INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRITZKER SCHOOL OF LAW, CHICAGO, IL, USA
I sincerely thank Adi Altshuler, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Director of International Programs, for taking the time to answer my questions. Defne Kahveci
DK: Director Altshuler, as you may know, Turkey has a civil law legal system. To become a lawyer in Turkey, students must complete a four-year Bachelor of Law (LL.B.), and graduates must also complete a one-year apprenticeship with a law firm and court. A Master of Laws degree is not required to be admitted to the bar and enter practice but highly preferred by new generation lawyers who would like to specialize in their legal practice. Could you please share your thoughts on the value of an international LL.M.? Considering that Turkey has a civil law system, what are the benefits that an LL.M. in the States would provide to the Turkish law graduates?
AA: An international LL.M. – specifically from the US – exposes students from civil law countries to the common law system. Most of our students come from civil law countries and the majority return to their home countries to practice after completing their LL.M. degree and perhaps working in the U.S. for a year. However, as the world becomes increasingly more connected, lawyers need to know not only how to work with foreign clients or represent their clients in cross border matters but also how the law functions across different jurisdictions. Additionally, engaging in this study of comparative law helps strengthen lawyers’ critical thinking, communication, and general lawyering skills.
The method of teaching in U.S. law schools is quite different from the method of teaching in civil law countries. It trains you to “think like a lawyer” – the Socratic method used in the classroom in analyzing case law is unique to the common law system. It provides insight as to how American lawyers think, analyze, problem-solve, and serve their clients. It is an entire mind-set that will forever change your law practice no matter where you end up practicing.
DK: What are the benefits that are specific to the LL.M. at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law?
AA: Besides the general benefits of any LL.M. Program, Northwestern Pritzker offers several unique advantages. One is the integration of LL.M. and JD students. In many LL.M. programs, LL.M. students take classes with only other LL.Ms. Here at Northwestern, the LL.Ms are fully integrated both inside and outside the classroom with J.D. students. This integration allows our LL.M. students to be truly immersed in the US law school experience. At the same time, this integration exposes our J.D. students to practicing lawyers around the world and allows both cohorts to build networks that last for years to come.
Another key benefit is our holistic support services. An LL.M. program is not just about the time spent in the classroom; thus, we provide our students many unique opportunities for personal and professional growth. For example, our LL.M. students have access to a dedicated career counselor, an English language specialist, a robust pro-bono/public service center, one-on-one academic and writing tutors, and countless opportunities for engagement. Our team also recruits an LL.M. Committee each year, which provides our students a leadership opportunity and also allows them to have a voice in the program itself. The Northwestern Pritzker community truly values our LL.M. students.
Another advantage is our size, and the relative size of our faculty. While the law school is medium size, with approximately 800 students, we have more than 160 faculty members. The low student faculty ratio allows for meaningful interaction between students and faculty, the availability of many courses to choose from in each semester, and the small classroom instruction that we are so known for.
Curriculum-wise, we offer a unique opportunity to take fundamental management courses taught by faculty of the prestigious Kellogg School of Management as part of the LL.M. curriculum. So, LL.M. students may study courses such as Business Analytics, Accounting for Decision Making, Business Strategy, Leadership, and Finance as integral part of their LL.M. studies.
One last unique advantage is our location – we are located in downtown Chicago, one of the largest and most affordable cities in the U.S., with vibrant legal and business communities. We leverage our location and connections to the legal community to provide our LL.Ms ample opportunities to see the law in action not only from the classroom, but we take them to visit local Courts, local offices of global law firms, financial institutions such as the Chicago Board of Options Exchange etc. The city also provides an exciting backdrop as students enjoy visiting the various ethnic neighborhoods, parks, art museums, clubs, and authentic ethnic restaurants. The safe and central location of the law school makes taking advantage of all the city has to offer easily accessible to our students.
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 Northwestern Pritzker School of Law prefers candidates who have a few years of work experience?
AA: On the whole, we prefer candidates with work experience. Northwestern Pritzker is actually unique amongst its peer schools in that it also prioritizes work experience amongst its J.D. population as well. However, I want to stress that work experience does not only consist of practicing in a large firm for several years. Internships, pro-bono work, and even work in other fields all strengthen an applicant’s profile. So, a successful applicant will demonstrate excellent academic performance, coupled with a solid career trajectory, and because we are a cohesive, collaborative, and inclusive community, we very much value interpersonal skills and look for applicants who will enrich and contribute to our community.
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?
AA: The personal statement is your opportunity to let us get to know you beyond grades and CV. So take advantage of this opportunity and tell us about yourself – do not repeat things that are included in your CV, and use your own voice to tell us what your professional goals and aspirations are, how the LL.M. will help you in your future career, and in particular, why you want to study at Northwestern Pritzker – a common mistake of applicants is to create a “one size fits all” personal statement for all the schools they are applying for. We would like to know “why Northwestern” after reading your statement.
DK: What could distinguish someone who perhaps has a lower LL.B. GPA?
AA: Certainly, work experience and references can help here. As I mentioned previously, our LL.M. program provides opportunities for academic, professional, and personal growth. We use that same holistic approach when evaluating candidates: we look for well-rounded applicants; thus, if one’s grades/academics aren’t as strong, we would look to their professional background and experience since graduation.
DK: Applicants often face some difficulties with choosing referees – what advice would you have on approaching this component of the application process?
AA: Choose referees who can truly speak from personal knowledge to your skills and interest in the program. It is always better to have a detailed, thoughtful response from someone who truly knows your abilities rather than a vague reference from someone who is perhaps higher profile but may not know you as well. If an applicant has been working for several years, professors may not remember him/her that well. But supervisors and colleagues may provide a more detailed reference of their professional abilities.
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 Northwestern Pritzker School of Law offers that are available to international LL.M. students?
AA: We understand that an LL.M. is a large financial investment for our students. All admitted applicants are automatically under consideration for a scholarship award; no additional forms are required. This process helps cut down on some of the additional stress and paperwork students face during the application cycle. These scholarships are awarded to applicants on a rolling basis after an offer of admission has been made. Northwestern Pritzker is very competitive in its scholarship awards and strives to make the LL.M. more affordable to international students.
DK: It is a common understanding that an LL.M. degree is a key for practicing in the States 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 States?
AA: An LL.M. degree is actually not designed to prepare graduates of foreign law school to practice in the U.S. I believe that the J.D. degree is a better choice for an applicant who plans to relocate to the U.S. permanently. Having said that, the LL.M. does provide access to the bar and eligibility to sit for several state bar exams, such as NY, D.C., CA, Texas, among others. Many of our students take the NY bar exam following graduation, and some stay and practice in the U.S., but the J.D. degree is the right path for anyone who plans to work in the U.S. long term. This is true not only because of the wider scope of the studies in the J.D. program but due to the unique hiring process of lawyers through law school. While our LL.M. students have a dedicated career counselor, and they participate in the International Student Interview Program (ISIP) in NY, most opportunities for LL.M. students in ISIP are for one-year internships in the U.S. or long-term opportunities outside the U.S.
DK: For those who do not wish to practice law, what are the other employment or internship opportunities available to Northwestern Pritzker School of Law graduates in the States? What should international LL.M. graduates do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
AA: As I mentioned, all of our students have a dedicated LL.M. career counselor that works with them individually. I would encourage any LL.M. student to make sure to connect with their career advisor early on in their academic year so that they can learn about all available opportunities. Our Career coaching starts before students arrive for orientation, and there are many things you can do, even from your home country before you start the LL.M., to pave the way for successful job search in the U.S.
The scope of career opportunities is not limited to traditional law firm practice; it encompasses public service, non-profit organizations, public policy advocacy, etc., based on the interests and career aspirations of our students. Graduates of our LL.M. program have found employment opportunities (in addition to law firms) in local and national NGO’s, think tanks, the UN, and a wide variety of organizations.
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?
AA: This is a great question. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking advantage of all that an LL.M. program has to offer- both inside and outside the classroom. A few tips:
1) Choose classes wisely. At Northwestern, LL.Ms are free to design their own curriculum (besides two required courses). Even in a more prescribed program, students should have an opportunity to choose at least some electives. Do not pick classes solely because you think it’s an easy A or will help you on the bar exam (if you plan to take one). Choose classes that you’re truly interested in on a personal or professional level. Our faculty are world-renowned experts in their fields, and if you are interested in a certain area of law- take the class- it’s a unique opportunity.
2) Learn your resources early and use them often. As I mentioned earlier, our program provides a wealth of resources to students, but of course we cannot force students to use them! It is incumbent upon the student to make sure to seek them out whenever necessary. One common myth is that language and academic support services are only for “remedial” student; however, ALL students can (and do!) benefit from these opportunities. You do not have to be struggling to seek improvement.
3) Engage with your fellow students– the LL.M. program is a time to build friendships and networks that can last a lifetime. Seek out opportunities to engage with students outside of the classroom. The great thing about any law school is that you will undoubtedly have many ways of meeting people- take the time to join student organizations and meet students from outside your home country.
DK: Probably this has been asked you quite often, but how has Northwestern Pritzker School of Law dealt with the COVID pandemic?
AA: Obviously at the beginning of the pandemic last March we, like all schools, moved to all remote learning and cancelled all large events. However, though we were at that time obviously concerned with our current students (who graduated in May 2020), we also began working almost immediately on various plans for the 2020-2021 academic year, especially for international students in our LL.M. program. Due to closed embassies and changing restrictions, incoming international students faced challenges simply getting here, which was our first concern. To accommodate students’ needs, we allowed students to begin classes in January rather than August. We also provided part-time and full-time options along with remote/in-person options so that students who were not yet able to come to the US could still take some classes and perhaps continue working in their home countries.
Classes here are currently being taught in a hybrid format, with some classes remote and some in-person. However, all in-person classes still allow students to join remotely so that none of our students are excluded.
DK: Lastly, anything you would like to add for the Turkish law graduates reading this article?
AA: Northwestern Pritzker has a dynamic alumni community of over 1800 international alumni. We have great alumni in Turkey, and we held several alumni events in Istanbul throughout the years. We connect LL.M. students with our alumni early in the LL.M. program, as our alumni serve as mentors to current students and provide lectures on various topics of global practice. You will meet international alumni from Turkey and elsewhere during your studies, and this close-knit alumni network will be a valuable asset throughout your career. Also, as my grandparents were from Edirne, and my mother born in Istanbul, I am personally thrilled to have Turkish students join Northwestern!