INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, WINSTON-SALEM, NC, USA
Amber Featherstone, Director of International & Graduate Programs of Wake Forest University School of Law, many thanks for taking the time to interview with me. Gizem Halis-Kasap
GHK: Director Featherstone, an increasing number of students in Turkey aims to pursue an LL.M. in the United States of America. What do you think is the value of the LL.M. experience in the States?
AF: Even in our very connected world, I believe that pursuing an LL.M. in the United States of America holds much value for an international lawyer. Because most international law practiced around the world is based on U.S. law, having a solid understanding of core U.S. legal subjects as well as more specialized areas is essential for a lawyer practicing across borders. The methodology of U.S. legal education is quite different from anywhere else in the world. Lawyers who experience that, in conjunction with the legal training from their home countries, are more apt to understand how to navigate the global practice of law. And, finally, the U.S. law school experience provides countless avenues for growth, including the collegiate experience, law school events such as symposiums and presentations, networking with lawyers from all over the world, and the opportunity to learn from world-renowned experts in law.
GHK: From my personal experience, Wake Law is a boutique school offering highly individualized classes, personalized learning, and other opportunities. Could you please tell us more about this? What are the benefits of pursuing an LL.M. at Wake Law, which is small by design?
AF: At Wake Forest Law, our small size is our strength. We limit our LL.M. program to approximately 25 students each year, while maintaining the goal of making the class as diverse as possible. Not only do we want our LL.M. students to learn and grow from our U.S. students and faculty, but we also want to help them build a global network amongst the other international lawyers in our programs. The small size of our program ensures that the LL.M. students have individual access to our faculty as well as our staff. Our goal is to create a personalized experience for each student so that we can help them meet their individual goals.
GHK: Is there a particular profile of LL.M. applicants that you think would be successful in securing admission at the Wake Law LL.M. program?
AF: At Wake Forest Law, we are a family. As such, we are looking for applicants who want to be part of an encouraging and supportive environment. We all work together towards the common goal of success for each of our students, and we want students who are willing to be collaborative and supportive of their student colleagues. We also look for a diversity of experience and interests in our students. Regardless of years of experience or certain academic credentials, we look for students who will bring a unique perspective to our classrooms. I am frequently asked what our grade requirements are for applicants, and we do not have any! We do seek out students that have exemplary English skills, and proven academic success, but we understand that everyone’s educational journey is different. We review the entire student’s application to see if they are good fit for our school. So, I always encourage all students to apply – regardless of academic history or work experience.
GHK: As far as I observe, writing the personal statement is one of the biggest challenges in the admissions process. What would be the number one mistake that the applicants from Turkey should avoid?
AF: I will share two mistakes. The first is that sometimes students do not really tell us who they are in the personal statement. Instead, they focus on just one event or one thing that has led them to apply to law school in the U.S. The personal statement is the only part of the application where the student can tell us who they are, and why they are a good fit for Wake Forest Law, in their own words. I always encourage students to tell us their story: how did you find yourself interested in law, why are you pursuing the LL.M. degree now, and why are you a good fit for Wake Forest Law?
The second, and very important, mistake I see is that students fail to proofread their work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read a beautiful personal statement, only to get to the end and in the final paragraph the student writes “and this is why I want to attend [insert another school’s name here]!” We expect students to apply to multiple schools but proofreading your personal statement and making sure it is about the school to which you are applying is very important!
GHK: How important is a letter of recommendation in a Wake Law LL.M. application? What makes a letter of recommendation stand out?
AF: Letters of recommendation are very important to an applicant’s overall application package. These come from former professors or former and current supervisors and give us an outside opinion on the applicant. The most important thing is to choose people who know you well in an academic or professional setting. Receiving a letter of recommendation from the president of your country will not help your file if that person cannot speak to your qualifications. You do not want a letter that is too general, offers no specific information about you, your skills, and your ability to be successful in studying law outside of your home country.
GHK: Is Wake Forest Law known for being generous with its need-based or merit-based scholarships for an LL.M. degree?
AF: At Wake Forest Law, we work hard to make legal education accessible to everyone. Our focus on creating a diverse class of students means that some of our students need more financial support than others. I always encourage applicants to take advantage of our free application to see how much scholarship they will be awarded. Many are surprised to see that pursuing their LL.M. with us can be affordable. Students can also tell us about any specific financial need that they may have in an addendum to their application. Our Admissions Review Committee reads those statements carefully and tries to provide as much scholarship as possible.
GHK: Some of my friends switched to a J.D. degree after completing their LL.M.s, and some initially decided to pursue a two-year J.D. degree. Could you tell us a bit about the two-year J.D. program that Wake Forest Law offers? What advice would you give to Turkey’s prospective applicants in deciding whether they should do an LL.M. or a two-year J.D.?
AF: At Wake Forest Law, we have both a Two-Year J.D. for International Lawyers and we also offer the option to transfer from the LLM to the J.D. program. In both options, international lawyers are given advanced standing so that they only need two more years of study to complete the J.D. The J.D. can be a great option for international lawyers, but I only recommend it if they wish to live and work in the U.S. on a long-term basis. This is because the J.D. requires much more time and financial investment. With the LL.M. students can still get a very solid understanding of U.S. law and gain work experience that will help them in their career outside of the U.S. So, it really depends on the student’s personal and professional goals.
GHK: Could you please inform us about the other types of financial aids available to international LL.M. students at Wake Forest Law?
AF: Students tend to pay for their LL.M. studies through a variety of ways: government/local sponsorship, scholarships, loans, family, etc. I encourage students to seek out opportunities for financial aid within their home countries, as they are more likely to have success. Doing a search online is always a great idea as there can be very specific scholarships available, you just have to find them!
GHK: May students from Turkey apply for conditional acceptance if they are unable to demonstrate sufficient English proficiency?
AF: Yes, we offer multiple options for conditional admission to the LL.M. program. Students who do not meet the minimum English requirements may choose to study English in the US on a full-time basis for one year or 6 months prior to the start of their LL.M. If they have scores that are slightly below our suggested minimums, they may be given the option to participate in our Legal English Summer Program in order to satisfy the conditions of their admission.
GHK: Could you please tell us about study-abroad opportunities that Wake Law School offers? Are these opportunities available for international LL.M. students? Considering the LL.M. degree’s short nature itself, would you recommend international LL.M. students to join one of these study-abroad programs?
AF: Because the LL.M. program is typically only one year of study, students are generally not eligible to study abroad during that time. However, if a student extends their LL.M. program, they may have the opportunity. In the past we have had LL.M. students join our study abroad summer programs and they have gained new insight into other countries’ legal systems through these opportunities. In general, I recommend that LL.M. students focus on their studies in the U.S. and taking advantage of the many opportunities they will have while here.
GHK: During my studies, I was surprised by the extensiveness of Wake Forest Law’s Pro Bono Program. Why might international LL.M. students engage in pro bono work other than the fact that it is required to be admitted to some bar associations? Are there any LL.M preferred pro bono projects?
AF: Pro bono work is a great way to gain practical legal experience, while also doing good in the community. Through the various pro bono projects that we offer, LL.M. students can get hands-on experience working with clients, drafting legal documents, and even representing clients in legal proceedings. All of our pro bono projects provide training for the work the students will do, and they all are supervised by a licensed attorney. Especially during the school year, pro bono is a great way to get work experience without having to take time away from your studies. And, as you mentioned, many states require a certain amount of pro bono work to be licensed, and employers also view students that volunteer their time for this type of work favorably. So, everyone wins!
GHK: How does Wake Forest Law help international LL.M. students prepare for the bar exam?
AF: Wake Forest Law offers multiple workshops and training sessions for J.D. and LL.M. students who are studying for a bar exam. These sessions include overviews on core bar tested subjects, tips for successfully answering multiple choice questions, practice exams and more. We have a member of our faculty that works on bar exam preparation with our students during their last semester and after graduation prior to the exam. Many LL.M. students also enroll in third-party bar study programs as well.
GHK: Hiring foreign-educated LL.M. students who do not hold a J.D. degree is often not the first choice of employers in the States. In the current economic climate after COVID, the job market for international lawyers is perhaps more challenging than ever. Against this backdrop, what are specific steps that LL.M. students can take to increase the likelihood of recruitment after graduation?
AF: LL.M. students bring a unique perspective to their roles. Many speak multiple languages and have legal experience outside of the U.S. When applying for jobs, it is important for students to remember these key things that set them apart and make them competitive candidates for these jobs. Students should also take advantage of any opportunities offered by their law school’s Office of Career and Professional Development to help them with their job search. At Wake Forest Law we offer resume and cover letter writing workshops, networking events, mock interviews, and more. Wake Forest Law is a part of the INTERNATIONAL STUDENT INTERVIEW PROGRAM, which is attended by employers looking for LL.M. students because of their unique skills and experiences. Law schools have a lot of free resources to help guide and train students on their job search.
GHK: Wake Forest Law is one of a group of select schools invited to participate in January job fairs exclusive for international LL.M. students. Could you inform us about the special recruitment programs that Wake Forest LL.M. students can participate in? What is other job search support provided to international LL.M. students?
AF: Wake Forest Law is one of only 33 schools that is invited to participate in the INTERNATIONAL STUDENT INTERVIEW PROGRAM through NEW YORK UNIVERSITY. This is a unique experience where our students can apply to over 200 employers who are looking specifically for LL.M. students who have a law degree from another country. We also provide full career services to our LL.M. students. As I mentioned above, we offer many workshops and events to help our LL.M. students gain the skills they need to be successful in their job search both here in the U.S. and in their home countries.
GHK: Some of the recent law graduates are committed to a career in law teaching. How should a foreign-trained LL.M. graduate approach the SJD degree if they wish to pursue law teaching positions in the States? Would it be different if they are interested in a research-based career in Turkey?
AF: Wake Forest Law has a robust SJD (PhD in law) degree program specifically for lawyers who are seeking a more academic path to their career. Our program allows students to work one-on-one with a faculty advisor who is an expert in their area of law as they research and write a dissertation. This program is meant to help students who wish to teach or do legal research and publication both during their studies and when they return home. Students applying to this program should have a very clear idea of what area of law they would like to expand their scholarship of, and on what topics they intend to focus their research and writing, usually following the same academic path they started in their LLM.
GHK: Lastly, anything you would like to add for the law graduates reading this interview?
AF: My best advice is to apply today! Do not wait to start this adventure that will help you to grow both personally and professionally. And do not be afraid to apply. I believe that there is a perfect school and program out there for each student. Sometimes I think students worry that they will not be admitted, but you cannot know that until you try. Remember that we are here to help. Taking this step is a big decision! We are always happy to answer questions and help students decide whether the LLM is the right choice for them and whether Wake Forest Law could be the best school for them.