Roundup of law programs for a global development career

Devex takes a look at master's degree programs that focus on law for development. Photo by: Blogtrepreneur

Professionals with legal expertise play a critical role in the global development sector. They provide technical advice to implementing organizations, ensure compliance of programs with international laws, and work with governments, multilateral organizations, and local organizations to promote the rule of law.

A number of master’s degree programs now focus on law in the context of global development. These programs cover a wide range of relevant issues — from water law and Islamic law to the rule of law in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. In addition to academic requirements and previous work or volunteer experience, most programs also expect applicants to demonstrate proficiency in English.

Roundup of global dev fellowship programs

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Whether you are already practicing law and looking for a career change or you are interested in how law can be applied to support the Sustainable Development Goals, here’s a roundup of master’s degree programs that could help advance your global development career. While this list highlights some of the key programs in this field of study, there are many more law programs that offer at least some modules on development issues.

Sustainable Development LLM, University of Washington

This is the first graduate program at a U.S. law school to focus on international development law. The program focuses on human rights promotion and rule of law, supporting sustained development and economic growth, and preserving natural resources. Students have the opportunity to work with development and human rights NGOs.

Delivered: On campus.
Duration: Nine months full time, with part-time enrollment options also available.
Entry requirements: A legal education from a school accredited by the American Bar Association in the U.S. or a first degree in law or the equivalent credentials from a school outside the U.S. Some professional work experience preferred.
Areas of study: Legal problems in economic development; international environmental law, international human rights, or rule of law in a global context; and the American legal system and method for lawyers trained outside the U.S. Examples of elective modules offered are climate change law, indigenous governance law, Islamic law, and theories and tools for combating corruption.

LLM in Rule of Law for Development, Loyola University Chicago
Onsite courses delivered in Rome
This program is designed to prepare students to work in countries that are developing, in economic transition, or recovering from violent conflict. Students develop the skills to assess rule of law and development problems, support the implementation of rule of law initiatives that take into account varied legal cultures and systems, and prepare funding projects on rule of law projects, among others.

Delivered: On campus at Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center in Italy, although the degree is awarded by Loyola University Chicago. Two online courses and a capstone project can then be completed remotely.
Duration: Eleven months.
Entry requirements: A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university or the international equivalent as well as a primary law degree. An interest or experience in rule of law and governance matters through past work or volunteer experience should be demonstrated.
Areas of study: Core courses include history, theory, and practice of law for development; comparative and ethical lawyering for the rule of law; international development architecture; sustainable development through international commerce and investment; and rule of law in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Master of Law and Development, The University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia

This program is designed for those interested in or already working in international development from a government, nongovernment, or not-for-profit background.

Delivered: On campus.
Duration: One year full time, or 2-4 years part time.
Entry requirements: A degree in law (LLB, J.D., or equivalent) leading to admission to practice at honors standard or equivalent; or a degree in law (LLB, J.D., or equivalent) leading to admission to practice and two years of documented relevant professional experience; or an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline; or successful completion of four subjects in a cognate graduate diploma and one year of documented relevant professional experience.
Areas of study: Compulsory and elective modules for students include Asian law; banking and finance law; competition and consumer law; dispute resolution; employment and labor relations law; energy and resources law; environmental law; government law; health and medical law; and human rights law. Students who do not have a law degree must complete a module in international law.

International Law and Global Governance (LLM), Tilburg University
Tilburg, Netherlands

This program aims to equip students with the legal, analytical, and argumentation skills for a wide variety of career paths in professional practice, government, international advocacy, international courts and tribunals, international organizations, multinational consultancies, and journalism.

Delivered: On campus.
Duration: One year full time.
Entry requirements: Students must have a bachelor's degree in law, political science, international relations, or another related field before the start of the program.
Areas of study: Three main areas of expertise offered are international law and international relations; human rights and human security; and global sustainability and environmental law. Students tailor their specialization depending on their career ambitions.

MA in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development, SOAS University of London
London or Singapore
The program provides a unique specialization in environmental law and emphasizes the links between environmental regulation and other related fields of law, such as human rights, trade, or intellectual property rights. Students go on to work with environmental consultancies, international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations.

Delivered: On campus, two locations available.
Duration: One year full time, or two years part time.
Entry requirements: Students must have at least a second-class honors degree, preferably in a related discipline.
Areas of study: All M.A. students are required to attend a two-week preliminary law, legal reasoning, and legal methods course in September before beginning the program. They must also complete a core module in environmental law and social justice and a dissertation. They can make up the rest of their credits by picking from modules including: climate change law and policy; water law and development: conflicts, governance, and justice; international refugee law; law of Islamic finance; and international environmental and sustainable development law.

LLM International Development Law and Human Rights, University of Warwick
Coventry, England

The program takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the interrelationship between development, human rights, and global justice. Students can focus on areas of interest, such as globalization, economic and natural resources regulation, gender justice, climate justice, or humanitarian and criminal law, among other topics.

Delivered: On campus.
Duration: One year full time, or two years part time.
Entry requirements: Minimum 2:1 honors degree in law or the equivalent from an overseas institution. Applicants with a 2:2 honors degree or equivalent may also be considered with practical and/or other relevant experience. Degrees other than law may also be considered.
Areas of study: Core modules include civil society and activism; law, governance, and democracy; climate change and development; international humanitarian law; data protection law; writing about human rights and injustice; and approaches of global justice. In addition to these core modules, students take three optional modules each term and complete a dissertation.

International Law and Development LLM, University of Nottingham
Nottingham, England

The program addresses some of the key questions that arise from development activity and prepares students for legal careers or working with international or local NGOs.

Delivered: On campus.
Duration: One year full time, or two years part time.
Entry requirements: A 2:1 (or international equivalent) in law, humanities, or social sciences.
Areas of study: Students must complete specialist optional modules and a dissertation. They can then choose from additional modules to make up the rest of their credits. These include but are not limited to: biodiversity and international law; general themes and principles of international environmental law; minorities and international human rights law; public procurement in EU and international trade law; regional human rights law; and United Nations law.

Devex, with financial support from our partner 2U, is exploring the skills and education development sector professionals will need for the future. Visit the Focus on: DevPros 2030 page for more.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.