Find the Best Human Rights Lawyer Jobs in 2023
If you are passionate about fighting for public justice, we suggest you consider a career in human rights law.
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When it comes to protecting, promoting, and enforcing the most fundamental liberties all people should have, human rights lawyers are at the forefront. Considering that the bulk of these attorneys’ work revolves around fighting against human rights violations that individuals worldwide experience, protection and preservation of this occupation are vital.
Regardless of whether these law practitioners opt for domestic or international human rights law careers, the issues they tackle range from safeguarding women’s and migrants’ rights to granting access to healthcare and education to all individuals.
Whether they are working at a local, national, or international level, human rights lawyers play a crucial role in upholding civil rights. They advocate on behalf of victims of human rights abuse and hold governments, companies, organizations, and belligerent individuals and groups that violate these fundamental rights accountable.
About Human Rights Lawyer Jobs
Human rights lawyers’ job is to safeguard and defend the inherent dignity of their clients - the freedoms everyone is entitled to from birth until death. Also referred to as civil rights lawyers, these professionals tackle cases involving violated rights of all people, particularly those who are part of marginalized groups such as indigenous groups, refugees, LGBTI, women, children, etc.
So what are human rights, and what's the career field of a human rights lawyer?
Human rights are freedoms we have simply because we exist as human beings. Described as universal, inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent, these rights cannot be granted or taken away by any state. Instead, they are inherent to us all regardless of nationality, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, language, political views, or any other status. Human rights range from the most fundamental ones - the right to life - to those that make life respectful and worth living, such as the rights to food, health, liberty, education, and work. A human rights lawyer’s career is devoted to researching and advocating for these freedoms.
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a breakthrough document in the history of human rights. Created by representatives from different legal, cultural, and political backgrounds and all parts of the world, the Declaration proclaimed, for the first time, that fundamental human rights have to be universally protected.
Translated into more than 500 languages, the UDHR is the foundation of all international human rights laws and a common standard of achievement for all people, regardless of their ethnicity and nationality. Its 30 articles are considered the building blocks of all current and future human rights legal instruments.
Over the past eight decades, the UDHR has inspired the creation and adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, nowadays permanently applied at global, regional, and national levels.
Working as a human rights lawyer means focusing on helping people who have experienced great injustices. These law practitioners provide legal counsel to the victims of human rights violations, helping them protect their fundamental rights as human beings.
What Do Human Rights Lawyers Do?
Both domestic and international human rights lawyer’s job description includes drafting legal documents, doing research on legal cases, negotiating settlements, and defending human rights cases in court. The area of human rights can range from helping victims of domestic violence seek refuge to overturning wrongful convictions. With the demand for these legal workers increasing in almost all parts of the world, many aspirants are looking to pursue this career path.
Duties and Responsibilities
So, what is it like being a human rights lawyer when it comes to their everyday duties and activities? Considering the range of areas affected by human rights issues, the daily responsibilities of a human rights attorney could vary widely. Here are some of the most common tasks you may need to perform:
- Representing clients in court.
- Conducting in-depth research on human rights laws and previous cases.
- Presenting arguments in front of a judge.
- Composing legal documents.
- Meeting with clients and learning about their needs and hardships.
- Preparing physical evidence and gathering statements from witnesses.
- Advocating on behalf of individuals whose civil rights have been violated.
- Advising clients and informing them about their rights and freedoms in a given situation can also be a part of human rights lawyer’s job.
- Negotiating with other parties’ lawyers and making sure that the agreed-upon decisions are implemented.
- Organizing public support events to bring attention to injustices your clients have experienced.
- Negotiating various types of settlements, including financial compensation.
Note that working as a human rights lawyer means that you’ll need to collaborate with aid organizations, other legal experts, assistants, and paralegals to complete all your duties. A part of your job will also be to delegate specific research and administrative tasks so that you can meet all court deadlines and ensure that all your clients have access to legal advice whenever needed.
Types of Jobs for a Human Rights Lawyer
The range of occupations within the human rights sector is broad and diverse. With the right qualifications, sufficient experience, and relevant soft skills, a human rights lawyer can find employment anywhere in the world - from government sectors to NGOs and private companies. Here’s an overview of the human rights career spectrum and possible job opportunities:
- Law and advocacy: The options include roles in economic, community, or housing development, humanitarian services, AIDS advocacy, policy development, grant writing, volunteer coordination, international law, public interest law, government relations, lobbying, campaign management, and more.
- Social services: As human rights jobs involve helping uphold the rights of individuals, communities, and societies, employment opportunities may also arise in sectors such as public health, administration and planning, human services provision, and disease and disaster relief.
- International relations: Human rights lawyers can also pursue a career in foreign affairs, peacekeeping, diplomacy, political advising, community development, resource development, policy-making and analysis, legislative services, public-private partnerships, and poverty reduction strategy development.
- Communications: Alternatively, you can specialize in reporting, investigative journalism, and column or editorial writing.
- Education: Instead of pursuing any of the aforementioned human rights legal jobs, you can devote your career to imparting knowledge related to human rights through publishing research, formulating write-ups, and teaching.
Human rights lawyers work in governments, international institutions, and nonprofit humanitarian organizations to create or implement human rights laws, policies, or programs. Alternatively, these law practitioners do academic research, train other attorneys, or organize communities. Considering that there are many different ways to do work in this field, we can hardly talk about a single type of work environment. Also note that, much like international law jobs and environmental law careers, most international human rights law jobs come with frequent changes of location.
Injuries and Illnesses
A career in the field of human rights won’t expose you to a huge risk of physical injury, but it can be stressful, emotionally draining, and disheartening at times. Still, if you’re driven to make a real difference in the world, this job path may be precisely what you’re looking for.
The work of human rights lawyers is not only stressful but also time-consuming. Given that the job involves a lot of research and information gathering, attorneys often work long hours. If you’re thinking about human rights roles, be prepared for 50-hour workweeks.
How to Become a Human Rights Lawyer
Before we start exploring the qualifications needed for human rights legal jobs, it’s important to mention that human rights aren’t a specific area of law. Lawyers who tackle human rights issues may specialize in various areas, including immigration, mental health, discrimination, war crimes, criminal justice, public law, environment law, property, data protection, or even insurance.
While many law practitioners who operate in different legal disciplines may occasionally deal with human rights issues, there are firms and publicly funded institutions that focus specifically on these types of cases.
So, what does it take to become an eligible candidate for human rights lawyer jobs?
Considering that this is a person-oriented career, a good human rights lawyer needs advanced communication skills and empathetic nature. Other vital skills include strong deductive reasoning, analytical and critical thinking, and the ability to argue for a case effectively.
Here’s an in-depth overview of the essential qualities and soft skills you should have to land one of the top-rated human rights law jobs:
- Academic ability: While the exact path to becoming a human rights lawyer may vary in different parts of the world, taking it in the first place always requires strong academic skills. Unless you complete your secondary education with good grades, the chances of you getting accepted into a law course at university will be thin. Working on your academic abilities and thus developing analytical and critical thinking skills early on will also prove invaluable when it comes to coping with some human rights attorney jobs’ day-to-day duties, such as doing research and writing legal documents.
- Eloquence: Having advanced oral and written communication skills is a sine qua non for human rights lawyers. The reason for this is apparent - one of the most important aspects of their job is to help individuals who may have been victims of human rights violations express themselves clearly about their case, even when that could be difficult for them. Moreover, human rights lawyers also need to employ their communication skills when writing legal documents that may be used in court.
- Negotiation skills and persuasiveness: Lawyers need to be persuasive to win cases, so it’s no wonder that these skills are required for almost all human rights attorney jobs. To give the clients the best possible chance of success if their case reaches court, human rights lawyers rely on excellent negotiation and debating skills.
- Research and problem-solving skills: These law practitioners' everyday duties involve researching previous cases and continually exploring various areas of law. To ensure that your research is thorough and that you’ll be able to draft all the required documents accurately, you’ll need an eye for detail. Furthermore, you can’t have a successful human rights lawyer career path if you lack strong problem-solving skills.
- Resilience: Cases human rights lawyers deal with are often emotionally draining. That’s why these law practitioners need to develop coping mechanisms that would help them strengthen their resilience and thus do a better job. As previously mentioned, this role also comes with long hours and tight deadlines, so the ability to work under pressure is a must.
Much like with general counsel roles, a human rights lawyer’s career track starts with obtaining an undergraduate degree before applying for a law degree at an accredited law school or university.
While some US universities offer pre-law majors, most do not. Thankfully, the American Bar Association doesn’t expect prospective lawyers to opt for a pre-law major, nor does it endorse any other specific majors. Still, a bachelor’s in history, business, English, philosophy, arts and humanities, political science, economics, sociology, psychology, or a similar field of study can be a great choice when preparing for a graduate degree in law and different human rights lawyer career paths.
After completing their undergraduate degree, students need to pass an admission exam to proceed to the next level of their education. Most law schools require their applicants to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
Once admitted, law students spend about three years pursuing their Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Usually, the core classes they take cover areas such as civil procedure, torts, criminal law, constitutional law, and legal writing. Later in their studies, law students are given the opportunity to specialize in human rights concerns by learning about public policy, civil liberties, national security, immigration law, and laws of conflict and war. Those aspiring to pursue international human rights lawyer jobs also take classes in international law and foreign languages.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
After law school, graduates need to obtain their licenses. Prospective human rights lawyers must pass the bar exam - an examination required to practice law in the US.
Although the details may vary from state to state, this examination generally lasts two or three days, covering areas such as contracts, torts, and criminal law, as well as skills like problem-solving, written communication, legal reasoning, etc.
When taking the bar exam, candidates are also subject to a background check, which determines whether they possess the necessary character and fitness to practice law.
Once you pass this exam, you’ll be free to apply for human rights lawyer career openings.
Starting a career in human rights involves a lot of practical learning. This is usually achieved by working under an experienced human rights lawyer or getting an internship. Law firms, courts, media houses, NGOs, and similar organizations all offer internship programs. While most of these are low-paid or even unpaid jobs, internships at high-profile organizations are very sought after because of the knowledge, experience, and contacts they provide.
Human Rights Lawyer’s Salary
Although the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide specific information about human rights lawyers’ salaries, it does state that the median yearly income for all lawyers was nearly $127,000 in May 2020. While the highest 10% earned more than $208,000 a year, the lowest 10% received less than $61,500.
Salaries may vary greatly depending on the location and the type of organization a lawyer is working for. If you’re after the highest-paying lawyer jobs in the human rights sector in the US, statistics indicate that the most lucrative opportunities can be found in California.
Human Rights Lawyer’s Job Outlook
According to the data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job opportunities for lawyers is projected to rise until 2029 at an average rate for all occupations, which is 4% over the period from 2019 to 2029. The competition for this type of job is expected to stay strong, as statistics indicate that there are more graduates from law school than human rights jobs available.
Still, there at least won’t be a fall in demand for any human rights lawyer job you might be interested in as long as there are civil rights and freedoms to be protected. Human rights lawyers play an important role in the development of a society - their job is to help guide legal rules to protect all individuals and improve the quality of life for vulnerable groups.
As a qualified human rights lawyer, you have a broad spectrum of career paths to choose from. Opportunities may arise anywhere in the world, and you could work for a wide range of organizations. Note that you’ll always have the option to specialize in another area of law if you ever end up feeling you’ve made the wrong choice.
Here’s a list of the main sectors that offer jobs to human rights lawyers:
- Private practices.
- Colleges, universities, and institutes.
- National human rights commissions.
- Nongovernmental organizations.
- Media companies.
- Real estate firms.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a human rights lawyer do?
As this area of law covers many aspects of public justice, freedom of speech, laws against discrimination, equality before the law, and prisoners’ rights, human rights lawyers usually perform a wide range of tasks. These may include arguing human rights cases in court, researching legal matters in detail, drafting legal documents, and negotiating settlements.
How to become an international human rights lawyer?
An international human rights lawyer’s career may start and develop in federal government agencies, nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations, or even intergovernmental institutions such as the United Nations. In addition to a solid academic background and plenty of work or volunteer experience, speaking foreign languages can be vital for succeeding as an international human rights lawyer - especially Spanish, French, Arabic, and Mandarin.
Where do human rights lawyers work?
As a human rights lawyer, you may seek employment opportunities at the local, national, or international level and apply for jobs at private law firms, non-governmental organizations, governmental institutions, and international organizations.
What's the career cluster of a human rights lawyer?
A human rights lawyer’s career field is part of the Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security career cluster. Much like police officers, security guards, paralegals, attorneys, FBI agents, and other workers whose occupations belong to this cluster, human rights lawyers are driven by the desire to protect others and fight for public justice.
How do I get a job in human rights?
Human rights lawyers need to obtain an undergraduate degree followed by a law degree and pass specific qualifying exams before they’re allowed to practice law in their state. If you are interested in specific human rights issues, we suggest you work toward becoming an expert in that field. If you take a look at any human rights lawyer job description, you’ll see that you’ll also need skills in advocacy, investigation, interviewing, and rhetoric for this role.
What's the job description of a human rights lawyer?
In general, human rights cases involve individuals who feel their civil liberties have been neglected or abused by public authorities or other individuals. For example, a victim may be a person with a mental illness who has been discriminated against at work or a prisoner who the penal institution’s staff has mistreated. Human rights attorneys’ main job is to advocate on behalf of victims of persecution, abuse, and other types of human rights violations.
How hard is it to get a job as a human rights lawyer?
Becoming a fully qualified human rights lawyer requires years of dedication. Before you can start applying for human rights lawyer jobs, you’ll need to pursue a Juris Doctor degree and pass your state’s bar admission examination to be able to practice law.