Monday, April 18, 2016

Decide as an International Lawyer Which LL.M. Program is the Best Fit

Lawyers who are trained abroad but want to practice in the U.S. typically have a direct path for continuing their career here: Enroll in a yearlong LL.M. program, a degree option for lawyers trained in the U.S. or elsewhere to advance their legal education.
These degree programs can help students interested in specializing in a specific aspect of the law – and for international students, also provide a pathway for eligibility to take state bar exams.
But a quick search on the website for the American Bar Association, which approves law schools and provides resources for lawyers and law students, reveals hundreds of these programs ​in every region of the country. Some are for lawyers who want to specialize in criminal law or another subfield, while dozens cover the U.S. legal​ system more generally. ​With so many options in the District of Columbia, California and states​ in between, it's easy for prospective LL.M.​ students​ to be overwhelmed, especially if they have little or no familiarity with the U.S.

​• Bar preparation: A little more than two dozen states allow internationally trained lawyers to sit for a state bar exam, but state rules vary about whether these lawyers must complete additional education at a school approved by the American Bar Association, according to the2014 Bar Admission Requirements from the National Conference of Bar Examiners and American Bar Association.​ A general LL.M.​ program can be the first step for an international student to be eligible for a state bar exam.
Certain schools will design the LL.M. curriculum to prepare students for certain state bar exams.
"We provide them with tracks, a track system, so that they can meet the requirements for either the New York bar, the California bar or the Washington, D.C. bar,” says Deborah Call, associate dean of graduate and international programs at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. ​
Specialized LL.M. programs, though, may not always help with bar preparation. ​
"It’s hard sometimes if somebody attends a specialized program where you're only allowed to take tax classes, for example, or only allowed to take intellectual property classes, for example, or health care classes, for example," says Riccardi, whose school offers a more general program as well as opportunities to specialize in topics like taxation or banking and financial law. "State bars and what’s called the multistate​ bar exam don’t test you on those topics.”

​• Program type and classmates:​ Students who pursue a general program may have a curriculum that's similar to a first-year J.D. student's. LL.M. students who​ choose a general option may have a broader idea of how U.S. lawyers view the law and make decisions.
"You can see how they’re trained to think," he says. In some instances, LL.M.​ students may even sit side by side​ with first-year J.D. students in class. The American Law Program at Boston University, for example, allows students to take classes with their J.D. counterparts.
In these settings, foreign lawyers may learn a whole new way of approaching legal problem-solving​. If they want to work in a setting where they interact with U.S. lawyers​, that kind of awareness is key, Riccardi says. A specialized program, he says, may be filled with foreign lawyers and may not focus on how American lawyers think.

Some schools also create settings for students to interact with J.D. students outside of class. At the University of Southern California, for example, the international relations​ student organization pairs J.D. students with LL.M.​ students based on a common interest, such as golf or swimming, says Call. The student pairs attend events together, such as a movie night, and sometimes the J.D. student may invite the international LL.M.​ student home for the holidays.

For a glossary of LL.M terms click here


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