How to Become a Human Rights Lawyer

What steps does one need to follow, to become a human rights lawyer? This is a question that tends to come up frequently, especially in career advice forums that are attended by aspiring lawyers. In answering this question, it is always critical to point out that all lawyers deal with human rights issues. People seek lawyers’ services when they feel that their rights have been infringed upon – or when they feel that their rights are threatened. Therefore, if you look at it broadly, you will discover that all lawyers are by definition ‘human rights lawyers’. That being said, there are some lawyers who specialize in human rights advocacy and litigation. Those are the ones that are known as ‘human rights lawyers’. And so the question before us is as to how one can join the ranks of such lawyers: that is, how one can become a human rights lawyer. And to answer that question, if one wants to become a human rights lawyer, they need to:

  1. Acquire a basic degree in law: this is the first and most critical step. In the course of your first degree, you would need to pay special attention to the units that deal with human rights issues. You could also ensure that your research dissertation/thesis touches on matters to do with human rights law.
  2. Specialize in human rights law: for your graduate studies, you should opt to specialize in human rights law. So you just find a university that has a graduate program in human rights law, and proceed to join it.
  3. Get a job at a human rights advocacy/litigation body: this may be the trickiest part, because human rights advocacy/litigation may not be as well paying as other branches in law (such as commercial law). You could actually find yourself earning what you could otherwise have earned as a middle-level employee at Nordstrom. Then you would find yourself wondering if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to simply find a job at Nordstrom (and hence be allocated an account at In that case, you wouldn’t have to strain your mind as much as you have to do, while working as a human rights lawyer. It would just be a matter of handling routine tasks, and then getting a paycheck at the MyNordstrom portal at the end of each fortnight. But then again, human rights advocacy/litigation can be very satisfactory at another level: it gives you a chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.
  4. Get involved in actual human rights advocacy or litigation: the only way in which you can establish your bona fides as a human rights lawyer is by getting involved in actual human rights advocacy or litigation. If you do get a job at a human rights advocacy/litigation body, you will certainly be allocated advocacy or litigation projects. Yours then will be simply to handle those projects well, in order to build your reputation as a human rights lawyer.

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