INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: FORDHAM UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, NEW YORK CITY, NY, USA
Martin D. Slavens, the Director of Graduate Admissions, thank you for taking the time for this interview. DK
DK: Director Slavens, it has become a trend in the world for law graduates to pursue an international LL.M. degree, if possible. There are many aspects to consider when deciding on pursuing an LL.M. degree, given that it is a serious investment in terms of time and cost. I think as a first step the law graduates should ask themselves, ‘‘What is the aim of pursuing an LL.M. degree?’’ As someone who is closely involved with law graduates from all around the world, what do you think the aim should be: to gain specialist knowledge, a career in academia, to practice law in the U.S., or simply to take a break after a few years of the practice?
MS: This is such an important question and one that each person should spend time considering before applying to an LL.M. program and especially when writing their personal statement. The reasons for pursuing an LL.M. are many and will vary from person to person. Most students in the LL.M. program earned their first law degree from outside the U.S. and in a country with a civil law legal system. Many are interested in sitting for the New York bar exam and gaining work experience here, either during their OPT period and/or long term. Others want to use their LL.M. credential to advance their legal practice in their home country. In-fact, some international law firms will send their associates to the U.S. for an LL.M. degree.
Fordham Law students also have the opportunity to participate in ISIP, a career fair that attracts over 160 employers each year looking for LL.M. graduates to work in mostly international law firms. A smaller number of students are interested in academic and other career paths. While studying for an LL.M. is an exciting and rewarding challenge itself, understanding how it fits into your long-term plans is crucial. The admissions committee at Fordham Law specifically looks for what each applicant wants from their LL.M. experience and whether this degree is a good match for their goals.
DK: Considering that Turkey has a civil law system, what are the benefits that an LL.M. in the U.S. would provide to the Turkish law graduates?
MS: Most all lawyers today, whether in Turkey, Argentina, Japan, or the U.S., have some international component to their legal practice. Our societies and economies are deeply connected globally. The skills and knowledge gained from a Fordham Law LL.M. –whether in U.S. Law or in a more specialized area like Banking, Corporate, and Finance Law or International Dispute Resolution –will add value to legal professionals working in Turkey. Even for those not engaged in international trade or transactions, the analytical thinking and problem-solving skills students develop here will make them better lawyers.
DK: What are the benefits that are specific to the LL.M. at Fordham Law?
MS: A key benefit that sets Fordham Law apart is our community. This includes our current LL.M., M.S.L., J.D. and S.J.D. students, our full-time faculty, adjunct professors, administrators, and our amazing and engaged alumni. We all feel part of the Fordham Family and enjoy working together and supporting each other. Students notice this from their first interactions with our office and even more strongly when they come together for orientation.
We are immensely proud of our alumni community of esteemed lawyers, judges, entrepreneurs, and public servants. This vibrant and loyal network reaches across the globe, and includes more than 60 national and international chapters and delegates. Further, LL.M. alumni, as well as friends of Fordham Law, regularly return to offer current students’ guidance and mentorship.
DK: Could you please tell us about some of the shared characteristics of successful LL.M. applicants? For example, would it be better to apply right after graduation, or does Fordham Law prefers candidates who have a few years of work experience?
MS: Successful applicants demonstrate two things: the ability to succeed in our challenging curriculum and that the LL.M. program at Fordham Law is a good match for their long-term goals. We welcome applications to our LL.M. program from both recent graduates and those with work experience. The admissions committee will assess each applicant based on where they are in their legal career. For those finishing their first law degree, past academic performance will be weighted more heavily than for those with work experience. For all applicants, no one component of the application is determinative.
DK: What advice would you give to the prospective applicants from Turkey when it comes to writing the personal statement? Any suggestions on the mistakes that prospective applicants should avoid?
MS: It is best to write a school-specific personal statement rather than a general one. We ask applicants to describe their reasons for pursuing an LL.M. at Fordham Law and where they see themselves working in five years. For this, an applicant must be able to connect their experiences to their expectations for studying at Fordham Law and their goals. To do this well, an applicant must be familiar with Fordham Law School and our LL.M. program. They should know about our curriculum and concentrations but also which extracurricular activities most interest them. If they are interested in one or more of our clinics, journals, centers and institutes, or externship opportunities, they should mention this by name in the personal statement. Avoid general statements and repeating basic information from your resume. Instead, provide new information that will help the admissions committee understand why you want to study at Fordham Law.
DK: What could distinguish someone who perhaps has a lower LL.B. GPA?
MS: An applicant’s GPA is an important indicator for the admissions committee. If you have a lower LL.B. GPA, be sure to highlight other aspects in your application. If there were special circumstances or difficulties that resulted in a low GPA one term, you might consider writing an addendum to explain what happened. Craft a well-written personal statement that clearly connects your experiences with the skills needed to succeed in our LL.M. program. For those still in school, take part in extracurricular activities and seek out leadership roles. Look for internships and other ways to gain relevant experience. Find people who can write strong letters of recommendation. Review your resume and other materials for mistakes before submitting your application. You can reach out to us and schedule a meeting over Zoom.
DK: Applicants often face some difficulties with choosing referees – what advice would you have on approaching this component of the application process?
MS: Choose people who know you well and can speak to your skills and your ability to succeed in law school. Talk to potential referees and ask them directly if they are able to write a strong letter. Be sure to contact potential referees well in advance of your deadline. Provide them with sufficient information about your goals and the school or schools to which you are applying. If you are having trouble finding two academic references, a professional reference can be used. Do not ask coworkers to write your letter unless they have supervised your work.
DK: The cost of LL.M. education can have long-term implications on one’s life. Could you please tell us a bit about the financial aid Fordham Law offers that are available to international LL.M. students?
MS: Fordham Law has funding available for LL.M. students. Our office administers two scholarship programs. These are: (1) Feerick, Treanor, and Martin Scholarships (three, full-tuition scholarships; fall admissions cycle only) and (2) Graduate Student Scholarships (partial, merit-based scholarships; spring and fall admissions cycles). Our office has also compiled list of external scholarships and resources. More detailed information, including current costs of attendance, is available on our website: law.fordham.edu/llm/scholarships.
DK: It is a common understating that an LL.M. degree is a key for practicing in the U.S. for someone who has a foreign law degree. Do you think it would be realistic to think that an LL.M. degree is the best choice for international lawyers who plan to remain and practice law in the U.S.?
MS: To practice law in the U.S. one must be admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction in which they intend to practice. Some states, including New York, will allow foreign-educated law graduates to sit for their bar exam after completing a qualifying LL.M. degree. All nine of our LL.M. concentrations include the classes required for the New York bar’s “cure provision.” If you plan to practice law in New York, or another state or jurisdiction open foreign-trained lawyers, then the LL.M. is a very good choice. It is just one year, compared to a J.D., which takes three years. Not only does it take less time, it also costs a third as much. International students looking for work in the U.S. should be prepared for the challenges in their job search. In addition to visa needs and concerns, it is true that many employers are more accustomed to seeing applicants with a J.D. LL.M. students will need to actively network and engage with lawyers during the full length of their program. Networking will be key. Students might consider doing an externship during their studies. An externship will provide local professional experience, a job reference from the U.S., and access to the law firm’s network of lawyers.
DK: For those who do not wish to practice law, what are the other employment or internship opportunities available to Fordham Law graduates in the U.S.? What should international LL.M. graduates do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
MS: We do have a number of LL.M. graduates in career paths outside of law firms. Some of our graduates have found employment in the UN, the EU, and in other government and non-government organizations. Regardless of your path, networking will be key. Start with our faculty, students, and alumni. Join in on the many networking events, both in-person and online, offered through Fordham Law. Join the email list of one or more of our centers and institutes. In addition, become a student member of the New York City Bar Association and of other bar associations with a focus on legal topics that interest you. Make a strong impression by being professional and genuinely interested in meeting people doing extraordinary things.
DK: Considering the relatively short nature of the LL.M. degree itself, what should the LL.M. candidates do to make the most of their LL.M. experience?
MS: The two semesters of an LL.M. degree go by very quickly. Plan to engage in more than just your classes. Take an active role in a student organization, regularly check the student calendar to participate in events, connect with faculty, classmates, lawyers, and alumni through our centers and institutes, and join a law journal or clinic. For those wanting additional time to take classes and engage with the legal community in New York, consider our dual concentration program. You can add a second concentration to your LL.M. by staying for a third semester and completing at least 36 credits in total.
DK: There have been several studies and predictions of the possible effects of COVID pandemic on law schools in the U.S., mainly noting that law schools will be struggling financially and shift into different teaching methods. How do you think Fordham Law is dealing with COVID pandemic and its negative effects?
MS: COVID has interrupted and affected all of our lives, and has been even more tragic for many. It has also presented an opportunity to rethink how we engage with one another. The Fordham Law family has risen to this challenge in many ways. Our students, faculty, and alumni have stayed in touch by moving many events online. Attendance has actually gone up, as more people have been able to participate in online events. At the same time, we have been able to open the Law School to those here and able to make use of this space by carefully following local, state, and national guidelines and taking extra steps to keep our community safe.
DK: Lastly, anything you would like to add for the Turkish law graduates reading this article?
MS: Thank you, Defne, for reaching out to connect with me. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this interview. I invite you to connect with me over email, email@example.com. I am also available to meet over Zoom and would love to welcome you to our Law School building if you are in New York. I hope to see you soon!