Deputy general counsel, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London
I’ve long been interested in international law , studying different aspects of the subject at both undergraduate and graduate levels in my home country of New Zealand and in the US. I’ve worked on cross-border transactions and international law issues while living in some great cities, including London (I requalified as a solicitor here) and, soon, Rome.
I also teach a little around the subject. Combine that with a passion for international development, and the enjoyment of working in a multicultural setting with committed professionals from many disciplines, then international organisations offer an attractive career option for someone like me.
A world impoverished by a denial of rights as basic as having a square meal every day or being able to drink clean water, or where the right to development remains unrealised, diminishes us all. We need to fix it. And we have a better chance now, more than ever before, to do that. It’s good to be part of the effort.
In-house lawyers advise on all aspects of the activities of international financial institutions. This includes legal relations with members and other contributors of funding, as well as other lenders and donors. Lawyers help protect the special status, privileges and immunities that such organisations enjoy – vital if contributed funds are to be used for their intended purpose.
International financial institutions often make use of the services of outside counsel. Lawyers in the countries where development assistance is targeted are regularly retained, whether to advise on local law issues in relation to international financing agreements, to assist with legal reform projects or to advise the institutions on their interaction with local legal systems.
External lawyers may be retained to assist in-house counsel in advising on borrowings and investment as well as a host of institutional and administrative matters. In all cases, selection follows the published procurement rules of the institutions concerned.
To work in international development, obtaining solid legal skills is critical , preferably in a law firm if coming from the UK where research, analytical, drafting and presentational skills can be honed. In-house legal environments are not really set up to provide basic legal training.
Obtain as much experience as possible, working on unfamiliar matters in different countries. International organisations want lawyers who are comfortable working in unfamiliar territory, both geographically and in the sense that the laws may be rudimentary or unknown or the legal institutions wanting.
Plenty of lawyers work in an international organisation for a few years and then move on, taking with them new experiences and fresh perspectives that assist them in their new work. They often end up advising the same institutions. If you want to make a career as a lawyer in international development, you won’t get rich that way, but the rewards of making a small contribution to a worthy and urgent cause are immense.