International Law — An Interesting Career Path

There is a  wide variety of job prospects in international law. Free trade agreements has been around for almost 20 years now. China is in full expansion mode. India is developing. Canada exports a large part of its production. Young people want to “see the world.” 2018 will mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations International Bill of Human Rights. Yet, in many places throughout the world, human rights are trampled on. What role can a lawyer play internationally?

International law should be differentiated from international transactions, which are not strictly speaking private international law, which itself is different than public international law.

International transactions are governed by commercial law between companies located in different parts of the globe. Commercial law can involve the sale of goods and services, corporate acquisitions or mergers. “This sector is doing well,” states attorney Jean-François Théorêt, director of Robert Half Legal. The company has service points in various Canadian and U.S. cities, in addition to a Paris office to cover Europe.

“Canada-wide firms tend to develop the commercial aspect of their practice,” emphasizes Mr. Théorêt, “in order to meet their clients’ expansion needs or their desire to do business in other regions. Canadian companies also want their share of the expanding Chinese market pie.”

He also notes the increasing flexibility of provincial bar association rules with respect to the mobility of lawyers within Canada, where Quebec is different. Since it is the only province under civil law, it is more difficult for its lawyers to migrate to common law provinces.

“Business transaction law is a bit different,” points out Mr. Théorêt. “The rules for drafting international contracts are often similar. This type of law is therefore more easily exportable.”

The nature of the economy directs the work of business lawyers. Alberta’s roaring growth has brought new clients, with a high concentration of oil companies. “This sector is definitely a driver of the Albertan economy,” he analyzes, “but the spin-offs exceed this single sector. Increasing numbers of large companies are opening for business there, in all types of business, which creates an opportunity for lawyers.

Toronto remains the largest Canadian metropolis. It is where the largest number of head offices are to be found, hence the largest concentration of major files for legal specialists. Although the city continues to grow, its pace is slower than Calgary’s.

Montreal, for its part, is doing well too, although the situation is more stable. Leading sectors in the city include new technology, telecommunications and pharmacology, including biotechnology.

Private International Law

What happens when lawsuits arise from international agreements? That’s when private international law can play a role. The issue here is the interpretation of foreign laws and jurisprudence. Where and under which legal regime will a dispute between a company in Quebec and one in New York be resolved?

Contracts often plan for legal debates by including a clause in this regard. Christopher Richter, associate at Woods LLP, states, “For example, negotiators often plan for a suit to be heard in New York or Toronto, under U.S. or Canadian law, in the event of a dispute. Including this clause eliminates the problem of jurisdiction right from the start. Nevertheless, problems can arise from badly drafted clauses.”

Mr. Richter emphasizes that as a general rule, fewer cases are being brought before the courts, but those that are tend to be increasingly complex. “This is probably the case for international files too.”

As opposed to the international transaction sector, private international law is growing relatively slowly, with the exception of intellectual property. The main issues addressed are copyright and patents for new technologies and biotechnology.

Public International Law

Public international law involves States. An example is the softwood lumber dispute, in which the countervailing duty tariffs imposed by the U.S. were considered illegal by Canada because they violated the terms of free trade.

Public international law can also involve disputes with regard to human rights. Although it is not as big as the international transactions sector, it has grown over the past few years. “The exponential growth of opportunities in this sector over the past ten years is amazing,” says Élise Groulx, president-founder of the International Criminal Bar and of the International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association

She refers to the Millenium Development Goals launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan: to link sustainable development and security, peace and rebuilding of the rule of law issues. “These goals are achieved by passing anti-corruption legislation, having good governance policies and implementing international aid measures,” emphasizes Ms. Groulx.

For lawyers, job opportunities come from a variety of sources: the UN, international government bodies and non-governmental organizations. The site monitors job openings: “CANADEM supports Canada’s determination to strengthen the activities of international organizations, working to advance the universal principles of the UN Charter, international peace & security, human rights and the responsibility to protect. This includes the UN, OSCE, other inter-governmental organizations, and of course non-governmental partners.” One section of the site is specifically for lawyers.

The Canadian International Development Agency carries out its own activities and supports those of the UN. Its Web site includes a career section. In 2005–2006, CIDA invested $32.2 million to support the efforts of its partners in the area of rule of law and $48.3 million to support human rights. “Funding of these two sectors has continually increased over the past five years,” notes Bronwyn Cruden, media relations officer in CIDA’s Communications Branch. For rule of law, the increase has been 103% over five years, and 130% for human rights projects.

A whole series of initiatives come from the NGOs themselves. The Canadian Bar Association and provincial bar associations can provide information in this regard.

Working on the international scene is a challenge. In public international law, particularly its human rights component, lawyers must be prepared to work on short-term assignments. For some, working on missions abroad leads to a career in international law, but it is difficult to know exactly how many.

Working for an NGO requires a social conscience. “Salaries are tiny,” says Ms. Groulx. “And volunteering is frequent. You don’t go into humanitarian law for the money. On the contrary, some people even pay for the opportunity to do it.”

If you believe in international solidarity and want to live by your values, you may find your niche in international public law. network