In my first post on this topic, I focused on what you should do before you start looking for a job. Below are my tips for finding that dream job (eventually).
4. Network, network, network!
Networking is critical. No one is going to come knocking on your door with a really cool international law job and the chances of getting one by sitting at your desk and applying online are slim. You’re going to have to go find it. And the best way to do that is through contacts who will let you know about opportunities and help you make connections.
I often hear from students and new lawyers that they don’t have any connections. That’s simply not true. Start by writing a list of everyone you know who might be able to give you advice or suggest contacts in your field, organization and/or country of interest. Approach law professors and alumni from your law school. Talk to all of these people and talk to the people that they recommend to you. If you want to work in a particular country, consult Martindale Hubbell which has profiles of lawyers listed by city. You can see the schools they graduated from as well as their area of interest. When I moved to Indonesia fresh out of law school and in the middle of the Asian economic crisis, I cold-called all the Canadian and American lawyers (total of six!) - which with perseverence and luck led to my first real-life job as a lawyer.
Go to conferences run by organizations like the American Society on International Law, the Canadian Council on International Law and the International Bar Association Conference and network there. Often they have discounts for students and new lawyers, or you may even be able to attend for free if you offer to volunteer or act as a rapporteur. Also, these organizations often have interest groups that you can join to share ideas and information with like-minded people.
Write articles and get them published (often organizations have competitions for young lawyers). Blog about areas of interest and use social networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to connect with people with similar interests.
Also, do pro bono work. It’s not only important for the legal community to give back, pro bono work will help you build your skills and increase your network. There are great opportunities through organizations like Pro Bono Students Canada, the Pro Bono Law Network (e.g., Pro Bono Law Ontario, Pro Bono Law Alberta, Pro Bono Quebec, Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan), the Ontario Justice Education Network, etc. Volunteer for the Board of a non-profit or charity (check out websites like Volunteer Lawyers Services and Charity Village for opportunities).
5. Be open to opportunities and take risks
While it might seem easier to have a clear career path, that simply isn’t realistic. A small example: When I worked in Jakarta, I ended up doing all sorts of different work including some oil and gas law. This wasn’t something I had planned for but I was able to use this experience to get a job with the UN mission in East Timor negotiating a treaty involving offshore petroleum rights and maritime boundaries. My Indonesian law and oil and gas experience were critical in getting this job. This wasn’t part of any plan but had a huge and very positive impact on my career.
It’s also important to be willing to take risks. There are some really great international jobs out there but many of them are off the beaten path. While most of these won’t give you the security of a job at a firm (assuming that still exists!) or the long-term prospect of a government pension, you may just find them more interesting and more fulfilling.
If you’re starting out in your career, you will need to figure out what to do about articling. Many law graduates have the mistaken idea that you should first article with a firm and then figure out what you want to do. While this is clearly an option, there are downsides to this approach – particularly if you have no intention of staying (see my post "To firm or not to firm"). Also, there are other options. You can create your own articling position. I’ve met a number of enterprising graduates that approached lawyers working at organizations that they liked and successfully pitched the idea of articling for them. The good news is that law societies are becoming much more flexible when it comes to “alternative articles” You could also get called in another jurisdiction that doesn’t require articling. For example, you could get called to the New York Bar and then go abroad (this is what I did when I graduated). You can also delay getting your call. I know one law graduate who found a really interesting job in Afghanistan that included law reform work and did this for a few years before coming back to Canada to article. My point is simply that you should consider all of the available options and then figure out what makes sense for you.
In terms of looking at the road less traveled, you should also consider jobs they don't have the words 'legal' or 'counsel' in their titles. For example, organizations such as the World Bank, UNDP, the Asia Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute all have rule of law programs. Many of these jobs aren’t classified as “law” jobs, but would give you great experience and would be an entry point into the world of international organizations. Also, look at jobs with think-tanks and with smaller non-governmental organizations.
6. Play the long game
Finding your dream international job will take time. You are likely to go through a whole series of different jobs before you land it. Some may seem unrelated to your long-term goal, but they will all be helping to build your CV and adding to your skills and experience. Also, there may be times that you forego opportunities for personal reasons (kids, partners, caring for aging parents). That's OK. Life is about more than your job.
While it can be frustrating and sometimes demoralizing, if you develop your skill set, persevere, network, are open to opportunities and take some risks, based on my experience, you’ll eventually find the amazing job you’re looking for.