to protect and promote human rights globally through advocacy, litigation, and policy development.

International Criminal Law

This field focuses on prosecuting individuals responsible for crimes of international concern, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It involves working with international tribunals, conducting investigations, and promoting accountability for grave human rights violations.

Trade and Investment Law

With globalisation, international trade and investment have become increasingly complex. This field involves navigating trade agreements, investment treaties, and resolving disputes related to international trade, intellectual property, and foreign direct investment.

These fields provide exciting opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing a career in international law. They address critical global issues, promote justice, and require legal expertise to navigate the complexities of the modern world.

Law Firms

Gaining practical experience at law firms specialising in international law can greatly enhance a student’s understanding and skills in the field. Some prominent law firms in the UK offering opportunities in international law include:

These firms handle complex cross-border transactions, international arbitration, and provide legal advice on a range of international matters. Interning or working at these firms can offer invaluable exposure to real-world cases, client interactions, and the intricacies of international legal practice.

Relevant Books:

Here are some recommended textbooks to consult and get more depth and information about studying and building a career in this interesting field.

NameAuthorPrice (approximate)
International Law (5th edition)Malcolm Evans£34
Brownlie’s Principles of International Law (8th edition)James Crawford£42
International Law, 2nd ed.Jan Klabbers£10+
International Law: A Very Short IntroductionLowe V£5


If you are a law student or prospective law student wondering about your career options, international law is a field worth exploring. It offers a fascinating realm of legal practice, addressing pressing global issues and providing opportunities to work on complex international matters. By embarking on a career in international law, you can contribute to making a meaningful impact on the international stage and play a role in shaping a more just and interconnected world.


Loading More Content