This page contains affiliate links. This means if you a follow a link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, Humanitarian Careers will receive a commission. Thank you for supporting the site.
Many lawyers want to use their training to do good, and to assist people in need. NGOs work around the world helping people affected by conflicts or disasters, or living in destitution. This means NGOs must operate in complex and changeable legal environments. It’s common for NGOs to recruit a range of positions that are ideal for qualified lawyers. Here’s we’ve included a few of the most common NGO legal roles…
A first job that NGOs often hire lawyers for is the position of Legal Advisor. NGOs work across multiple countries, often in complex jurisdictions and with changing legal requirements. They also often run into legal issues with de-facto authorities. Large NGOs will employ a Legal Advisor to assist them navigating these issues.
The Legal Advisor in an NGO is usually based at HQ level. They will perhaps oversee a team of Legal Assistants, and will address the NGO’s legal concerns when they arise. Very big NGOs may have a number of Legal Advisors, working as part of a legal department. The Legal Advisor will often liaise directly with the NGO’s Country Directors to give advice on legal problems.
How to Apply
NGOs will only hire qualified lawyers to work in the position of Legal Advisor. As well as being a lawyer, you will need a strong understanding of the kinds of legal contexts NGOs operate in, as well the potential legal issues they may face.
As well as a range of legal roles, NGO’s often onboard lawyers to provide legal support. Usually, the NGO would not directly hire a lawyer, but hold one on retainer to provide legal guidance as and when it’s needed. In many countries there are a number of firms that have lawyers specialising in supporting NGOs.
All NGO missions will hire a lawyer locally to provide them level advice. This helps the NGO to navigate the often-complex legal frameworks in crises, or post-crises, or poverty stricken contexts in which they work. At HQ level, NGOs will either have a lawyer on staff as a Legal Advisor, or will work with a dedicated law firm.
How to Apply
You will need to a qualified lawyer in order to work with an NGO. You will also need significant experience navigating the kind of legal issues NGOs face, as well as a deep understanding of the legal needs of NGOs.
Human Rights Lawyer
An NGO job that many lawyers want to take is the position of Human Rights Lawyer. There are lots of NGOs that do human rights work. Due to the complex legal nature of many human rights cases, often NGOs will recruit a dedicated Human Rights Lawyer. This job may be responsible for a single human rights case the NGO is pursuing, or may provide legal advice across a range of human rights cases.
The job of the Human Rights Lawyer is to provide legal advice to the NGO in order to for to improve human rights situations. This can be related to a one person who is facing severe human rights violations, or when an NGO is trying to create systemic change to reduce human rights abuses within a country or region.
How to Apply
In order to become a Human Rights Lawyer for an NGO you will need to have expertise in human rights law. You will also need to be a qualified lawyer. As a senior position, you will need some background working on human rights cases in order to become a Human Rights Lawyer for an NGO.
NGO Online Courses
If you want to know more about working for NGOs, we highly recommend the online course Introduction to NGO Management. It goes over how NGOs operate and introduces students to the unique aspects of the NGO sector. Follow the link for more information.
Another online course we highly recommend for those wanting to work in the NGO sector is How To Design and Fund International Development NGO Projects. Anyone working for an NGO needs a basic understanding of how NGO projects are set-up, and how to input to funding proposals. Click the link to get more information on the course.
If you are looking to work for an NGO, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the NGO sector and gives a clear breakdown of the skills needed to get an NGO job. It also provides valuable information on how to successfully apply for positions within NGOs. Click the link to be taken to the course’s page.
Legal Affairs Officer
Many NGOs have the position of Legal Affairs Officer, and it is a common role for lawyers to take in the NGO sector. The job of the Legal Affairs Officer is to provide more general and broad legal support to the NGO. It is less targeted on specific legal issues the NGO faces, and more supports on general legal compliance.
Legal Affairs Officers are usually based at the NGO’s HQ. Large NGOs will can have a team of Legal Affairs Officers, or will attach Legal Affairs Officers to specific departments. Legal Affairs Officers may liaise directly with NGO missions that require extensive legal or compliance support. The Legal Affairs Officer often reports to the Head of Legal.
How to Apply
NGO’s will look for candidates with legal backgrounds to work as Legal Affairs Officers. Being a qualified lawyer will greatly help your application. However, you will also need a strong understanding of the kind of legal contexts NGOs work in, and the issues they often face.
One job that NGOs regularly hire lawyers for is as Policy Developers. NGOs often develop public policy that is in-line with their mandates. Their aim is to influence politics and public opinion to get policies adopted that assist the people in need the NGO is worker for. The role of the Policy Developer is to lead on the researching and writing policy documents for the NGO.
Policy development often requires a range of legal inputs, it’s common for NGOs to recruit lawyers for the role. The Police Developer may oversee a policy team, or work as part of a wider advocacy and policy department within the NGO.
How to Apply
NGOs will look for candidates with legal and policy backgrounds when recruiting for Policy Developer roles. Being a lawyer will definitely benefit your application. However, as a relatively senior role, you will also need some experience in advocacy and policy, ideally related to NGO work.
Legal Project Manager
A final role that NGOs recruit lawyers for is the position of Legal Project Manager. This focuses on project cycle management in relation to the NGOs legal work. The Legal Project Manager can either be part of the NGOs legal department, or can be attached to a specific project that may deal with human rights abuses, crimes against humanity or other legal issues related to the NGOs work.
The Legal Project Manager in an NGO can be stationed at HQ, or can work at regional office level. Some large NGOs that run projects related to people’s legal rights may have a Legal Project Manager at mission level. The Legal Project Manager may report to a Senior Project Manager, Programme Manager or Head of Legal, depending on where they are stationed.
How to Apply
You will need a legal background to get a job as a Legal Project Manager with an NGO. You will also need to be qualified, and experienced, in project management. An understanding of how legal projects are run by NGOs will also be key to securing the post.
If you want to know more about legal work and NGOs, explore our page on the top international humanitarian law online courses here. If you want to learn more about working in the NGO sector in general, see our page on the best NGO online courses here.