Future Lawyer Blog

A summer at the UN: Insights into internships (Part 1) – Merrow Golden

Merrow at the UN HQ

What internship did you do?

I spent three months in the Codification Division of the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) at the United Nations in New York. The Office of Legal Affairs is part of the UN Secretariat. The Codification Division works to encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification (one of the key aims of the General Assembly, as set out in Article 13 of the UN Charter).

The Codification Division provides legal advice and support to a number of bodies established by the General Assembly, including the Sixth (Legal) Committee of the General Assembly and the International Law Commission. These bodies discuss the current international legal issues facing the global community with the aim of producing effective solutions and international consensus. The Codification Division is also engaged in a number of projects aimed at enhancing understanding and dissemination of public international law. Such projects include the preparation of a number of legal publications, courses and seminars, as well as the establishment of the United Nations Audio-Visual Library of International Law.

What work were you involved in?

As an intern, I was lucky to be involved in a number of different projects. I helped to research and write procedural histories of major international instruments. This involved conducting research into how these instruments came into being. These histories become, themselves, valuable research tools for those interested in particular treaties and conventions. I was also involved in the preparation of a number of legal publications.

How did you hear about the internship?

The internship was advertised on the UN’s careers website. This is a central pool for positions with the UN and I would definitely recommend looking here. Another website where you can find job opportunities is UN jobs. I found the advertisement as a result of looking at the Office of Legal Affairs’ website and I would definitely recommend browsing the websites of organisations which you would love to work for, you never know what you might find!

Participants of the Summer 2012 internship programme. Credit: United Nations Photo

What was the application procedure and who is eligible to apply?

The application procedure was relatively straight-forward. You just needed to fill out an application form and write a covering letter. There was no interview or test.

For an internship at the Office of Legal Affairs, you need to be enrolled in a graduate degree program in law both at the time of your application and during your internship.

You need to demonstrate an intention to further study or work in an area related to the work of the Office of Legal Affairs. You also need to be proficient in English. A knowledge of another United Nations official working language, especially French, is desirable.

Is the internship paid?

No. Unfortunately, the internship is not paid. Interns have to fund themselves and find their own accommodation.

What sponsorship possibilities are available?

If you are planning on becoming a barrister, I know that some of the Inns of Court offer sponsorship for internships. Inner Temple, for example, offers the Sir Joseph Priestley Scholarship, which has a preference for internships with an international element.

What previous experience did you have?

I had an academic background in politics, having specialised in international politics during my undergraduate degree, and I had experience of working for a number of NGOs and I had also completed two vacation schemes at international law firms, White & Case LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Therefore, I was able to demonstrate both an interest in international development and human rights as well as experience of legal work.

I had, however, only just started the Graduate Entry LLB course and so my actual legal knowledge was very limited at the time of applying!

Was it as you expected?

It was better! I cannot recommend this internship enough. It is not just the work you were involved in, which was extremely interesting, but the people that you meet. Some of the most distinguished lawyers in public international law were working in my office! It was also an incredible opportunity to be at the UN itself. I was able to go to the opening of the General Assembly and I actually shook hands with Ban Ki-Moon!

I was engaged in more substantive work then I had expected. It was definitely not a coffee-making/photocopying role. The Codification Division also went to great lengths to provide interns with opportunities to learn more about public international law. We were briefed, regularly, by the legal officers themselves on a number of topics which provided an insight into complex areas of the law.

It was also a great chance to meet other young people from around the world who are interested in international politics and law. Interns arranged a number of social events and activities throughout the summer.

What tips could you give to somebody about to start their internship?

Make the most of it! I would probably try and do a bit of background reading if you have, as I had, not yet studied public international law. There is quite a bit of legal jargon which it would be easier to understand if you are already familiar with the basic concepts. I would also try and meet as many people as possible and I recommend getting involved in some of the debates and events going on at the UN. I visited the EU Mission and I organised a visit for about 20 interns to the UK Mission. I also attended a discussion on Security Council reform hosted by the Japanese Mission and an interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report on the responsibility to protect. Finally, I would recommend asking your colleagues for their advice on what next steps to take for your career. The legal officers I worked with were extremely knowledgeable about different career paths and options in the field of public international law and it was great to talk to them about their own experiences.

Merrow is in the second year of her Graduate Entry LLB at The City Law School.

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