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UN Law Careers: Overview

UN Law Careers: Overview

UN Law Jobs and Internships (2021)

How to kick-start your law career at the United Nations? What are the benefits? What is the selection process like? Find all about UN Law jobs and internships here!

If you are seeking more information on how to land a UN internship or job for law students, you have come to the right place! Working for an organization within the United Nations System is a dream for many law graduates across the globe since the opportunities offered often combine good remuneration and a wide range of benefits with meaningful work.

Working for a UN organization means developing a global career with a global reach, in a multicultural and pleasant environment; where you will be able to construct influential networks and receive encouragement to develop professionally.

The UN System offers many work opportunities for law professionals, therefore, the chances of you finding a vacancy that suits your profile are very high! Nonetheless, it is important that you know that selection processes to integrate the team of international organizations tend to be quite competitive, and, for this reason, strong preparation is key for those who want to succeed.

In pursuit of its mission, the OpenIGO network has prepared a comprehensive eBook (UN Careers for Law Professionals), as well as support and guidance services, with the aim of highly increasing your chances of success in these competitive selection processes. These services include revising your application documents (curriculum vitae/resume and cover letter) and a mock interview, as per the United Nations model. We also offer a range of packages that combine the eBook with different services!


UN Careers – Products & Services

Our comprehensive eBook will introduce you to the complex world of the United Nations and its approach towards international development; it will teach you how to prepare a strong Curriculum Vitae and an outstanding Cover Letter, and will also get you ready for the interview stage!

Remember that even if you don’t have plans to apply for a legal job or internship with the UN right now, this manual will prepare you to apply in the coming years. Take notes and use the time that you have to strategically develop your career and obtain more outstanding work experience until you are ready to apply for the most suitable opportunity. This eBook was written and revised by a team of professors, human resources specialists, and former young professionals with a great deal of diligence.

This article is only a small sample of the extensive content available in our comprehensive eBook.

UN System Overview

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization established in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the central purpose of maintaining international peace and security. The UN does this by working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. Founded in 1945, the Organization is currently made up of 193 Member States and headquartered in New York City. The United Nations was created with a considerable structure. In addition to revisiting ideas and organisms from the League of Nations, and incorporating existing organizations – such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) –, in its Charter, the UN established the creation of specialized agencies and programs that would constitute an integrated labour structure, to maximize the reach of the organization`s purposes. In reality, the United Nations operates as an articulated and complex system. In fact, all the organizations that make up the large family that is the UN System are referenced as United Nations Common System Organizations, and are specialized agencies or related organizations. Both categories are separate, autonomous organizations, with their own budgets and international staff members.

UN’s main focus: to maintain global peace, security and promoting international development.

Themes addressed by the UN System:

  • Human rights and humanitarian aid
  • Global security
  • Human development (Health, Education, Labor, etc.).
  • Sustainable Development (Environment and climate change).
  • International cooperation and integration;
  • Finance sector development;
  • Children protection
  • International law

UN Law Jobs & Careers - Salary and Benefits

The United Nations presents career development as one of its central concerns in its human resources policies. Career progression is something that the organization understands as the result of a Staff Member`s efforts and decisions, which are supported in various ways and different areas. The United Nations defines this in the following way: “Your career path is a reflection of your aspirations and decisions about your professional development, where you play the leading role. The Organization plays a supporting role putting effective systems in place to enhance and support your career decisions” (UNITED NATIONS CAREERS, 2020).

In order to guarantee this support for its Staff Members, the UN has created programs, training centers, Career Resource Centres, courses, and staff development services. In addition to the UN System Staff College, several actions may be listed as examples of opportunities for the organizations` Staff Members` professional and personal development. 

This information is important to understand how the United Nations Common System sees its Staff Members` professional development, centered on skills development and how progression and personal growth can occur within the organization. These questions are directly related to the salaries and benefits that are available, according to the job category (Professional and Higher Categories, General Service Staff, Field Service Category and National Professional Officers) and post they are working at.

Note that, depending on the type of contract you have with the organization, many of these benefits are not applicable to professionals working with the United Nations. This is the case for three of the categories presented above: consultants, interns and volunteers. 

With regards to salaries, staff in the General Service Staff and National Professional Officers categories receive their pay according to a local salary scale (UNITED NATIONS CAREERS, 2020). The staff salaries in the Professional and Higher and Field Service categories are made up of a fixed annual salary – according to each professional level within the category – and a readjustment is made according to the characteristics of the post where the professional is based:

With regards to benefits, it can be observed that some are granted to all the professionals in the different categories, but the application of others varies according to the Staff Member`s situation (for example, if they have dependents), or characteristics of the post where they are working.

Here are some of the benefits Staff Members may be entitled to:

1. Holidays and leave
2. Health insurance
3. Retirement pension
4. Rental subsidy
5. Dependency allowances 
6. Education grant
7. Travel and shipping expenses
8. Assignment grant
9. Hardship allowance 
10. Hazard pay and rest and recuperation break/danger pay 
11. Language incentive 
12. Language allowance 

UN Law Jobs & Careers - Requirements

Which skills and competencies should a legal professional have to attract the recruiters’ attention? What is the ideal profile for legal professionals at UN? These, and other questions, are common from UN law graduates. A general overview of the main requirements expected by the selection process will now be presented.

You will then be able to prioritize the organizations that are most suited to your profile.

Age limit for UN legal jobs & internships

On the question of age, the requirement may vary greatly. The UN System usually accepts applicants
who are a minimum of 18 years old at the time of application, but some agencies/vacancies might adopt a slightly higher minimum age requirement. With regards to the maximum age, the majority of the organizations do not impose any age restrictions for job positions. There may be exceptions to this rule, such as the United Nations Young Professionals Program and the Junior Professional (JPO) Program which have very strict age restrictions.

Education background for law students

The educational background required for UN law jobs and internships varies according to agency, or specific vacancy. Generally speaking, the most common academic requirements for law professionals are:

  • Hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in law or development-related studies;
  • Hold an advanced university degree (Master’s or PhD) in law or development-related studies.
  • A first-level university degree in combination with additional years of qualifying experience may be accepted in lieu of an advanced university degree.

Values and Competencies for Law Professionals

Every organization stablishes its own set of prerequisites for accepting a determined candidate as part of its staff. It’s no different with the UN System’s organizations. A law professional must expect to have certain academic/professional qualifications and interpersonal skills to be eligible and having a chance of being selected. For more information, see the following table:

Core Values Core Competencies Functional Competencies
  • Professionalism
  • Respect for Diversity
  • Integrity
  • Planning & Organizing
  • Communication and information sharing
  • Teamwork
  • Accountability
  • Creativity
  • Client Orientation
  • Continuous Learning
  • Technological Awareness
  • Development & Innovation
  • Self-Management and Emotional Intelligence
  • Problem Solving
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Ability to advocate and provide policy advice
  • Negotiating skills (Persuading and Influencing)
  • Strong IT skills
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Strong conflict resolution
  • Plans and produces quality results to meet established goals
  • Focuses on impact and result, and responds positively to critical feedback.

Language Proficiency for UN Law Jobs & Careers

Proficiency in the English language (oral and written) is fundamental for the majority of the UN law jobs and internships for law students. However, many UN System organizations may request fluency in other official UN System languages, such as: Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. There is also the case of positions that require fluency in other languages, which is particularly true in the case of field offices.


The majority of the agencies require applicants to be nationals from one of their Member States to be able to apply for job opportunities. However, others do not impose this prerequisite, accepting applicants from all countries, as is the case of UNICEF, UNCTAD, UN-Habitat, UNOPS, WFP and UNWTO, among others.


With regards to restrictions, the main one is that applicants do not have a direct relationship with United Nations employees. In other words, they are not parents, children or siblings.

UN Law Jobs & Careers - Application Process

When to apply for a UN law Job or internship? 

Firstly, it should be borne in mind that the intern recruitment and selection process is highly decentralized between the numerous organizations that make up the UN System.

Therefore, the application period, and other details related to a specific vacancy, or internship program, may vary. Generally speaking, there are four most common types of application period for the internship programs: a) applications always open; b) applications open on demand; c) applications by season and d) mixed applications. Further details about each of these will be provided below.

a) Applications always open (rosters)

When UN organizations keep their job applications permanently open, what they are looking for is establishing a type of applicant database, called a “roster”, where potential applicants are filtered throughout the year.  Those who have the profile most in line with the agency’s needs are selected. Rosters are reserve lists composed of pre-assessed and eligible candidates who no longer need to be interviewed to take on a position.

The vacancies offered in this way usually have more generic requirements, which may attract a large number of professionals. Many of these programs establish a validity period of between six months and one year for applications. If applicants are not called within the stipulated timeframe, this means that your applications were not successful.

b) Applications open on demand

There are also UN organizations that open up selection processes only when they identify a need for this. Generally speaking, these vacancies have more specific demands, with regards to requirements and the application process. Therefore, participants should check the opportunities on the respective agency recruitment sites, and search for the vacancies that best fit their profile.

c) Applications open by seasons

There are also UN System job opportunities that open their selections at specific times of the year, giving applicants a specific period to apply. This is the case of the United Nations Young Professionals Program, for example, which usually starts accepting applications in June/July. 

OpenIGO offers products and services that focus on the United Nations YPP! 

UN YPP – Products & Services

d) Mixed applications

 We should also mention that specific UN System organizations may offer internship opportunities that fit into more than one of these categories. This is the case of the IOM, UNESCO, UNHCR and WTO, which offer vacancies according to demand by their sectors, and they also have selection processes for rosters that are open throughout the year. Therefore, you should know the maximum possible about each agency’s specific characteristics, so that you do not miss out on the different opportunities offered.

How to apply for a UN legal job?

Generally speaking, there are three types of application for UN System jobs, namely: a) application through internship rosters; b) application for specific vacancies; and c) email application. These application processes have similarities and differences between them, which will be explained below. A common point is that they all require the online submission of the applicant’s supporting documents.

a) Application through job rosters

As mentioned above, the job roster is a type of applicant database that remains open to new submissions throughout the year. Usually, the applicants’ documents are available for the recruiters to analyze for up to six months. This type of application is made up of three steps:

  • Initial registration on the system: requests basic information to access the site, such as: your name and surname, email address, password, and other general data for identification and contact purposes;
  • Completing the personal/professional profile: this stage requires more specific information on your educational background, previous professional experience, language fluency, and other skills acquired;
  • Document submission and sending the application: following the previous stage, you may need to send your CV/resume and a cover letter. Some agencies also ask for references/recommendation letters from former employers or professors who have worked with the applicant, and can confirm their competency for the position. Lastly, just submit the application on the system, which will be valid for between six months and one year, in the majority of cases.

b) Applying for specific vacancies

In relation to specific vacancies, the application process differs a little from the previous one. The following steps are required to apply for them:

  • Initial registration on the system: usually a basic registration is also required to access the agency’s site, through general contact information and user identification.
  • Research specific internship vacancies: you should research and use the agency recruitment site’s filters to find internship vacancies that match your profile.
  • Complete the personal/professional profile: after you have found a vacancy that you are interested in, the applicant should complete the personal/professional profile specifically for that vacancy. We emphasize that, in some cases, completing the professional profile is independent of the vacancy; in other words, it may be carried out in advance, and be saved in the user’s account.
  • Submit your documents and send the application: as when applying for the internship roster, specific vacancies may require the submission of documents (CV/resume, cover and recommendation letters, among others). After sending them, the applicant will be contacted, if they are selected for interview.

c) Email applications

Lastly, are the email application processes, which are much easier, compared with the previous ones. This is the case of UNRWA – an agency that focuses on the protection of Palestine refugees – in which the interested party should look for the email address of the desired unit (headquarters, field/country or representative offices) and send their CV/resume, a cover letter and, in some cases, a statement that justifies the selection of the agency and indicates which areas of activity they are interested in.

The following table presents the application processes, divided into the three categories mentioned above.

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Where to apply for UN law jobs and internships?

Many people think that all the UN System jobs are advertised on the UN Secretariat careers site, believing that this is the only place that advertises vacancies.

In fact, UN Careers is one of the main sites to advertise internship and job opportunities within the UN System, including various vacancies, not only at the UN Secretariat, but at other agencies (UNEP, UN-Habitat, UNCTAD and UNODC, among others). However, there are various other sites that applicants should also be aware of.

There is the World Bank Group site, and although many people do not know this, this organization also belongs to the United Nations System. The World Bank internship program is valid for three of the Group’s main agencies, namely, IBRD, IDA and MIGA. The other two WBG agencies, IFC and ICSID, have their own intern recruitment site

Another major site is the one of UNDP. It is a transversal site that includes internship and job opportunities in various UN System categories, and sectors of activity. The majority of the job vacancies available are distributed throughout the UNDP’s different regional and local units of activity. However, the site is also shared between other agencies, funds and departments to advertise internships, such as UN Women, UNCDF and UNOSSC, among others.

Lastly, there are various smaller agencies and funds that have their own sites for internship and job announcements. The following tables present the different sites that advertise UN System internships. (The list is not exhaustive).

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 What are the usual stages of the selection process for UN legal opportunities?

1. Advertising period:
The time varies according to the agency and specific vacancy.

2. Longlisting:
Automatic pre-selection of applications.

3. Shortlisting:
Analysis of the applications the recruiters have selected, and selecting the applicants for interview.

4. Interview:
Held over the telephone, or by video-conferencing, to check the information provided.

5. Post-interview process:
Final adjustments and review of the applicant’s documents and information.

6. Contacting selected applicants:
Send a contract proposal by email.

In addition, in some selections, there may also be a stage called the written test, which is usually soon after the shortlisting, to confirm the capacity to write, summarize, demonstrate the applicant’s general knowledge of the organization, and their area of expertise.

What are the documents to submit for UN Job opportunities?

The application process requires you to submit:

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)/Resume/PHP/P-11;
  • Cover Letter/Statement of Interest
  • Proof of enrollment 
  • Academic transcripts
  • Reference Letters 

With the aim of highly increasing your chances of success in the application stage for UN jobs, OpenIGO Network has put together a thorough Application Review service for candidates, to help you prepare your documents to the best of your abilities and strengthen your application. Click below to find out more:

OpenIGO – Application Review

UN Law Jobs & Careers - Interview

The selection cycle of UN Jobs includes an interview phase, whose main aim is to find out more about the candidate, and analyze their knowledge and competences. It is widely understood and disseminated by the United Nations that the UN Internship interview model is the competency based interview (CBI) but, in fact, it is mixed, combining competency based questions with traditional ones. 

Traditional Questions

This type of question is usually linked to elements listed on the candidate’s resumé, application form and cover letter. Questions about international development topics or about the UN organization the candidate applied for can also be expected. Here are some examples of traditional questions: 

  • Do you prefer working in a team or on your own? Why?`
  • What are your strong and weak points?
  • Why should we employ you?
  • What are your three main achievements until now?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What types of activities or hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?
  • What is your main motivation to join the UN?

Competency-Based Questions

Competency-Based Interviews are based on an applicant’s past performance and the competencies displayed in performing previous jobs and solving problems.Therefore, the questions posed during the interview aim to discover whether the interviewee possesses the competencies pre-selected by the organization.

Below, we present examples of CBI questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an unexpected situation.
  • Have you ever had a project that failed? Tell me about this experience.
  • Give an example of a time when you used your problem-solving abilities to resolve an issue.
  • Tell us about a situation when you went above and beyond your manager’s expectations.

Sample questions for each UN competency assessment can be found in the Attachment section of our  Manual. Get your copy now!

UN Law Careers  – eBook 

To help you feel more secure and greatly improve your performance during the interview stage of your UN Job selection process, OpenIGO Network has developed a mock interview, as per the original United Nations model, with a specialized professional with extensive experience. Click on the link below to find out more about our UN Jobs Mock Interview service:

OpenIGO – Mock Interview

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