What was your general experience as a lawyer?

A lot of politics, little law

A lot of politics, little law: an article from azur 1/2014.

International organizations are attractive employers and their entry-level programs are highly competitive. If you want to step in the door at the United Nations, World Bank and OECD, you need luck, excellence and, above all, perseverance. By Désirée Balthasar (from azur 1/2014)

United States of America, New York City, Manhattan, Turtle Bay: The narrow, glass skyscraper of the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) stands on the banks of the East River. Adorned with the 193 flags of its member states, founded for international understanding. "It was clear to me pretty quickly that I didn't want to take the classic legal path," says Daniela Karrenstein (35), who has been working at the UN headquarters for three years.

She became interested in languages ​​at an early age, and while studying law in Trier, she added international politics and development. Today her business card reads "Political Affairs Officer, Security Council Subsidiary Organs Branch, Security Council Affairs Division, Department of Political Affairs". In German: Political Affairs Officer, UN Security Council, Sanctions Department. Specialized in Libya.

Arms embargoes, travel bans and frozen money

Dream job United Nations: Daniela Karrenstein works as a consultant for political affairs at the UN and wants to stay here permanently.

The secretariat, together with a handful of experts, supports the sanctions committee in its work. This consists of 15 member states of the Security Council and controls the UN sanctions against the former Gaddafi regime. “The experts are the committee's eyes and ears and investigate violations. Specifically, it's about arms embargoes, travel bans and the freezing of funds, ”says Karrenstein, describing her job. Sometimes the German legal training also helps: “If the experts process cases, for example, we can help with questions about the density of evidence or naming. Or also when interpreting the resolutions of the Security Council. "

The job in an international organization is always highly political. In addition to the many UN specialized organizations - such as the UNICEF children's aid organization, the International Labor Organization (ILO) or the World Health Organization (WHO) - numerous other institutions act to assert the interests of their member states on a global level. Be it free trade, as in the case of the World Trade Organization (WTO), or economic cooperation and development in the OECD.

Many ways to get started

Over 7,000 Germans work in international organizations around the world. Lawyers aiming for a career here can approach their potential employer in different ways: thematically, geographically or institutionally. For example, the Rome-based World Food Program is recommended for those interested in food security (which organization is right for me?). But if a certain institution is the goal, then internships, short-term contracts or trainee programs offer an opportunity to get started.

Karrenstein reached New York through such an entry-level program. She began as Junior Professional Officer (JPO), in German Associated Experts, at the UN. The JPO program provides for a two-year assignment in an international organization, funded by the federal government (interview “The requirements are extreme”). This pursues the goal of increasing Germany's influence internationally. And thus creates the opportunity for graduates to get a foot in the door with an international organization. Many later executives started their careers with the help of the JPO program. The 35-year-old also hopes: "I really want to stay with the United Nations."

The German lawyer prepared for her goal early on. She specialized in European and international law, in addition to additional training in French law. During her legal clerkship, Karrenstein spent her electoral position at the Permanent Mission of the UN in Geneva. She later did her doctorate on human and international law and worked for six months in the international law department of the Federal Foreign Office. In the meantime, she repeatedly applied for positions at the UN, for a long time unsuccessfully, until she came across the JPO program. She got her chance.

Unpaid internships to start with

Even before the end of their studies, interested parties can get a taste of the internship at an international organization. All over the world government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer internships, mostly unpaid. However, NGOs are ideal for looking into practice and can be an advantage later on in the job. Because professional experience counts, especially abroad. Getting started is difficult without it. Alternatively, graduates can take part in other trainee programs, such as the UN's Young Professional Program. Or they go abroad as a scholarship holder of a foundation, for example with the Mercator College for International Tasks.

Driven by content: Anna Caroline Müller found her way to the WTO in Geneva through her specialization in intellectual property law.

But there is another way: some get started with direct applications and short-term contracts. So does Anna Caroline Müller (33). Her object of desire was the World Trade Organization (WTO): "I would have gone to the World Intellectual Property Organizations - WIPO for short - but my preference was clearly the WTO." Anna Caroline Müller's workplace is the WTO's department for industrial property rights.

Villa on Lake Geneva

Switzerland, Geneva, Rue de Lausanne, Center William Rappard: Located on the south-western tip of Lake Geneva, a magnificent villa has been the headquarters of the WTO since the mid-1990s. “I was particularly interested in the interface between international relations and IP. And I got to know the WTO as a great employer when I was an intern here. "

When searching for a job, Müller was not concerned with a job in an international organization per se, but with the content. “Even at school I found the subject of biotechnology very exciting. During my studies it was patent law, ”says Müller. “In my job, I wanted to combine science and technology with the legal side.” So she completed a master's degree in intellectual property law and took part in a WIPO summer school.

Network with good contacts

And she used her contacts: "I chose the professors who had good connections," says Müller. “Series of events are very suitable for expanding your network. I specifically approached speakers whose topics my qualifications matched and asked them whether they knew of an internship available. "

Networking proves to be very useful when looking for a job in the scene. There are also plenty of opportunities to do this on the job, for example in a mentoring program run by the Association of German Employees at International Organizations (VDBIO). The VDBIO is a useful network, especially for young professionals.

Joining an international organization out of nowhere, on the other hand, is difficult. “I would advise everyone to take interesting minor subjects in order to develop a 'profile'. You should also go abroad to learn languages, ”advises Müller. She combined both and, for example, made her BGB certificate in Geneva. So she got to know the location and made first contacts.

A professor at the University of Geneva finally put her in touch with the WTO when she was doing a master's degree in international relations there in 2007. Before that, she did her master's degree in intellectual property law at the University of Düsseldorf. As an intern, she first came to the department in which she now works as a consultant. A short-term contract followed, which international organizations are happy to use to compensate for bottlenecks.

Endurance and strong nerves

Such short-term vacancies arise when the application process for a vacancy takes a long time. It is not uncommon for several months to pass before the right employee is found. In the meantime, short-term contracts are being awarded - an ideal opportunity for young professionals and former interns to gain experience and to recommend themselves. However, this is rarely followed by a permanent position.

Applicants need strong nerves for the recruitment process in an international organization. Müller's selection process dragged on for over a year. Because for one position at the WTO there are three to five hundred applications. The procedures of all organizations have some things in common: They are lengthy, time-consuming and the competition is fierce.

Detailed documents for the application

For the first application round, candidates submit stacks of paper: CVs, letters of motivation, certificates, references, work samples, often translated into several languages. This is followed by personal selection interviews in which technical knowledge is queried. They are often held in English, French and German at the same time. This is where applicants sometimes meet their competitors and have to assert themselves in group discussions.

“On the day of the interview, the tension was particularly high,” recalls Leonard Hessling (30). The scholarship holder of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) went through an intensive application process for an internship. “The atmosphere was extremely competitive, and nobody knew where he was that day.” Hessling prevailed over his competitor in the group discussion. The reward for tension and strained nerves was having your own desk in Cairo.

Egypt, Cairo, Bulaq, World Trade Center: The country office of the World Bank is located in a light brown high-rise building on the eastern bank of the Nile. The country was Hessling's destination from the start. “Egypt is so exciting above all because of its geostrategic location,” he explains. "Culturally, politically and economically it is an important hub between Europe, Africa and the Middle East."

Even during his law studies in Munich and Paris, Hessling specialized in human rights and development policy. This was followed by internships at the Society for International Cooperation and at an NGO in Berlin on the subject of water. Finally, Hessling wrote the thesis of his master’s degree on the subject of the human right to water in Egypt.

Carlo Schmid program for internships abroad

Today he takes part in the Carlo Schmid Program (CSP), with which the DAAD sends interns abroad for a few months. With this, too, the Federal Republic wants to strengthen its presence in international organizations. Students and graduates either apply directly for positions advertised by the DAAD or for financial support if they are looking for an internship on their own. The CSP participants receive a monthly grant, from 650 or 1,000 euros, depending on their qualifications, and attend events organized by the alumni association.

Desired destination Egypt: Leonard Hessling specialized early on in the land on the Nile and the human right to water. Today he works for the World Bank in Cairo.

“It was clear to me early on that I didn't want to become a classic lawyer. That's why I didn't take a second state examination, ”says Hessling. In a so-called Country Management Unit, he and his colleagues from the World Bank are preparing a strategy paper that formulates the funding programs and development goals of the region for the next four years. “To do this, we interview ministries, think tanks, professors and representatives of civil society across the country,” says Hessling.

Meeting with the vice-premier

His team met the Deputy Prime Minister at such a negotiating meeting. His office presented itself to them with wood paneling, laid out with Arabic carpets, furnished with a leather sofa set and a huge desk. “We sat there and drank tea,” says Hessling. He had to compile the necessary information before the meeting, take notes during the conversation and then prepare it for further processes.

Daily life in the capital is also exciting. “Cairo is a giant monster. Beautiful, but also very tough, ”is how Hessling describes his current life. The city's 20 million inhabitants have been struggling through one political upheaval after another for three years. The Arab Spring also has a direct impact on the employees of foreign organizations, of which there are plenty in Cairo. “I was often not allowed to go to the office at all because of the demonstrations. Then it was time to work from home, ”says Hessling. "And with a few attacks I heard the explosions right into my apartment."

The whole world in one place

The question of how to prepare perfectly for a stay abroad is difficult to answer. Usually you don't have to expect machine guns or bombs. And yet everyday life in foreign countries poses different challenges.

The typical locations of international organizations such as New York, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and Paris are primarily characterized by their internationality. In Geneva, for example, the community of foreign employees - the expats - is extraordinarily large. Because in addition to the organizations, many multinational companies are based there. On the one hand, that's exciting and exciting. On the other hand, the downside is when employees move away after their temporary contracts have expired. The social environment is constantly changing. And those who move exclusively in expat circles will find it difficult to feel at home.

Which organization suits me?

An overview of the most important international organizations for lawyers - sorted by field of law.

Employment Law: ILO (International Labor Organization)

Banking and finance law: International financial institutions such as World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund), EIB (European Investment Bank), EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), regional development banks (Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank)

European and international law: IGH (International Court of Justice), ECJ (Court of Justice of the European Communities), UNHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights); European Court of Human Rights

Intellectual property: EPO (European Patent Office), WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)

International criminal law: UN-ICTY (International Criminal Court for Ex-Yugoslavia), UN-ICTR (International Criminal Court for Rwanda)

Commercial and commercial law: OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), UNIDO (UN Organization for Industrial Development), WTO (World Trade Organization), ITC (International Trade Center), UNCITRAL (UN Commission for International Trade Law), UNCTAD (UN World Trade Conference)

Source: Federal Foreign Office


"The requirements are extreme"

Ditmar Königsfeld from the Office of Executives for International Organizations (BFIO) in Bonn has been advising job seekers for more than ten years. With the JPO program, the BFIO supports around 50 German career starters every year. The program is aimed at graduates with initial work experience under 32 years of age and is designed for two years. It is funded by the federal government.


azur: Lawyers in international organizations - is that common?

Ditmar Königsfeld: Due to their extensive training, lawyers have the advantage of being able to work across departments in any organization, for example in administration and human resources. Or they use their specific legal knowledge, for example on the subjects of human rights, international or environmental law.

How does the BFIO help the graduates to find the right job?

On behalf of the federal government, the BFIO selects suitable candidates for the JPO program every year. And a surprising number of lawyers can be found here. The interested parties then apply to us, we invite some candidates to an initial interview. From this we make a pre-selection of three to four applicants and forward their documents to the organization. They choose their favorites themselves, have a second interview with the candidates, and decide whether to accept or reject them.

What is the general applicant situation in the international working environment - beyond the JPO program?

The area is very competitive and the requirements are extremely high. Because the competition comes not only from their own country, but from the educational elite worldwide. The UN alone consists of 193 member countries. The job advertisements are published worldwide.

What do you have to bring with you to improve your chances?

The conditions are determined by the organization itself and are specifically tailored to the position. A general requirement is a completed academic education with an international focus. You should also be fluent in English and one other UN language.Quantitative requirements, around four years of professional experience, are non-negotiable. So if you don't exactly match the description, an application is virtually hopeless. But in contrast to the public service in Germany, the first state examination or a diploma is completely sufficient.

Does that mean that trainees can complete the elective position in one of the organizations?

Basically yes, but not within the framework of the JPO program, you apply directly to the organization. The trainee lawyers can freely choose their elective station, but they should clarify beforehand with the responsible state justice examination office whether the station is recognized. And then they can combine the pleasant with the useful: complete their legal training and gain international professional experience.

The interview was conducted by Désirée Balthasar.