Doing a law volunteer program overseas can be a great way to effect some change in communities that need you the most. You can provide legal aid overseas to those who require representation on anything from civil and criminal cases to human rights injustices. As a legal volunteer, your work could be the difference between life and death.
Since there are opportunities for legal aid in many parts of the world, you have an unlimited amount of choices about where you can volunteer. Some popular ones include places in Africa, South America, and Asia, where locals help domestic abuse victims, refugees, and victims of human trafficking.
Not only will this work be extremely rewarding, but it will also certainly boost your resume and show your commitment to the greater good. It will also give you a considerable advantage when you're competing for legal jobs in large non-profit or humanitarian agencies.
Where to Go
Legal volunteer opportunities are available all over the world, though the most enriching and rewarding opportunities are located in developing countries where legal volunteers are in higher demand.
As a legal volunteer in Africa, you can help people in countries like Morocco, South Africa, and Ghana with anything from immigration forms to human rights protection.
For anyone considering a career in law, or even a practicing lawyer looking for more meaningful work, this could open a world of opportunities -- not just for you, but for those you help represent while volunteering overseas, as well. The scope of your duties might involve helping those that have been victims of domestic violence or refugees trying to get resettled.
Many law volunteer opportunities in South America will also put you in a position to help locals going through divorces, police abuse, or civil disputes. You can also find volunteer opportunities with NGOs that are helping promote human rights and providing greater access to justice to those in rural areas without the means to defend themselves.
And to reward yourself for your hard work, you can enjoy the incredible landscapes of the Amazon rainforest, the hiking of the Inca trail, and the unspoiled beaches of the Ecuadorian coast.
International law firms in countries like Thailand and Cambodia are looking for enthusiastic legal interns and volunteers to empower women, victims of human trafficking, and refugees.
As part of your experience, you might interview domestic violence victims, file legal briefs, write contracts, or help prepare locals for trial. These are countries that are already particularly welcoming to outsiders, so they will be endlessly grateful for your legal expertise.
There are many ways to go overseas for a law volunteer program. Your experience, level of comfort with the country, and preferences with regards to the type of work you want to do will all determine which avenue is best for you.
Government-Sponsored Law Volunteer Opportunities
Though positions can be difficult to obtain, you may qualify for law volunteer opportunities through agencies like the Peace Corps. The primary benefit of these programs is that they provide governmental assistance, not only in finding the perfect placement around the world but in settling you there and resettling you when you return to the US.
Like serving in the armed forces, there's a certain degree of honor and prestige that comes with volunteering abroad on behalf of your country. After volunteering, your resume will always reflect your true commitment to justice. You can look for other potential volunteer opportunities through the federal government's job website, USAJOBS.
NGO Law Volunteer Opportunities
Aside from elusive government-sponsored volunteer programs, you can also find yourself achieving your dream of volunteering abroad through an NGO (non-governmental organization). National and international NGOs have different aims and scopes, so depending on your area of interest, you could search for NGOs that specialize in women's rights, human rights, or immigration.
Some NGOs work in certain countries or regions and offer volunteer opportunities across many areas including law, education, and health.
Private Law Internships
You can also find law volunteer programs that are offered by specific international or local firms around the world. This eliminates the middleman placing you through a larger organization, but it could give you more control as far as what you can expect and how much you can truly achieve as a volunteer. This will also allow you to be more selective over where you volunteer, as some larger agencies and NGOs place you at random in areas where you may not want to serve.
Planning Your Trip
As with many big decisions in life, your passion can help inform where you choose to go overseas for a law volunteer program. Here are some practical considerations that may be helpful to consider, as well.
How to Choose a Law Volunteer Program
As a volunteer, you probably have a good idea of the kind of people you'd like to help. If your passion is human rights or women's education, then you'd be best suited for a program that allows you to do as much of that work as possible. Even though many law volunteer programs are general and will require you to work on a variety of tasks related to many different kinds of cases, you may still be able to specialize by choosing the right placement.
Some countries have a greater need for legal volunteers in specific areas. For example, if you want to help refugees and immigrants with their legal status, then you might be best suited to a country where there is a greater need for this kind of work due to war or disaster, like Africa or the Middle East. If you want to help victims of human trafficking, then you might look into countries that are actively combating this problem, like Nepal.
Culture and language should also be taken into consideration when choosing a program. If you speak Spanish, for instance, you might be able to do the most good in a Spanish-speaking country where you can better communicate with the people who need your help. On the other hand, volunteering abroad can also be a great opportunity to learn a new language and immerse yourself in a culture you're not yet familiar with.
Health & Safety
Despite the rewards that volunteering overseas can bring you, it doesn't come without risk. This is especially true in law since so many of the opportunities are available in countries with less infrastructure and access to health care, or hazards such as conflict or natural disasters. Make sure you're prepared to undertake any risks that the job requires -- and that you're ready to keep yourself safe.
Ensure that you've obtained all necessary vaccines and immunizations before heading overseas to Africa or South America. After all, you can only do your best work when you're healthy and safe. If your program doesn't offer health insurance, set yourself up with an insurance plan of your own.
Whether or not you are volunteering through a government-sponsored program, you can stay safe by reading official recommendations for your destination and registering yourself through the State Department
Other Need to Know
When going overseas, you should make sure that you meet all the requirements to legally volunteer abroad and that you obtain all necessary paperwork before departing. Most companies that offer law volunteer programs provide assistance with the paperwork, but the responsibility ultimately rests on your shoulders.