Judge: International Law Offers Promising Future

October 22, 2008

Today's law students have immense opportunity to pursue careers in international law, Judge Stephen Schwebel told students when he visited the Law School on Monday.

Stephen Schwebel

Schwebel, who graduated from law school more than 50 years ago, forged a unique career working as a legal advisor in the U.S. State Department and as a member of the U.N. International Law Commission. He also was elected to the International Court of Justice, where he served as president from 1997-2000 and presided over the busiest docket in the court's history.

"There is such a variety of opportunity to fashion a career in the international legal realm. It's truer today than it ever has been in history," Schwebel told students. "States interact pervasively and will continue to do so, whether they want to or not. International law is growing in its reach and complexity and, to some extent, its effectiveness. There's more international adjudication than there ever has been in history."

Schwebel said students with a strong knowledge of international affairs, training in history and fluency in another language have a particularly bright future in international law. But, he said, students must be strong lawyers before they can become international lawyers.

Good attorneys, Schwebel said, must strike several healthy balances. They should have convictions, but not become zealots, and they should be able to judge when it's appropriate to assume a questioning, skeptical attitude. He also encouraged students to use caution, but not to hide behind it.

"I've encountered many people who go through life walking on eggs and afraid to throw themselves this way or that, lest they offend someone. And that's not a pattern that appeals to me. I don't find such people very useful, really, to themselves or to anybody else," he said.

Schwebel said human rights law is also an area with potential to grow in the coming years, although it is being applied unevenly throughout the world. The European Court of Human Rights is almost being overwhelmed by its success, but there is no comparable court in Africa or Asia - continents with no shortage of human rights violations.

"The situation is uneven, but if you compare the current situation to what it was in the late 1930s, it's an astounding improvement," Schwebel said. "I think it likelier than not - I wouldn't put it more strongly than that - that human rights law will continue to grow and develop and become more meaningful."

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