Human Rights law popular, even as job market remains flat

Human rights is growing in popularity among law students, even if job prospects are flat.

Jessica Peake, Director of UCLA School of Law’s International & Comparative Law Program, said the field is a very hot topic for entering students. While law school applications have decreased overall, the number of those interested in human rights has actually seen the opposite, although getting a foot in the industry was often harder than they realized.

And while not necessary to land a job, an LL.M. in human rights demonstrates commitment to the field and can set one apart from the competition, particularly foreign attorneys.

“Students want to practice human rights law but without solid grounding of what that means, so law schools expose them to as many areas of that as possible to prepare them,” she said. “Students are also more aware of issues — a lot of which are in the media. LGBT and trans rights, the refugees in Europe and Asia and how to deal with those people, the detention of minors, and how we can protect workers in labor law. These are all very timely issues.”

She said human rights law is a particularly reactive, long-term field, with attorneys springing up to tackle different issues as they arise in response to shifting geopolitical circumstances.

“There are so many ways to practice, not all of which are well-charted, and really takes some innovation on the part of the lawyer,” Peake said. “And some of the most interesting jobs are in countries you never thought you’d live in. You learn how smaller, nuanced pieces fit into the broader framework. The law isn’t limited to just specific events.” 

With potential career tracks within governmental departments, grassroots organizations, and the ever-prestigious United Nations, there are great incentives for law students from around the world to consider an education in international and human rights law.