I Want to Be a Lawyer. Is a Degree in International Relations Going to be Helpful?

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If you dream of becoming a lawyer but have heard that one of the highest-paying master’s degrees is international relations, you might wonder if you can combine these fields in some way. This really depends on what kind of lawyer you want to be. Some areas of law have a lot more in common with the field of international relations than others. That said, even if you opt not to go into an international area of law, you could still grow – personally and professionally – by studying international relations and becoming a better global citizen.

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

The First Step Is Earning Your Juris Doctor Degree

If your main goal is to get a job as a lawyer, then you need to begin with earning your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which requires three years of study at the graduate level. The J.D. is what almost every licensed attorney in the United States has. Earning your J.D. will help you learn how to practice law and how to understand legal doctrine. You will need these skills regardless of what kind of lawyer you want to become.

To get into law school and earn your J.D., you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. You might think a bachelor’s degree in pre-law would be an advantage, but it isn’t required and, many students find, isn’t always that beneficial. Schools will be looking for something that helps you cultivate the skills you need for law school and stand out from the other candidates.

A bachelor’s degree in international relations may fit the bill. Law schools tend to look for students who have strong skills in research, reading, writing, critical thinking and other versatile capabilities, the American Bar Association reported. These are some of the same outcomes of bachelor’s degree programs in international relations. Further, the field of law is interdisciplinary, just like the field of international relations. Your development in the history, culture and economics of different countries could be beneficial to your law school studies.

To get your license to practice law, once you finish your Juris Doctor degree, you need to pass the “bar exam,” which is a state licensing exam for attorneys, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dealing With Globalization as an International Lawyer

What kind of law you practice strongly affects how valuable a master’s degree in international relations is to your career as a lawyer. If you want to be a personal injury lawyer, divorce lawyer or bankruptcy lawyer, then the main purpose of pursuing an international relations degree is for your own personal growth and intellectual curiosity. A knowledge of international affairs or even international law may not really apply to your legal practice in these areas.

However, if you want to be an international lawyer or an immigration lawyer, then a master’s in international relations could be more relevant. Even criminal lawyers might find this curriculum useful if they represent international clients.

As technology makes it easier for businesses to go international, the need for international lawyers is increasing. Earning a master’s in international relations can help you enter this growing field. International lawyers must be able to practice law, which is why earning your J.D. is of paramount importance. The other skills needed for this career in law include experience with other cultures and knowing foreign languages. Many international relations master’s programs require you to master a second language as well as learn about different cultures, so completion of this degree will help you stand out from other international lawyers.

As businesses establish new branches in other countries, they will also want to hire in-house counsel who are experienced with the cultures of other countries. Your studies of different cultures and people will give you the background to appeal to businesses that need an international lawyer.

International lawyers in the United States have an average salary of $133,809, according to Glassdoor.

Working on Human Rights as an Immigration Lawyer

Another lawyer role that might appeal to those who have both a law degree and a master’s in international relations is an immigration lawyer. These lawyers handle matters involving immigration law and help clients with different immigration matters, such as seeking legal status to work in the United States and gaining full immigration status.

When you have a master’s degree in international relations, you are in a better position to connect with your clients. Despite differences in culture and language, you will have the knowledge to better understand and communicate with clients. Certain aspects of American culture may seem very different to clients who are immigrating from a different country, but with a background in international relations, you will be better prepared to recognize and explain some of these differences and to put your clients’ minds at ease.

According to PayScale, the median salary for immigration lawyers is $69,245. The rewards of work as an immigration lawyer aren’t strictly financial. Many of these lawyers work with non-profits and do this job to help serve people in difficult situations.

Other Benefits for Lawyers Having an International Relations Degree

Even attorneys entering other fields of law might be able to see some advantages to gaining a master’s in international relations. Regardless of what fields of law you enter, you might find yourself encountering clients originating from other nations. The knowledge and experience gained from obtaining your master’s in international relations can help you connect with these clients and build a better relationship. One requirement for the degree is mastery of a second language. Being able to communicate with clients who speak other languages is invaluable in any area of legal practice.

Spanish is a good choice of foreign language for lawyers because it is, according to the Census, the second most widely spoken language in the United States. Chinese and French are the next most common languages.

Additional Resources

What Does Someone Who Studies International Relations Do After Graduation?

What Kind of Practical Experience Will Help Me Be Accepted Into an International Relations Master’s Program?

What Skills Do You Need for International Relations?

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