INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: LEIDEN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS
Sheena Bruce, the Head Coordinator of Advanced LL.M. Programs, and the Deputy Head of the Office for Integrational Education at Leiden University Law School, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about pursing an LL.M. degree in Leiden University and Europe in general. Gizem Halis Kasap
GHK: Ms. Bruce, as one of the oldest and largest law schools in the Netherlands, Leiden Law School offers several regular and specialized LL.M. programs. What do you think is the value of an LL.M. from the Netherlands when compared with one from a common-law country, especially from the viewpoint of a civil law trained lawyer?
SB: If you look into the field of law, you will see that there are predominately two main categories of law— common law and civil law. Approximately 150 countries, including the Netherlands, work within a civil law system. Around 50 countries have a common law system, so the first difference of value is that there are more countries around the world where you would be able to practice law if you have the right qualifications.
However, the advantage of studying civil law over common law is not always as clear-cut as one would think because many countries use a mix of both. In general, though, almost all lawyers have a significant role to play in formal dispute resolution, no matter in which country they practice. But the specific tasks assigned to them tend to vary quite a bit, and outside the courtroom, tasks typically performed by lawyers in one country may be performed by skilled laypeople in another.
Each country has its own traditions and policies. So, for those who do wish to know more about the role of legal practitioners in a particular country, it is important to do additional research to come to their own conclusions and see what suits them best. Because of this, I would never say that one has value over the other a decision of which one to study is an individual choice always.
GHK: Is there a particular profile of LL.M. applicants that you think would be successful in securing admission at the Leiden Law’s LL.M. programs?
SB: Applicants apply to our programmes from all over the world. We try to apply a holistic approach to our admissions by not selecting those with excellent grades only. We look at their educational backgrounds, work experience, publications, presenting at conferences, legal backgrounds, and extra-curricular activities to form an opinion of whether someone might be a good student. A student once asked me why we had selected them when they had bad grades in the first year of study on the bachelor programme. My answer was that we had seen progress, which showed determination to succeed and a good study attitude. We look for mature and motivated people who want to study. Of course, it goes without saying that professional experience and good grades are extremely important and one of the main deciding factors, but we look at the whole application to try to get a feel of the person. Therefore, when someone writes to say whether I would be admissible to your programme, we cannot give them an answer until we see the whole application file.
GHK: When is the earliest you start receiving applications? When is the best time to apply, and is there any benefits to applying early?
SB: The application process for the following academic year always opens 1st October of the academic year beforehand. So, if you apply to study in 2022, the application system is open on 1st October 2021 for this. Applications are received almost immediately after the online application system is open.
GHK: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student’s application, such as GPA, language score, a letter of motivation, and letters of recommendation?
SB: See the information provided above about a holistic approach. English is especially important as well. We only accept TOEFL and IELTS, and the test score cannot be older than two years at the point of submission of the application. We have particular band scores as well as an overall score that needs to be met. However, we do also offer an additional option for applicants who narrowly miss the required entry scores. We offer a one-month pre-sessional English course for applicants that we think would be a good addition to the student body. This means that an applicant has the possibility to come to Leiden to study English for one month prior to commencing their studies.
GHK: Could you offer any general advice regarding letters of recommendation? Who would be the best person to write an LL.M. applicant’s recommendation letters?
SB: Recommendations letters —we prefer these to be academic references. However, one may be a professional reference if two academic ones are not possible. If an applicant has not studied for a significant length of time and academic references are no longer possible, then we would accept two professional ones.
GHK: What do you look for in a letter of motivation? Can you offer applicants from Turkey any advice regarding writing the letter of motivation?
SB: We look for the following in a motivation letter:
GHK: Do you frequently have to turn away applicants whom you wish you could admit? If so, what could those applicants do to be admitted?
SB: Occasionally, we do. For example, if English is not at the correct level and there is not a chance that the applicant would be able to make up the deficit in time. Or, if there is no working experience, internships are fine as work evidence. But they need to be more than a week or two, and we prefer to have a few different examples. People can make up deficits by gaining work experience. Even if they have average grades, work lengthy experience of a few years can compensate for this.
GHK: Being a non-European applicant from Turkey, how would one find suitable scholarships for studying in Europe and Leiden Law?
SB: Netherland-based Grantfinder (Study in Holland) is a search engine that will help you to find all sorts of funding/scholarships. Of course, the biggest scholarship awardee is Jean Monnet, but there are many more. Leiden University itself does offer the Leiden Excellence Scholarship.
GHK: Now, I would like to change direction and talk about access to the bar after the LLM studies. If one had an LL.M. degree from Leiden Law, what further steps would one have to complete to become a practicing lawyer in the Netherlands?
SB: You need to be able to speak Dutch competently that is especially important.
“How to obtain civil effect to practice law in the Netherlands?” (Information via Advocatenorde)
In order to gain access to the bar or judiciary in the Netherlands, students need to have acquired the so-called ‘effectus civilis’ (‘civiel effect’). This ‘effectus civilis’ can be obtained by participating in several Dutch law courses dealing with all main fields of law. More information about the specific requirements for access to the Dutch bar can be found at the site of the Dutch Bar Association (the ‘Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten’). Please keep in mind that all courses which will lead to the ‘effectus civilis’ will be offered in Dutch and thus your level of Dutch language proficiency needs to be a minimum of B2 (CEFR).
General information for European lawyers (produit fini) and European graduates (produit infini)
Based on European law, qualified lawyers, and law graduates from another member state of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland have several options to (occasionally) practice or be registered as a lawyer in the Netherlands.
The Free Movement of Services allows a person, who is entitled to pursue his professional activities as a lawyer in another EU member state, the EEA or Switzerland, to practice as a lawyer in another EU member state under the title used in his home member state (home title), provided that certain conditions are met. This results from the services directive for lawyers (directive 77/249/EC), which is implemented in Sections 16a through 16f of the Act on Advocates.
On the basis of the free movement of establishment, a person who is authorized to pursue his professional activities as a lawyer in another EU member state, the EEA or Switzerland, can practice in the Netherlands under home title. This requires presentation of a certificate attesting to his registration with the competent authority in the home member state, after which he will be registered on the bar registration. There are certain further conditions, especially with regard to practicing in courts. This results from the establishment directive for lawyers (directive 98/5/EC) which is implemented in Sections 16g through 16k of the Act on Advocates.
After three years of practicing under home title in the Netherlands, as described above under 2., a person, who is authorised to pursue his professional activities in another EU member state, the EEA or Switzerland, may request to register as a Dutch lawyer (advocaat). This requires the presentation of a document that proves that he effectively and regularly practiced as a lawyer in the Netherlands in Dutch law for a period of three years. This possibility also arises from the establishment directive for lawyers (directive 98/5/EC) and is implemented in Sections 2a and 2b of the Act on Advocates.
A fully qualified lawyer (produit fini) from one of the EU member states could apply for registration as a Dutch lawyer (advocaat) after his professional qualifications are recognized. You could request the general council for recognition. In some cases, you must first successfully complete an aptitude test. This results from the direction on the recognition of EU professional qualifications (directive 2005/36/EG, incl. 2013/55/EU), that is implemented in the Netherlands in article 2, subsection 1, under c, of the Act on Advocates, in the General Recognition of EU Professional Qualifications Act and in the Regulation on Recognition of EU Professional Qualifications for Lawyers. A fee is charged for the examination of (parts of) the aptitude test. Depending on which parts (at which organization) are imposed in the decision, the costs are 100 (excl. VAT) or 700 (exempted from VAT) euros per exam.
European graduate (produit infini) A person who has successfully completed the final examination of a study program in the field of law at a university in an EU member state, the EEA or Switzerland, but is not yet fully qualified to practice as a lawyer in his home member state (produit infini), may apply for registration as a Dutch lawyer (advocaat). The general council will first study the equivalency of the final examination and the acquired professional experience and education and may demand that the applicant completes additional examinations. Use the form “Formulier op grond van artikel 2, vierde lid, van de Advocatenwet” for your request (in Dutch).
Graduates from outside the EUA person who has successfully completed a study program in the field of law at a university outside the EU, EEA or Switzerland, still has to complete the degrees of Bachelor and Master of Laws at a Dutch university. Exemption for specific courses may be granted based on diploma accreditation. We advise you to contact the university about this beforehand.”
GHK: What are the job opportunities for a non-European in Netherlands or Europe who has earned an LLM from Leiden Law School? What would be the outlook for the next few years considering the economy affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
SB: Graduates end up in all parts of society. Their network is of great value to the university in terms of contact with organisations and the authorities at home and abroad. Alumni make their experience available, thus helping our students get more out of their studies and student years. They can also advise young alumni on their career and professional development. We currently have a very large cohort of alumni who are still living and working in the Netherlands, as well as all over the world. A significant number of our non-EU alumni who are still here and working are from China, India, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, America, Australia, etc. Others started work here then moved on to other jobs all over the world. Our alumni work as in-house counsels, attorneys at law, legal officers, compliance officers, arbitrators, Ph.D. researchers, at international courts, national judicial organisations, foreign service, tech companies, NGOs, etc. Others work in law firms or consulting firms with an aviation and space law practice, legal departments of airports, airlines and aerospace companies, civil aviation authorities, ministries of transportation, space organisations like the European Space Agency. Some of our human right alumni now work for judges’ cabinets at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, cabinets of Commissioners of the European Commission in Brussels, diverse sections of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, national and international NGOs, the civil service.
It is perfectly possible to find work here in the Netherlands, but it is not easy, especially in times of COVID more so. Having Dutch language skills is a big help, though.
GHK: Any parting thoughts for applicants from Turkey considering Leiden Law School?
SB: I can do no better than to quote from some of our own inspirational web information:
“Leiden Law School continues to rise in the rankings list. Last year it climbed from 26th place to 24th in the QS ranking. Leiden University itself has been enriching and inspiring minds and making an impact since 1575. We are the oldest university in the Netherlands, established by William of Orange and located in two vibrant student cities: Leiden and The Hague. Leiden is a founding member of the League of European Research Universities, but we are truly international.
In its nearly 450 years of existence, our university has built a solid reputation. Notable Leiden alumni include members of the Dutch royal family, King Willem Alexander, Princess Beatrix van Oranje-Nassau and His Royal Highness Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau, as well as former Secretary-General of NATO Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and current Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Even Winston Churchill was an honorary degree recipient of Leiden University!
Throughout its history, the university has stood for freedom. Its motto, Praesidium Libertatis, translates as ‘bastion of freedom,’ dating back to when its founder conferred university status on Leiden in recognition of the city’s resistance against Spanish invaders.
The modern-day Leiden stands for inclusiveness and diversity. It comprises seven faculties in the arts, sciences, and social sciences. It is home to 28,100 students from 120 different countries and describes itself as ‘a place of refuge where any question can be asked and answered in complete freedom.”
We look forward to having students from Turkey join us each year.