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How to make the most of an Internship at International Tribunals



International Criminal Justice is arguably one of the most thrilling fields of law today. As such, doing an internship at one of the International Tribunals involved with the application of International Criminal Law (ICL) may be one of the most exciting experiences of your young academic and professional career. Internships are often offered at those institutions, and the application procedures are not complicated at all (for example, you may want to check here, here and here for more information on such openings). If you ever get the opportunity to work as an intern at the Tribunals with a Judicial Division or a legal Defense or Prosecution team, here is how to make the most out of your first professional ICL adventure.

1. Research and be always on top of the legal developments at the Tribunals.

As a modern field of law, ICL is continuously evolving. Even after more than half  a century of  constant development, judicial decisions and scholarly articles still shape legal concepts and standards today. In that regard, there are two things that deserve your primary attention as an intern: research and keeping track of legal developments in ICL.

Working as an intern at the Tribunals, your tasks will certainly involve conducting legal analysis of evidential material, going through hearing records and summarizing witness testimonies and documents. Being aware and updated on the relevant ICL notions will be fundamental to produce high quality results and stand out among your fellow intern companions.

Additionally, doing continuous research on ICL issues will not only allow you to better grasp the immense universe of International Criminal Justice, but will also provide you with a strong academic basis to build a successful professional career in Human Rights and Criminal Justice.

Dedicate time to review the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Tribunal, and ask the experts around you how those provisions are applied or interpreted. Also, make sure to study substantive ICL and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) concepts, such as the elements of crimes, modes of liability, legal defenses, as well as the principles and rules of warfare.

By doing so, you will be capable of conducting more accurate legal analysis of the evidence and produce better work, as you will be able to identify, for instance, which parts of a particular testimony is relevant to the discussion of criminal liability and which parts may be relevant to the material verification of the crimes in particular case you are working on. Consequently, this will guarantee better overall performance during your internship while also preparing yourself to your professional future in ICL, Human Rights or IHL.

2. Start building a professional network

The importance of having a good professional network cannot be sufficiently underscored. Being involved with the work of the International Tribunals is a great way to start building your own professional network among practicing Judges and lawyers in the field of Human Rights and Criminal Justice.

As an intern, you will be surrounded by an important number of people with vast experience in the field of Human Rights and ICL. You will have the opportunity to interact not only with young lawyers who are starting to make their way through International Justice, but specially with distinguished Judges, Prosecutors and Defense Counsels that have been and will be involved with these fields of law. This only means that you will have a unique occasion to share and associate with future potential employers and colleagues. In this respect, make sure to seize every chance you get to relate to other professionals.

For instance, look around the city for academic conferences and lectures on Human Rights, Criminal Justice or International Law and try to meet other attendants, as it is very likely that the same distinguished professionals that work at your Tribunal will also participate in those events.

Furthermore, do not hesitate to ask your new contacts for a coffee meeting. Inquire them about their professional experience in the field and ask them for their advice in starting a career at an International Tribunal or Organization

Finally, once the connection has been established, make sure to touch base with them every now and then. It is important to bolster your network constantly to improve your chances of obtaining new opportunities in the future.

3. Take part in the judicial proceedings.

Probably the most exciting part of working at International Tribunals is the possibility to get a first-hand experience on the various judicial proceedings that take place. Of course, the proceedings can usually be followed through the online streaming service of the Tribunals or by visiting the public galleries of the Courtrooms. Nonetheless, as an intern you will be in an exclusive position to enter the Courtroom during the hearings and follow the proceedings live.

Ask kindly your supervisors about the possibility of accompanying the lawyers to one of the hearings. Most certainly, they will schedule your visit to the Courtroom and let you sit with them through one day of trial proceedings. You will then have an extraordinary opportunity to experience International Justice from within, and to understand the dynamic of the judicial procedures at that specific Tribunal. In particular, you will probably be tasked to conduct legal analysis of the evidence presented during the hearing, or with any other task that the legal team may require from you.

By the end of the day, you will go home not only with a bag full of new experiences that will definitely help you build a professional career in Human Rights or Criminal Justice, but also with the satisfaction of having directly participated in making  history.

4. Extend your internship as much as possible.

At the International Tribunals, as in almost every institution, internships last between 3 to 6 months. If you want to get the most out of this opportunity, look to extend your time with your legal team as much as possible.

Of course, a three months internship will give you a valuable notion about the international proceedings and a good set of skills for your future career. Nevertheless, by extending your internship you get the chance to build a stronger professional network, to further expand your substantive and procedural knowledge of ICL, Human Rights and International Law, and to add more working experience to your growing CV.

The latter is of particular importance. As you will note, most of the job openings at the International Tribunals and Institutions require some professional background to be eligible. For instance, for United Nations P-2 positions, having a couple of years of relevant working experience on top of a fourth level education degree (such as a Master’s degree) is usually mandatory to apply.

In that regard, if your internship takes place while conducting graduate or undergraduate studies, it does not hurt to earn as much professional background as possible during that same time. That way, you might end up with 6+ months of working experience by the time you receive your Bachelor of Law or Master’s degree.

5. Be responsible. Be discreet. Be professional.

Trust is a fundamental value in a professional relationship. Working at the International Tribunals will demand of you a lot of responsibility, discretion and professionalism. As you will be surrounded by future colleagues, it is of the utmost important that you show yourself as a competent, mature professional that understands the important role of a Judge or Counsel.

In that regard, make sure to keep on top of your assignments, delivering high quality results in the agreed time. Pay attention to details when preparing your work and do not underestimate the need to carefully review it before submission.

Also, your duties as an intern will naturally involve working with documents and information which may be subjected to protective measures, such as protected witness testimonies or redacted documents. Furthermore, at the beginning of your internship you will be probably asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. Accordingly, be organized when preparing and saving your assignments. Avoid making sensible comments on the content of your work to individuals outside your colleagues or taking any other risks that could lead the information trusted to you to fall into the wrong hands.

These recommendations are particularly important, considering the nature of your work at the Tribunals. Recklessly handling confidential information may not only result in your dismissal as an intern, but could also bring serious consequences to other individuals involved in the proceedings, specially protected witnesses. In conclusion, be discreet with the information you receive, be responsible when conducting your work and always demonstrate you are a trustworthy, competent professional.

6. Ask for feedback and a letter of recommendation.

As mentioned before, an internship is not only a unique opportunity to start building an interesting CV and expanding your network, but also -and most importantly- an opportunity to learn and grow as a professional.

In this respect, the insight that your supervisors may provide about your overall performance is invaluable for your future career, considering their background and expertise. So don’t be ashamed to approach them in search of feedback on your work and advices to improve. Their comments will most certainly prove to be fundamental along your internship experience, and might shape the way you approach future jobs at similar positions.

Finally, once you have proven your skills and capacities as an intern, and established a strong professional network, the best way to conclude your international legal internship is asking for a letter of recommendation, as well as authorization to provide your supervisors’ contacts as references in future job applications. Counting with their support in the future may very well turn the odds in your favor when applying to new positions in the field of Human Rights and/or Criminal Justice.

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