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Basic Skills and Specialized Knowledge

There is no one size or formula that fits all international careers so in selecting your academic program you should focus on your specific interests and career goals. Many hiring attorneys emphasize the importance of the basic skills: good writing, strong research, sophisticated analytical skills, and forceful and coherent advocacy. Interpersonal skills also are important. The ability to remain flexible and culturally sensitive makes it easier to establish relationships with others that are extremely important in international work.

In addition to good basic skills, international careers involve the need for specialized knowledge, cultural awareness and in some instances foreign language skills. Technical skills are critical in international development work and usually require a background in banking, economics, business, finance, accounting and international taxation. If you are interested in criminal or civil litigation, then be sure to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible during law school to get training and develop skills. Trial skills classes are valuable training grounds. Likewise, in clinical classes you will learn litigation skills as well as represent clients.

Negotiation Skills

A course in international negotiations is a great way to develop a context for international relationships. An ability to negotiate impacts almost every area of international practice including litigation, economic development, global business, international relations, trade, national security, and human rights. In contrast to domestic legal practice, international practice involves process development, multi-party structures, stakeholder analysis, and intra-team negotiations. It also entails overcoming cultural barriers. The ability to work with foreign governments on the development of a convention, treaty or legislation is a valuable attribute and an essential skill for problem solving and dispute resolution. Litigation is costly in the domestic context and it is magnified in the international arena. Negotiation, not adjudication resolves most legal disputes.

HLS offers several courses in negotiations including the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) and the Program on Negotiation (PON) which develops, publishes and distributes teaching materials related to negotiation education. Writing for a Journal offers another way to learn about negotiation techniques. At HLS serving on the Negotiation Journal or the Negotiation Law Review provides an excellent opportunity to develop knowledge about current practices in the field.

Negotiation skills can also be obtained through community involvement, cross-cultural experiences, and summer internships that provide the opportunity to work with multiple parties on complex issues that require both problem solving and dispute resolution skills.

How to Build Language Skills

If you do not already have language skills, or feel that yours are not quite adequate, it is not too late to develop those skills. You might be able to cross-register at another school and take a language course for credit. You can take an outside class from a school focused on languages. Some students use vacation time to do an immersion course in a country that speaks the language they want to work on. While any of these options mean taking time from other professional or personal pursuits, the time investment is often worth the results in terms of both marketability to prospective employers and your ability to do the job well once you land it.