Beyond the world of the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) and federal and state law clerkships lies a brave new world for those whose vision of their future law practice lies on the road less traveled.
For more than a decade, law students participating in the American Bar Association (ABA) Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP) have been introduced to the opportunities for internships and clerkships with international courts and tribunals and with the U.S. Armed Forces through speakers whose experiences include service in those institutions.
The benefits to those who have chosen this alternative route for law clerkship are many and varied. Among the unique experiences working in the international internship and clerkship space, individuals selected for these positions have the benefit of developing writing skills using a disciplined writing style that is not ordinarily taught in the U.S. law school curriculum. An intern at any of the international criminal tribunals will find themselves engaged in a different type of trial process.
Every case at the international criminal tribunals is a more complex experience than one would have in any U.S. federal or state proceeding. The cases at the tribunals are conducted in multiple languages. Each tribunal operates under its own hybrid rules of procedure and evidence. Citations to U.S. case law are rare. Cases last years, rather than weeks or months, and they involve extensive witness testimonies about some of the most serious crimes against humanity. The defendants in the tribunals are ordinarily very high-level officials, such as the trials conducted of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Judgments may exceed 3,000 pages.
In addition to learning the drafting style used in international proceedings, the types of law on which the judgments, orders, and decisions are based open additional avenues of learning. Even for those who have studied international law or international humanitarian law during their classroom education, observing the way proceedings are conducted helps to refine the intern’s or law clerk’s understanding of the sources of law and the precedential value of various sources of law. Citations in decisions will rarely be to any domestic law but will entail references to the European Court of Human Rights; United Nations precedential documents; decisions, orders, and judgments in other cases involving violations of the Geneva Conventions; and the Law of War.
In contrast with the type of experience a law clerk or intern might get in their domestic environment, working with the international tribunals will expose the interns or clerks to the interactive rule-making process through which the hybrid rules of evidence and procedure are drafted and adopted. The advocacy regime used in the international tribunal courtroom is a hybrid combination of common law and civil law systems. Rules of evidence and procedure at the international institutions are ordinarily crafted by international judges whose training and background include their own domestic familiarity with the processes in their nation’s court systems.
Among the many responsibilities an intern or law clerk might have at the tribunals, they may be called on to actually attend court sessions to prepare witness summaries, highlighting key points and identifying specific transcript page references for future use as the judgment is prepared. Topical areas, specific substantive legal issues, and similar key points during a witness’s testimony are among the things an intern might be asked to record.
During the decade in which the international intern or law clerk experience has been a part of the MJCP, law students have been selected from among program attendees to work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The internship positions at these institutions are self-funded, and individuals have to compete for the opportunity to serve in these institutions. Numbers of applicants vary, but the competition for these self-funded international experiences is very intense.
Finding these internship opportunities also can be challenging. Some opportunities can be found through the United Nations’ website at https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=IP&lang=en-US. The specific requirements and eligibility rules for many of the United Nations’ internships can be found at that site. However, some of the tribunals also have their own internship sites. For example, internships with the International Criminal Court (ICC) are found at this website: https://www.icc-cpi.int/jobs, while internships at the STL are found at this website: https://www.stl-tsl.org/en/employment/internship-program.
As a general rule, individuals who want to pursue an internship opportunity at any of the tribunals must be able to devote three full months to the internship experience. In part, this is because the system in which an intern will be working is so different from the previous work experience someone may have had that it takes a commitment of three months for both the individual and the institution to get beneficial results from the experience.
Individuals applying for these opportunities are able to make themselves more competitive if they can demonstrate previous writing experience. Opportunities to be published in journals or publications respected in the international community can be a tiebreaker. This includes publication of relevant international law articles in any of the ABA publications.
An additional tiebreaker can be the ability to work in more than one language. Tribunals generally work, at a minimum, in English and French. Some tribunals work in other languages native to the nature of the proceedings. For example, the STL’s working languages were English, French, and Arabic, and the ICTY (now a part of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals) conducted its proceedings in English, French, and BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian).
U.S. citizens seeking tribunal internship opportunities may encounter particular challenges when seeking an internship with the ICC. For example, the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, which establishes the ICC. Consequently, applications from nations ratifying the Rome Statute are accorded priority over applications from U.S. nationals for ICC internships.
For those interested in the current situation of refugees and asylees from Afghanistan or Ukraine, there are internships available with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. These opportunities can be found at this website: https://www.unhcr.org/internships.html.
Students interested in international business law may explore internship opportunities with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at this website: https://www.imf.org/en/About/Recruitment/working-at-the-imf/fund-internship-program.
To be eligible for a legal internship with the IMF, applicants should be within one to two years of completing an LL.M. or J.D. and must be enrolled as a student planning to return to their studies after completing their internship.
The sites listed above are not all-inclusive but are intended to provide a glimpse into the challenge of locating an opportunity that matches the applicant’s particular interest in law practice. Attendees at the MJCP have had the opportunity to meet individuals with experience working in senior positions within these agencies, and follow-on mentorship for these students by their MJCP judicial team has been one of the positive benefits cited by attendees.
Military Law Clerkship Opportunities
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (USCAAF) is composed of five civilian judges, each of whom is appointed for a 15-year term by the president of the United States, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. This court hears cases involving the entire array of criminal justice concerns, including questions of constitutional law, unique military criminal offense jurisprudence, federal rules of evidence issues, and national security law matters.
The path for cases in the U.S. military justice system begins with a court-martial, which is the trial court level. Most, but not all, courts-martial are courts of record.1 Appeals of cases tried in special or general courts-martial may be appealed either through an automatic appeal or through a petition for appeal by an accused. The first level at which these cases are reviewed is through the criminal court of appeals of the service branch that tried them (Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, Army Court of Criminal Appeals, Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, or Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals). The next level of appeal for these cases is with the USCAAF.
Cases on USCAAF’s docket address a broad range of legal issues, including constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, criminal procedure, ethics, administrative law, and national security law. Decisions by the court are subject to direct review by the Supreme Court of the United States. Many are not aware that military trials, referred to as courts-martial, are conducted following the Military Rules of Evidence, which mirror the Federal Rules of Evidence, with some modifications to accommodate the unique situation of the mission of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The USCAAF is housed in Washington, D.C. The jurisdiction of this court is global, and it hears cases related to criminal cases of U.S. servicemembers worldwide. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) serves as the primary body of federal legislative provisions guiding the criminal code for those serving in the military, and those statutes can be found at 10 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. In addition to U.S. servicemembers, civilians accompanying the armed forces, and retirees and reserve and guard members may, under certain circumstances, be subject to the provisions of the UCMJ.
The civilian judges on the USCAAF have internships available as well. Internships are posted at this website: https://www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/employment.htm.
Individuals who have served as law clerks to USCAAF judges tend to have an interest in serving in one of the U.S. military service branches or may include individuals whose interest is focused more on a civilian law practice career but who recognize that practical law experience in writing and researching in this specialized legal area will benefit them long term in their career development.
As with the international tribunals, there are individuals who have attended the ABA MJCP who eventually decided to pursue legal careers as members of the Judge Advocate Generals Corps. One recent attendee successfully obtained a judicial clerkship for a judge in Alaska, went into private practice, and is currently awaiting a date to join the U.S. Air Force’s Judge Advocate General Corps.
The interaction with judges during the MJCP allows law students participating in the program direct interaction with judges from all varieties of courts. Beyond the research and writing component of the program, the judges review the resumes of the students and provide insights into what they see as strengths and areas in which the skills could better be portrayed. With respect to the international and military internship and clerkship opportunities, the judges representing these specific types of courts share key information that might make the applicant more competitive through portraying their achievements in language that communicates more effectively with the specialized courts at which they might be applying.
For those with a keen sense of adventure, an interest in exploring other cultures and traditions, and a willingness to adapt to an entirely different sort of legal environment, gaining practical experience through a judicial clerkship or internship at either an international tribunal or with the USCAAF can broaden the skill set one brings to their next endeavor. Of particular benefit from choosing an opportunity in these courts on the road less traveled is the ability to work in a multicultural environment. Those who have worked as interns and law clerks at international tribunals are surrounded by peers from around the globe and are presented with opportunities for building an international network of professional colleagues as well as friends. For those who choose to expand their experience base with the USCAAF, they develop an appreciation for the high quality of the judiciary at the trial and appellate levels within the U.S. Armed Forces and are able to share with others the similarities and the few differences between the court-martial and the criminal trial within the U.S. system.
Wherever a clerkship ultimately takes the intern or law clerk, they come away with benefits gained from lessons learned from legal professionals practicing law at the highest levels of skill in specialized areas of the law. If international law or military justice is of interest, consider the opportunities outlined here. You won’t regret the experience.
1. See Rule for Court-Martial 1304(b) regarding the record of trial for a Summary Court-Martial, for example.