International law encompasses a broad spectrum of legal issues that are dealt with by States, ranging from the treatment of refugees and migrants who escape strict totalitarian regimes to agreements on the disposal of harmful chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons. It regulates the global commons such as international waters and outer space, as well as world trade. In the modern age, where technology enables the movement of capital and labor across national borders, lawyers have new opportunities to encounter international legal issues in their practice.
Sceptics may be forgiven for questioning whether, in a sphere so permeated by power politics, there is any place for law. But a look at the record will show that states complain whenever they feel they have been violated by other States, demand and make reparation for breaches of international customary and treaty law, appear as plaintiffs and defendants in international tribunals and courts, and ungrudgingly comply with international awards and judgments.
In addition, a large number of international treaties are binding upon the states which have ratified them. These include conventions on the protection of intellectual property such as copyright and trademarks, the conservation of global environmental resources, and the prevention of illegal trafficking in drugs. In all these cases, international law plays a vital role in creating rules that make normal life possible on a world scale and in ensuring that justice is served. For this reason, it is important for all lawyers to have a good understanding of this area of the law.