How can my fiancee translate her work in human rights law from UK->US?
February 17, 2015 12:54 AM   Subscribe

My fiancee is planning to move to Chicago at some point later this year--if all goes well with our engagement, of course ;). She has a GDL (law conversion) degree (in addition to non-law undergrad and postgrad degrees) from the UK and is looking for advice, first and foremost, on the "lay of the land" and things to keep in mind in transferring environments.

She currently works for a human rights charity/activist group in the UK to research and lobby government on issues relating to institutional racism, the impact of anti-terror and immigration legislation on minority groups, and anti-Muslim hate crime. She also works as an advocate for individuals facing discrimination in/by the police, their work place, educational establishments, social services and other public institutions.

In her own words--"Although the legal system is different I'm hoping I can find work when I get to Chicago, or at least (to begin with) get involved with organisations that will help me develop expertise in similar areas of US law. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!"

I think, to broaden the scope, the question is not simply "which Chicago-based organisations should she apply to", but more of a primer on expectations, potential roadblocks, and ways of finessing this experience--or pressing needs--that may not immediately be obvious. I know in my own field that I likely "could" find a gig in the UK, but not knowing the lay of the land, or having any pointers from any trusted friend/source severely limits my scope.

This may be a tall order--but if we could be put in touch with even one person with some experience, we'd be grateful! We would very much appreciate folks with any experience in community service, social work, advocacy, and law to give us an idea of how these frameworks may translate across continents and places, networks, or types of positions to keep in mind during this move.

LOTS of love!!
posted by Lockeownzj00 to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, she sounds amazing! I think it's going to be challenging to practice law in the US without a US law degree (or at least a US LLM) -- not just to take the bar (which she'd likely be unable to do in any state other than NY or CA, at least initially) or to get a job practicing law in the US.

BUT it sounds like she doesn't actually have to "practice law" to do one aspect of what she wants to do -- i.e., policy advocacy. So I would suggest she reach out to any kind of advocacy organization in her area to see how she could harness all of her experience into a policy job. Universities might be a good place to look as well.

But in the long term, if she wants to be in the US AND be a lawyer, I think she would want to do at least an LLM or even (gulp) a JD in the US. Plenty of terrific law schools in Chicago.
posted by caoimhe at 2:37 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

"folks with any experience in community service, social work, advocacy, and law" = that's me. That's what I do: policy work at the intersection of law, advocacy and reform in Chicago. You can feel free to put your girlfriend in touch with me (easiest way would be MeMail me her email address).

Unfortunately, Chicago does not have a large policy industry. There are few organizations in the city that do policy work and almost none that work on a national or international scale. They tend to be at the neighborhood/city/county level. If she wants to work with government lobbying in Chicago, it is extremely unlikely to happen--it mostly happens in Springfield and the government lobbying related to the City of Chicago rarely is effected by NPOs.

On the plus side, it has a vibrant activist community and an amazing social welfare community. It's just that where it intersects with law and policy is much smaller than you would expect for a city of this size. The law end of things tends to be almost entirely direct services (which she'd need additional professional credentials for), unlike places like Boston, New York, San Francisco and DC. Immigration issues get a lot of play around here in the law & policy community, as does drug policy.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:11 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

(When I say it's extremely unlikely to happen, I am not judging your girlfriend's credentials, intelligence or interpersonal skills; just trying to impress that there are very few opportunities and it would be difficult without a direct connection to one of those opportunities to get hired)
posted by crush-onastick at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2015

My mom did precisely this (including Chicago, but minus the human rights background and was early in her career) 30+ years ago. She ended up doing a US JD. I don't know if an LLM was an option she decided against or if they didn't exist at the time or what. That she didn't have a GPA was apparently a hurdle--though there are service/companies that "translate" qualifications, unless your academic record is perfect, you seem to take a big hit because British universities don't give them a lot to work with (though maybe this changed in 40 years--my mom doesn't really have a 'transcript' as such). She got into U of C after being told point blank there was no way she'd get in. That guy apparently wasn't reading applications that year.

My mom didn't have much legal experience when she moved to the US. My parents contemplated moving to London and my dad would have been able to find a job as an experience attorney whose background included some international stuff, but without British qualifications, so I imagine the reverse is possible.

I can try putting you in touch if you want, but her experience is going to be very out of date.
posted by hoyland at 4:46 PM on February 17, 2015

Mutual recognition of professional legal qualifications in the USA varies widely state by state as I understand it but speaking broadly, the GDL is not perceived to be analogous to a JD. Without LPC and having not completed a training contract she's unlikely to be eligible to sit the state bar exams. I wouldn't anticipate that this would be a problem for lay advocacy work but rights of audience are likely to be an issue before formal fora. Be aware also that the us job market is super tough for those looking for legal work.

If she's politically inclined working as an assistant for a state legislator might be a viable jumping on point.

(Source: English solicitor, looked at practice in LA and NY a long time ago having qualified via the gdl route myself)
posted by dmt at 1:17 AM on February 20, 2015

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