5 Steps to Preparing for International Legal Practice

At some point during their education, each and every law student, regardless of geography or concentration, will come face-to-face with the same question: what type of law do I want to practice? Here Kenneth Cutshaw, President and CEO of GCG, continues Lawyer Monthly’s series on law school and legal careers by discussing the global-based steps each budding international lawyer should consider alongside their legal specialization.

Some will know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, what practice area interests them. Others may take internships in the hopes of narrowing down their options. But while the fields of practice are nearly endless – corporate, financial, IP, class action, defense – there is one thing each has in common: the practice of law, in all its forms, is increasingly global in nature.

It is truer today than ever before: we live in a global economy, so whether or not a young lawyer intends to practice international law, there is a strong likelihood that, throughout the course of her career, she will face matters of international significance or, at minimum, cases that require some knowledge of the international legal landscape.

It is advisable for all law students and young legal practitioners to prepare for the practice of international law. This can be achieved through a deliberate approach to course scheduling, careful selection of internships, diversifying early professional experiences, expanding one’s personal knowledge base through literature, and ensuring the expectations and realities of international legal practice are aligned.

Course Scheduling

In addition to required international legal courses, law students should prioritize courses in international business, intercultural communication, and foreign language to prepare for success in the global legal sphere. They should aggressively seek out opportunities that broaden their experiences with people of myriad backgrounds. For example, consider studying abroad or participating in clubs that welcome and help international students adjust to life on campus. The goal is not necessarily to be fluent in several languages upon graduation, but to be prepared for – and sensitive to – differential cultural practices and ideas that might arise during the course of one’s legal career.

Choose Internships Carefully

There are few resources more valuable to law students than their internship experiences, so choosing them carefully and thoughtfully is critical. Do your research to ensure that any law firm you join has a proven track record of success and a strong international reputation. Internships often turn into job opportunities, so aligning yourself with a firm whose international presence is established is key both to your professional development and to your future prospects.

Diversify Early Professional Experiences

As a young lawyer, it can be easy to get pigeonholed into one practice area within the firm, and if that isn’t satisfying your appetite for international experience, take matters into your own hands. Carve out 1-2 hours per week to “volunteer” your time with a partner or mentor within the firm whose caseload is international in scope. Not only will this demonstrate your drive and initiative, it will diversify your professional experience, making you more marketable later in your career.

Read, Read, Read

Law students and young legal professionals are very busy people, and it can be challenging to make time for anything leisurely in nature. That said, one of the best investments you can make in your future as an international legal practitioner is simply reading. Read about anything – biographies of esteemed historical figures, the manipulation of financial markets, the rise and fall of the Greek empire. At the end of the day, deviating from your day-to-day schedule will afford you the opportunity to broaden your perspective, which will only serve to make you a more capable lawyer, international or otherwise.

Align Your Expectations

Before committing to any area of practice, law students should do their due diligence to ensure their expectations align with the realities of the job. There are unique challenges for international practitioners, including substantial travel requirements and the need to keep unconventional hours to serve clients in different time zones. The more informed you are at the outset of any career endeavor, the greater the likelihood you will be successful and find your work enjoyable.

Judicious law students, even if their chosen practice area lies outside of international law, will prepare for a law career that, at one point or another, could become international in scope. Those who have systematically challenged themselves to diversify their course load, extracurricular activities, and early professional experiences will always be one step ahead of their peers and, as lawyers, there is no better place to be.

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