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If you are a law student or prospective law student wondering about your career options, you might be interested in international law.

The LLB Law programme offers a variety of elective modules to choose from, and you can usually study this subject in your final year of the course. But what is international law and how do you become an international lawyer? Find out on this page.

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What Is International Law?

International law, also known as public international law, is a field of law that governs the rules of relations between states.

It was born out of the ancient Greek idea of ‘natural law’ which established alliances and facilitated peace treaties with other world empires. Today, international organisations any other bodies possessing a legal personality are now subject to the legislation related to this legal field.

All these areas fall under the topic:

  • Trade and investment law
  • International environmental law
  • Human rights
  • International humanitarian law
  • Self-determination of states
  • Rights of migrants
  • Diplomatic and consular law

How to Become a Public International Lawyer

There are several ways to improve your chances of entering the competitive field of public international law:

  • Pursue an LLM or Ph.D. specialising in the topic
  • Find an area of public international law expertise you’d like to specialise in and look at which law firms deal with those relevant issues
  • Find an internship in international institutions or courts that deal with relevant issues
  • Get an idea of what you are passionate about by enrolling in international summer schools, or other training. Check out the Hague Academy summer courses, for example
  • Get involved in mooting competitions that are tailored to the area you want to specialise in
  • Get involved in essay competitions on the topic.
  • Attend academic law events about the topics related to the field you want to specialise in and establish relevant connections
  • Stay on top of the news in the field, especially of the field of your interest
  • Learn a language. International law is no longer dominated by English and French, and knowledge of other languages can be very helpful!

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

International law is commonly divided into public and private. This is for a simple reason: the two have powers over two distinct groups.

Public international law governs rules between states or any other bodies with a legal personality. On the other hand, private international law governs disputes between individuals and is divided into common law and civil law systems.

Sources of public international law consist of treaties, conventions, customs, general principles of law and judicial or scholarly opinions. Sources of private international law are limited to major treaties and important international bodies’ rulings.

However, whenever there is a “conflict of law” between international and national law of the state, a country’s law will usually prevail.

Studying The Subject

Studying this elective module as a part of your LLB degree means you will cover such topics as peaceful dispute settlement and critical evaluation of the United Nations and International Court of Justice international institutions.

You can also choose to enrol in master’s courses specialising in the subject. Here are some of the top institutions offering this degree at this level:

  • University of Oxford
  • University of Durham
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Manchester
  • City, University of London
  • University College London

Law Firms:

Below are just a few UK firms with either departments dedicated to the topic, or which specialise in the field.

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

Words: Veronika Gorodnitska

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