How I (Accidentally) Became an SEZ Lawyer

SEZ Lawyer Michael Castle Miller

In our work as special economic zones legal consultants, we meet a lot of young people and law students who want to know how to become an SEZ lawyer (a lawyer that focuses on special economic zones). 

This particular field is young, so there’s not always a clear path to follow. For me, the process took a long time and led to a few turns I didn’t expect. Hopefully in detailing some of my experiences, I can help younger students with their own professional ambitions.

Starting with Vision

I went into law school with a vague but sure feeling of what I wanted to accomplish there. I felt a calling toward building cities, and because I’d taken time off and worked for a few years after my undergraduate studies, I was old enough and wise enough to know it was really what I wanted to do. I believed (and still do) that basic governance structures are what makes a society thrive and that a good government unlocks human potential. This became even clearer to me as my wife and I began volunteering with refugee communities and saw their experiences coming from and settling into new cities. 

I pursued that vision into law school, but at the time I had no idea what an SEZ was, let alone an SEZ lawyer. Instead, I just focused on that singular vision of city-building. I tried to learn everything I could about government, policy, and development.

Courses and Extracurriculars For SEZ Law

In terms of classes, I took international law, international business transactions, investor-state arbitration, project finance, and international tax law, as well as soaking up everything I could from required classes like constitutional law. I got the most out of school that I could by pursuing both a law degree and an M.A. in international relations. 

Outside of class, I joined the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG). Washington College of Law partners with this fantastic organization to offer pro-bono assistance to post-conflict countries. In my work there as a student, I helped develop constitutions and draft legislation, which was invaluable experience for later. From there, I studied abroad at the Hague. I knew international law would serve me well, and to me, that was worth bypassing the normal summer associate program. I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone by any means; but it fit within my singular vision and helped me to get an internship at the World Bank. From there, I made it a goal to meet anyone I possibly could working in the fields of law that most fit my goal of building cities.

Networking and Post-Law School

I had the opportunity to meet some incredible minds in international development and urban policy, including Paul Romer and many of our excellent team members here at Politas. Those meetings also introduced me to the concept of SEZs. Through those many meetings at the end of my law school studies, I began to see how becoming an SEZ lawyer could help achieve my original vision. By using SEZs, I realized, you could advance innovative reforms and allow countries to test out new development policies. Many SEZs had grown into thriving cities. This gave structure to that vision years earlier and a clearer path for my next steps. 

After passing the New York Bar (a test that mentions absolutely nothing about SEZs), I became the managing director of a small special economic zones legal and policy consulting firm. Suddenly I was an SEZ lawyer, thrown into the world of special zones almost by surprise. Finding out about SEZs, passing the bar, and getting that first job all happened within a few months. 

If you’re an aspiring attorney interested in a niche field, here’s my advice: Learn everything you can. Don’t step into your field pretending to be an expert. Allow yourself to be open by asking questions and learning from anyone who will meet with you. You never know where it will lead. I know I didn’t.