INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE of LAW, SYRACUSE, NY, USA
I would like to sincerely thank Andrew S. Horsfall, Assistant Dean of International Programs, for taking the time to answer my questions about an international LL.M. degree. GHK
GHK: Assistant Dean Horsfall, the demand for international LL.M. programs has increased in Turkey in recent decades. What do you think the value of an LL.M. from the United States is from the point of view of a civil-law trained lawyer?
ASH: An LL.M. program in the United States provides foreign-educated lawyers with broad exposure to the American legal system, its structure of government, sources of law, and a view of how the law develops and evolves in a common law system. This last aspect is important because here, we rely on precedent cases and persuasive strategies of analogizing or distinguishing prior cases to frame legal arguments and issues. In the process, students develop their written and oral communication skills while refining their analytical skills and learning how to think about problems from different perspectives. This can be difficult at first, but overtime LL.M. students learn to embrace and use these strategies through what is always a transformative experience in the program.
GHK: With a vast number of law schools worldwide, it might be hard for students to figure out where to do their LL.M.s. Why should students pursue an LL.M. degree at Syracuse Law? What makes attending Syracuse Law a unique experience?
ASH: The LL.M program here enrolls approximately 30-40 students per year, and is therefore considered a “medium-sized” program. This allows us to provide a better level of student support and advising to ensure that each student is able to maximize their LL.M. experience. In addition, our LL.M. students are able to enroll in up to two courses outside the College of Law at over graduate schools on campus, and they are able to extend their program for an optional third semester. Last but not least, do students seeking to take the NY Bar Exam, we are currently the only law school in the U.S. that offers a free “bar prep” course for LL.M. students through the Helix Bar Prep program.
GHK: Could you briefly describe some of the qualities that an ideal candidate for the LL.M. program at Syracuse Law might have? Is there anything in particular that might make an applicant especially appealing to the admissions committee?
ASH: There is no single ideal profile of a successful LL.M. applicant. Some are fresh LL.B. graduates, while others are more experienced practitioners. One thing I look for in my admissions review and interview is to try and determine whether the candidate has a true sense of what they want to accomplish and why they are pursuing the LL.M. degree. They should be able to articulate what is motivating them to take on such a rigorous and exciting academic endeavor.
GHK: Online LL.M.s and distance learning opportunities grow in appeal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I see that Syracuse Law offers an online J.D. program, which is announced to be the first ABA-approved online law degree program in the United States. Considering the applications from international students, do they prefer an online J.D., or do they mostly choose to pursue a 2-Year J.D. program for foreign-trained attorneys?
ASH: Our LL.M. program is currently only a residential program, and I have not seen much interest in the online J.D. among our prospective international students. However, there does seem to be growing interest in the 2-Year J.D. option, given that the J.D. allows more time to prepare for the bar exam and develop one’s professional persona.
GHK: Does Syracuse Law have an approximate hierarchy on what is most valuable for admissions: GPA, language score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation?
ASH: With regard to the LL.M. degree, there is not one single factor that determines eligibility for admission. Passing grades (preferably superior to above-average) are very important because U.S. law schools are famously more rigorous than many undergraduate institutions (in the U.S. and around the world). I also look for professional experience – either practice experience or internship experience – which demonstrates that the applicant is adaptable and able to carry themselves in a professional setting. These are the two big areas I focus on during my admissions interview with each candidate.
GHK: What advice would you give to the prospective applicants from Turkey when writing the personal statement? What should they have (or not have) in their statement of purpose?
ASH: I am always curious to know “why Syracuse”; in that, I am curious to know how the applicant “found” us and what led to their decision to apply to the program. That information can also help me determine if we are the right “academic home” for them. Do we offer the types of courses they want to take? Can we meet their expectations with student support? It also demonstrates that the student is conscientious about his/her options.
GHK: Is financial aid available? How does an applicant make sure if he/she gets considered for a scholarship for the LL.M. program?
ASH: Absolutely! It is somewhat of a barrier that higher education in the U.S. costs so much to international students. However, in recognition of that fact, while also monitoring changes in the currency value changes with the Turkish Lira, I consider all students for merit scholarships. This is usually something that I discuss with each applicant during our admissions interview and is a “fair” topic to bring up any time! I’m glad to see students ask about scholarships because it can be a significant factor in one’s ability to pursue the LL.M.
GHK: Even though foreign law students do not pursue their LL.M.s in New York, New York is commonly known as the most popular state for them to sit the bar. With that said, what kind of benefit do you think it would be for a student who wants to take the New York bar exam to pursue an LL.M. in New York, specifically in Syracuse Law?
ASH: It should be said a student need not pursue the LL.M. in New York to be successful on the N.Y. Bar Exam; however, there are great programs in New York – like Syracuse’s – that students should consider! Here at Syracuse, all our students are able to obtain a free “bar prep” course through the Helix Bar Prep program. This is a significant cost of around $3,000 – $5,000 that students will be able to save. Additionally, we teach all 20 of the bar subjects and provide a bar study “boot camp” over the summer to prepare students for the exam. There are a lot of layers of bar exam support, and it is important for students to investigate their options earlier and plan ahead, so they don’t miss anything.
GHK: Could you tell us more about the Job Shadow Program that Syracuse Law LL.M. students can take place in? What sort of job search support is provided to international LL.M. students at Syracuse Law?
ASH: Our Job Shadow program began in the LL.M. program, and it was such a hit that our Office of Career Services took it on to expand it to the entire law school. The program seeks to match a student with a practitioner and then coordinates with each to set up a time for the student to visit the lawyer and “shadow” them in his/her work over the course of a day, week, month, or longer. This is a great way for students to “see” the practice of law while also sharing their own insights and experience. In addition to this program, we also offer a Law Firm Lunch Series where small groups of students are hosted at local firms over lunch to introduce themselves and share their experiences. This cross-cultural collaboration is beneficial to everyone.
GHK: Thank you for taking to time to respond to our questions, Assistant Dean Horsfall. Is there any final advice you could give to readers of this interview?
ASH: Start early. Researching programs, connecting with schools, and being curious about your options is best if done early. There are so many different types of programs, universities, cities, etc. that you want to make sure you are finding the best “fit” for you. Of course, I ultimately hope that “fit” is at Syracuse!