By Lara Elborno (JD ’12)
I graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2012. Following the bar exam, most of my classmates spent the summer looking for a job. Some lucky ones found work quickly and started their legal careers in Chicago or other parts of the country. One individual decided that studying was his job, and he went on to pursue a PhD (I’m looking at you, Justin McDevitt). I packed my bags and moved to Paris. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of practicing international law—but how? Where? What even is international law?
I did not have the answers to these and many more questions when I arrived in Paris. After successfully completing an LLM degree in European Law, two international arbitration training contracts in big law firms, an internship with the International Chamber of Commerce, and the Paris bar exam (in French), I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of things.
I was asked to offer some advice to Loyola students who were interested in pursuing a legal career abroad. So, without further ado, here’s what you can do during law school to prepare yourself for a career as an international law practitioner abroad:
Build an international profile. Enroll in international law courses, such as Professor Geraghty’s Comparative Law Seminar, and study abroad. I went to Turkey as a 3L and co-authored a paper on child brides and early marriage, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law. Participate in the Vis Moot or Jessup competitions, write for the International Law Review, and apply early for summer internships overseas. All of these will make you a better candidate for an international law career, and will help you build lasting relationships with members of the law faculty at Loyola who may have contacts abroad. When I arrived in Paris, I sent a message to Professor Margaret Moses, whose international expertise I could only hope to mirror someday, and asked her for contacts. She introduced me to a Paris-based attorney two years ago by email who continues to mentor me to this day—an invaluable connection.
Foster ties with the geographical location of your interest. Consider enrolling in an LLM or a Master’s degree in a country where you are interested in practicing. The reason for this is twofold. First, this will provide you with a visa that will allow you to stay in the country for at least a year, and give you time to network and apply for jobs. Second, most international or American firms abroad require lawyers with dual-training, so you may wish to supplement your JD with an LLM or one-year Master’s program in a different legal system or area of law that you seek to work in. Along these lines, you will have to research bar exam requirements for foreign lawyers in the city you want to live. For example, most foreign lawyers can easily practice in Dubai and the Gulf countries in the Middle East, whereas in Paris, foreign lawyers must pass the Paris bar exam.
Learn another language. I have not met anyone working in international law at a big law firm abroad who does not speak at least two languages. The nature of the job requires you to be flexible and interact with clients and counsel from different cultures, draft in different languages, and analyze foreign legislation and documents. Last week, I reviewed Paris Court of Appeal decisions on the annulment of an international arbitral award, researched Russian and Ukrainian anti-corruption legislation, and attended meetings in French and Arabic. Overall, firms look for candidates who can fit into a variety of cultural situations with ease. The best way to do this is by increasing your exposure to different cultures and by learning a different language.
It is no secret that a lot of law school graduates are disenchanted by the legal profession once they enter the working world. I can honestly say that despite the very long hours, there’s never a dull moment in an international law career—and Paris isn’t so bad either!
Lara Elborno is a trainee attorney in International Arbitration at the Paris office of Winston & Strawn LLP. She can be reached at Lara.email@example.com.