How to go International With Your Law Degree! Options Available to Lawyers Seeking Global Careers.

Updated: May 23, 2019




Osarugue Obayuwana holds a first class law degree from the University of Ibadan and a Master’s in International Taxation from New York University, where she was honoured as an International Finance and Development Fellow. She has worked in a leading Nigerian law firm (Babalakin& Co) and at the World Bank. A qualified attorney in Nigeria and New York, she is currently an Assistant Manager at KPMG, Malta, Europe.


Here are some of Osarugue tips on how she leveraged on her Law degree and lessons she's learned on her career journey so far.


Sometimes 'accidents' are purposeful

Osarugue shared how her journey to Tax Law was somewhat accidental. In her fourth year at the University of Ibadan, during a holiday, she did an internship at the Ministry of Justice in Edo State. At the time, Edo State was embarking on a massive overhaul of its tax system and she had the opportunity to be involved. Later on, in 500L, she took a course in Tax Law and had a Professor who made her fall more in love with tax law and that's how she decided to pursue Tax Law fully.


Google is your friend

Osarugue mentioned that google was an invaluable resource during her degree. When she had to make the choice for grad school, she relied on Google search to find which school had the best Tax Programme and that was how she found NYU. Additionally, google search is also useful to find opportunities, jobs, fellowships and conferences. Different schools have websites where job opportunities are listed long before they are published on public domains. You would do well to stay glued to these platforms and apply for as many opportunities as you can.


Ask questions

You should never be afraid to ask questions from your school or admission advisers, keep the line of communication open throughout the duration of the programme. After she got her admission, Osarugue shared how she had been admitted into the wrong programme, but was advised by the school to take the International Taxation Programme instead. This programme unknown to her, was more prestigious and relatively exclusive compared to the Federal Tax Programme which she wanted. Even though she unfortunately missed the window for funding opportunity for the International Tax Programme, she still wrote to the University to ask about funding and was able to secure a convenient payment plan - all because she asked!


If you can afford it, get guidance during your application process

Osarugue emphasized the importance of using an educational consulting service if you can afford it. In her case, she acknowledged that if she had guidance during her application, she would have known better and probably would not have missed the opportunity to get funding. Do not go about your grad school application with the mindset that you have all the knowledge in your pocket, get help. Humility and openness to learn are important during grad school process. It is also important to exploit all the resources at your disposal in your school. These include the career section of your school, which you can use for your CV review. Osarugue recounted an experience she had during the application stage for her World Bank Internship. One of the requirements for the application was an essay, which she wrote and decided to give to one of her career counselor to review. The counselor struck out a majority of what she wrote and left only relevant parts that were the crux of her essay. She could easily have decided she did not need any guidance, and may have missed the opportunity if she did not asked for help.


You don’t have to do a Masters!

If you are going to the United States, explore the option of doing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree instead of a Master's. The JD runs for three (3) years and there is a better market for JD students because of how integrated they have become in the American system by virtue of their programme. JD students are also better placed for employment after their programme than Master’s students.


Your First Semester Grades are Important

She stressed the importance of working very hard in the first semester for students going to the US for a Master’s. This is because after the first semester, the schools invite top law firms to receive job applications from students, and this means that you apply with your first semester results. This is the singular chance you have to wow a prospective employer.


Location is Key!

Beyond the ranking of a school, its location is very important. NYU for instance is located in New York which is the heart of finance in the US, and is surrounded by several financial institutions. Ideally, the best school for any programme you want to study is one which is located at the centre of activity of that programme. One advantage of choosing a school at the centre of activity is that you will be exposed to a myriad of opportunities (internships, conferences, job opportunities) that people in other schools may not be.


The New York Bar is not a beast that cannot be tamed

Contrary to public opinion, the New York Bar exam is no different from Nigeria’s, in the sense that the exam is not complex, but the scope is very wide. Osaugue advised that anyone intending to take the New York Bar, should take a Bar Review Course. She provided the names of two outfits that provide this service, namely, Kaplan Inc (www.kaplan.com) and Barbri (www.barbri.com). Although students ordinarily have to pay for these tests, Kaplan has a system where a student can become a Kaplan Student Brand Ambassador by bringing in 5 students to sign up with Kaplan and be qualified for a fee waiver.


You do not have to be a mathematics guru to study Tax Law.

Osarugue noted that she does not work in the sphere of tax law that involves mathematics and calculations. She explained that her job involves tax advisory and that does not require any mathematical calculations. Although there are areas of Tax Law that involve calculations, you can easily avoid them by specializing in fields like Tax Advisory.


Keep your eyes on value and not economics

You must figure out the 'WHY' before you pursue your Master’s. She noted that the value of an opportunity to your dreams and aspirations will help you make a choice between two opportunities, one of which seems to be financially profitable and another one which is not.


Networking Works!

This is a point that we hear very often at GetIn Seminars, and Osarugue reiterated it. She noted that she got the opportunity at KPMG and World Bank by networking. If you needed any evidence about the effectiveness of networking, there it is.


Osarugue provided a list of resources and opportunities that Nigerian lawyers may exploit even prior to their going to Grad School. These include:

The Vance Centre for International Justice

The Vance Centre for International Justice is a body in New York which partners with the top law firms in New York and provides opportunities for Nigerian lawyers to spend a year in the US.

However, to get into this fellowship, a law firm must nominate you.


For more information, about which law firms are subscribed to this fellowship and other general information, visit the website at: https://www.vancecenter.org/our-programs/african-legal-fellows/ILFA

ILFA has two programmes, the Flagship Secondment Programme and the Intra Africa Networking programme. The former is an annual international secondment programme where lawyers practicing in various jurisdictions are selected and sponsored on a 3-month secondment at highly reputed international law firms and corporations in London, Paris, Lisbon and Dubai. The latter provides the lawyers on secondment with valuable opportunities to meet,exchange information and share experiences with lawyers from various African countries. For more information, visit the website at:

https://www.ilfa.africa/flagship-programme/

https://www.ilfa.africa/intra-africa-secondment-programme/

https://www.ilfa.africa/ilfa-alumni/

The International Monetary Fund

The IMF also has opportunities for lawyers. These can be found at: https://imf.taleo.net/careersection/imf_external/jobdetail.ftl

The World Bank

The World Bank has fellowships, internships and job opportunities that African lawyers can explore and exploit. These include the Africa Fellowship Program, the Young Professionals Programme, and the World Bank Summer Internship. More information on these can be found at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/about/careers/programs-and-internships

http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/brief/world-bank-group-africa-fellowship-program

The United Nations

There are also various career opportunities at the UN which may be found at: https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=SJ&vacancy=All


For more information on the US Uniform Bar Exam and the New York Bar, please visit the following websites:

http://www.ncbex.org/exams/ube/

http://store.ncbex.org/all-study-aids/

https://www.nybarexam.org/Eligible/Eligibility.htm

There are several opportunities for International Tax Law LLM holders. They include:

in-house counsel for multinationals;

Employment at the International Monetary Fund (IMF);

Employment at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);

Employment at the European Union (EU) Commission;

Employment at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), this however, is limited, to some extent, to only US citizens and green card holders; and

employment at the big four: PWC, Deloitte, EY, and KPMG.



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