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LLM International Law: An interview with Savvas Michael

This year we are introducing a number of brand new LLM courses including LLM in International Law. What does it involve and who would it appeal to? We caught up with senior tutor Savvas Michael to discover more about this course and what exciting careers prospects students could look forward to.

By Cara Fielder. Published 23 September 2020.

International law encompasses many different areas of law, crucially in an international context. So, for example, public international law looks at the law of treaties and agreements between states. The European Union is essentially an example of such a treaty, which many European states have signed up to and are bound by.

Private international law, on the other hand, looks at the law that governs a situation between non-state actors – for example, if there is a dispute between two companies in two different countries, it would need to be decided whose law applies and, if applicable, the court where any legal proceedings would be heard.

The latter example should answer the question on why international law is so important in the modern workplace. As a lawyer, particularly in the City, you may be dealing with transactions, agreements and disputes between multi-national companies from different countries. Whose law governs an agreement or transaction? Has this been stated in the contract? If not, how do we determine this? These are questions that are frequently asked in City law firms. 

The LLM International Law course is aimed at students who want to know more about law on a broader scale and not simply limited to the law of England and Wales. This is not to say that international law does not include detailed legal analysis – quite the opposite, students are expected to read and interpret treaties and cases which outline the law in many different areas. But you should be interested in the impact of the law globally. So, for example, if you are interested in a very specific area of domestic medical law, you may be better suited opting for our LLM Mental Health Law or LLM Medical Law & Ethics. Alternatively, if you are interested in International Law but specifically in relation to Human Rights, you may be better suited to the LLM International Human Rights that we offer. The LLM International Law is most suitable for those students who know they have an interest in law in an international context, both in relation to public and private law.

A few things drew me to international law. Firstly, I actually studied history before doing my law degree and my focus was on international relations. This involved studying diplomatic relations between states. Given that public international law looks at treaties between states, there is certainly some link with global politics. Secondly, I have always been drawn towards learning about international laws and the laws of other countries. I am currently working towards exams which would allow me to qualify as a lawyer in Canada. Perhaps this derives from my love of travel and different cultures but I certainly aspire to work in an international environment. I am also currently conducting research in an area of public international law – the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the breach of an international treaty (Treaty of Guarantee 1959). Thirdly, if you plan to work in London, notably the City - as I did prior to joining ULaw - international law is absolutely fundamental to this. London is the world’s financial hub so you are bound to deal with international clients.

The LLM International Law course will help you to prepare for a career at a law firm in London, due to the likelihood of interaction with international cases. So, if you want to be a City lawyer, this is certainly a course you should consider. But equally, if you intend to work abroad and practice in another jurisdiction after the LLM, then the course will also be incredibly useful as it will ensure you are familiar with principles and cases of international law. Alternatively, if you see your future in an area of public law overseas, there are many organisations that would value this qualification. For example, the United Nations, International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court (the latter two both in The Hague in the Netherlands) are all prestigious organisations and courts who would value an LLM of this nature. So, the career paths for students following this course are certainly broad. Completing this course would not limit students in anyway but also provides an area of interest, which is more specific than the general LLM.

Students on the LLM International Law must complete two of the following modules: International Human Rights; International Corporate Governance; International Arbitration; International Dispute Resolution; International Trade Law; and from 2021, Public International Law. They may take a further two of these modules if they wish, or they may opt for two other modules that we offer as part of the general LLM programme. So there is a lot of choice and flexibility. You will notice one, quite obvious, commonality between the six modules – they all include the term ‘international’ and thus are all parts of international law. Some are private law, some are public law, but they are all vital and varied aspects of international law. For example, I teach on the International Human Rights law module and in that module we not only discuss western ideals of human rights law, through the UN Declaration of Human Rights and European Convention of Human Rights for example but also cover the human rights legal systems in Africa and South America to gain a truly international perspective and learning experience.

I’ve already discussed treaties as part of international law but there is also ‘customary international law’ – law that is developed through customs and norms. A political custom or norm could find itself being an aspect of international law, which of course means that there is certainly a link between everyday politics and international law. Recently, President Trump criticised the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and as a result the US do not recognise it, which has had an impact on its ability to enforce international law. This is an example of the link between law and politics. Private international law is relevant any time you have any transaction or dispute with a foreign non-state actor. Public international law is at play every day when we think about key issues such as child labour and modern slavery in the context of manufacturing of clothes for example, or crimes against humanity and genocide against various groups; most recently in the context of the Rohingya community in Myanmar.

Brexit has not changed international law that much in all honesty. Being part of the European Union meant that the UK had signed and ratified the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Treaty of the European Union (TEU). Brexit meant that, by triggering article 50, the UK was no longer part of those treaties or thus part of the EU. However, international law is a large body of law with many different treaties – the EU is just two of them. There have of course been vast changes with respect to how European Union law applies in the UK, with ‘retained’ EU law applying following the end of the transition period and regulations no longer being ‘directly applicable’. But this is not a massive component of the International Law course, unless you really want to focus on them. Alongside the four taught modules that you complete, you will also complete a dissertation, which will provide you with an opportunity to write a research thesis on an area of international law of your choice. So, if the EU is where your interest lies, you could choose this as a dissertation topic. An important point to note, however, is that the European Convention of Human Rights – a crucial international treaty relating to human rights law in Europe and the UK – has nothing to do with the EU, this is a common misconception.

Studying the LLM International Law gives you far more opportunity to focus on the subject compared to undergraduate level, when you may have only been able to opt for a few international law modules but without a great level of detail or variety. You will delve deeper into theories, principles and case judgments in international law at Master’s level. International law is an area of law that has such vast scope and reach – the LLM International Law will be valuable to someone who wants to pursue a career in London in a private practice firm or someone who wants to work abroad in an area of public at the UN for example. It opens up so many opportunities, not just in the UK but also overseas. It also will benefit those who wish to pursue a career in academia and go on to complete further postgraduate study, such as a PhD, in an area of international law. This is the perfect specialist course to take prior to this.

My advice to students considering the LLM International Law would be to take a look at the module choices which are available to you at ULaw on this course. This should prove ULaw’s dedication to producing a course that provides you with an opportunity to specialise in an area of international law which interests you. Two different students completing the LLM International Law may go down two completely different tracks, which highlights the flexibility and choice available to you. Think about what you want to do after the LLM and your next career move to see if you think the LLM International Law will be valuable but also consider where your interest lies. Finally, if you have any questions or uncertainties regarding the course, my advice is to just ask – feel free to contact our Student Office or me regarding any queries you may have – we are happy to help.


Discover more about the LLM International Law and our course start dates now.