Principal Legal Officer, D1

Principal Legal Officer, D1

UNOLA - United Nations Office of Legal Affairs

New York, United States

Org. Setting and Reporting

This position is located in the Office of the Legal Counsel, Office of Legal Affairs. The incumbent reports to the Assistant-Secretary-General, Head of the Office of the Legal Counsel. The overall objectives of this programme are to provide a unified central legal service for the Secretariat and the principal and other organs of the United Nations, to contribute to the progressive development and codification of international public and trade law, to promote the strengthening and development as well as the effective implementation of the international legal order for the seas and oceans, to register and publish treaties, and to perform the depositary functions of the Secretary-General.


  • Co-ordinates and oversees the preparation of legal advice, and opinions on complex legal questions, including customary and conventional international law questions, interpretation and application of the United Nations Charter and other legislative mandates, the law, and practice of the Organization, its organs and other treaty bodies;
  • Counsels, acts for and, in major areas of a complex or novel nature, represents the Organization, including its subsidiary organs and separately administered funds and programmes and Offices in negotiations and before arbitral and administrative tribunals; deals with a wide range of multidisciplinary and complex legal matters that require an analysis of existing law and policies;
  • Provides assistance and advice in connection with the Organization's accountability measures; formulates and negotiates solutions and alternatives to problems for which no precedents exist and which involve major questions of international law;
  • Co-ordinates and oversees the preparation of reports for presentation to intergovernmental bodies, such as the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budget Questions, the General Assembly and other policy-making organs, as appropriate;
  • Provides legal advice on questions relating to the International Court of Justice, ensure that the statutory responsibilities of the Secretary-General under the Charter are fulfilled with regard to the regular and casual elections of Members of the Court, transmission of Judgments, orders and notices of legal proceedings, establish working relationship with the Court, through the Registry;
  • Reports to intergovernmental bodies on budget/programme performance or on programmatic/substantive issues, as appropriate, particularly those presented in annual reports;
  • Ensures that the legal advice and support produced by the Office maintain high-quality standards, that such service and advice is clear, objective and based on comprehensive facts and legal analysis. Ensures that all legal services and advice produced by the lawyers and support staff under his/her supervision meet required standards before completion to ensure that they comply with the applicable legal framework of the United Nations;
  • Assists the Assistant-Secretary-General in preparing the work programme of the Division, determining priorities, and allocating resources for the completion of outputs and their timely delivery;
  • Undertakes or oversees the programmatic or administrative tasks necessary for the functioning of the Office, including preparation of budgets, reporting on budget and programme performance, evaluation of staff performance (PAS), interviews of candidates for job openings, evaluation of candidates and preparation of inputs for results-based budgeting;
  • Recruits staff, taking due account of geographical and gender balance;
  • Manages, guides, develops and trains staff under his/her supervision;
  • Fosters teamwork and communication among staff in the Division and across the Organization, including its separately administered Funds, Programmes and Offices;
  • Leads and supervises the organization of meetings or other seminars, etc., on substantive issues being addressed by the Division. Manages the substantive preparation and organization of such meetings or seminars;
  • Participates in international, regional or national meetings and provides legal assistance or expertise on issue relating to the activities of the Organization or holds programmatic/substantive and organizational discussions with representatives of other institutions, and represents the Division at international, regional or national meetings, as required.


  • Professionalism: In-depth knowledge of public international law and of the United Nations Charter and the law and practice of the United Nations including the law and legal regimes of its subsidiary organs. Comprehensive knowledge of UN policies, procedures, and operations. Ability to conduct comprehensive, independent legal research. Demonstrates professional competence and mastery of subject matter; is conscientious and efficient in meeting commitments, observing deadlines and achieving results; is motivated by professional rather than personal concerns; shows persistence when faced with difficult problems or challenges; and remains calm in stressful situations;
  • Communication: Speaks and writes clearly and effectively; listens to others, correctly interprets messages from others and responds appropriately; asks questions to clarify, and exhibits interest in having two-way communication; tailors language, tone, style and format to match audience; demonstrates openness in sharing information and keeping people informed. Ability to draft quickly, to prepare written reports that are clear, concise and meaningful and to review the work of others. Ability to communicate complex concepts orally, to defend and explain difficult issues with respect to key decisions and positions to staff, senior officials and members of intergovernmental bodies;
  • Client Orientation: Considers all those to whom services are provided to be "clients" and seeks to see things from clients' point of view; establishes and maintains productive partnerships with clients by gaining their trust and respect; identifies clients' needs and matches them to appropriate solutions; monitors ongoing developments inside and outside the clients' environment to keep informed and anticipate problems; keeps clients informed of progress or setbacks in projects; meets timeline for delivery of products or services to client;
  • Leadership: Serves as a role model that other people want to follow: empowers others to translate vision into results; is proactive in developing strategies to accomplish objectives; establishes and maintains relationships with a broad range of people to understand needs and gain support; anticipates and resolves conflicts by pursuing mutually agreeable solutions; drives for change and improvements; does not accept the status quo; shows the courage to take unpopular stands. Provides leadership and takes responsibility for incorporating gender perspectives and ensuring the equal participation of women and men in all areas of work; demonstrates knowledge of strategies and commitment to the goal of gender balance in staffing;
  • Judgment/Decision-making: Identifies the key issues in a complex situation, and comes to the heart of the problem quickly; gathers relevant information before making a decision; considers positive and negative impacts of decisions prior to making them; takes decisions with an eye to the impact on others and on the Organization; proposes a course of action or makes a recommendation based on all available information; checks assumptions against facts; determines that the actions proposed will satisfy the expressed and underlying needs for the decision; makes tough decisions when necessary.


  • Advanced university degree (Master's degree or equivalent degree) in public international law or the law of international organizations is required. A first-level university degree in combination with two additional years of qualifying experience may be accepted in lieu of the advanced university degree.

Work Experience

  • At least 15 years of progressively responsible professional experience in public international law is required;
  • Experience in providing legal services to an international organization or Foreign Affairs Ministry is required;
  • Experience supervising an office, unit or section is required;
  • Experience overseeing programmatic/administrative tasks necessary to the functioning of a work unit, including the preparation of budgetary inputs, reports on budget/programme performance, evaluations of staff performance and input for results-based budgeting is desirable.


  • English and French are the working languages of the United Nations Secretariat. For this post, fluency in written and spoken English is required. Fluency in French is desirable. Knowledge of another United Nations language is an advantage.

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