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Will our legal skills be useful in humanitarian aid?

January 4, 2015

Q. Nick, I appreciate your blog. My wife and I are new attorneys working to pay off our student debt. Do you think any of our legal skills would cross over to the humanitarian field?

We have several years to work in the U.S. in order to pay off our loans before we would even be able to seek employment internationally. Do you have any suggestions on what we could do in the meantime while living in the U.S. to make ourselves more marketable in the future?



A. Hi Daniel – first of all congratulations on graduating and getting jobs!

This is a tough question to answer, because I wish I had some more specifics. In particular, what kind of law do you work in, and what kinds of jobs are you looking for? There certainly are lawyers working overseas in humanitarian and human rights contexts, and the roles they fill are pretty diverse. Some work on issues of human rights law and advocacy, some practice law within the International Criminal Court, some work for aid agencies (who tend to need a lot of legal advice!).

That said, compared to management and technical jobs, these are a minority, and tend to be pretty tough to get. What I would say is that international agencies are always in need of legal services, and doing pro-bono work for an aid agency can be a great way to get a foot in the door and hear about opportunities. All major international agencies need legal services for everything from processing visas and immigration paperwork; navigating US law as it pertains to everything from export regulations, terrorism law, or HR law; to supporting local council in different countries navigating the different legal regimes in countries where work is carried out.

I would recommend you get in contact with some agencies you’re interested in and check out opportunities to contribute – get to know their staff, particularly their general council, and talk to their program teams about ways to get involved in the field.

Drop me a line if you want to talk more specifically, good luck!



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