INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF LAW, STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Candice Roccasalva, the International Coordinator, for taking the time to answer my questions about the LL.M. application process and provide insights into Stockholm Law’s LL.M. programs. GHK
GHK: As the biggest law faculty in Sweden, Stockholm Law offers many specialized LL.M. programs for those interested in furthering their studies in law. In an increasingly interdependent world reshaping our profession, what do you think is the value of an international LL.M. from Stockholm Law for a graduating law student or lawyer from Turkey?
CR: An international legal education brings with it exposure to other legal approaches, remedies and systems that is invaluable in the increasingly interdependent practice of law. The LL.M. programmes offered at the Department of Law, Stockholm University invoke several different legal systems, international public and private law, EU law, and national systems from comparative perspectives dependent upon the topic. The students in the programme are drawn from many countries globally, bringing with them both their academic and practical national legal experience.
GHK: Why should one choose Sweden to pursue an LL.M. degree? In particular, what makes attending Stockholm Law a unique experience?
CR: Generally speaking, there are two aspects that draw international students to Sweden and to Stockholm in particular. On the one hand, many are attracted to Sweden as a study destination because of its progressive perspective. It’s an open, equal society, that always ranks high in terms of social progress and general quality of life, and this is very much reflected in our study culture. Here, student participation is central to the learning process. Our international students often stress how our “flat hierarchy” between teachers and students empowers them. They are not passively taking in knowledge but actively encouraged to discuss with their peers and their teacher on equal grounds. They feel seen and heard.
On the other hand, and in context of law studies specifically, Stockholm University offers five LL.M. programmes tailored to legal areas of expertise within our faculty at the Department of Law: international commercial arbitration law, European economic law, public international law, environmental law and European intellectual property law. Our LL.M. in International Commercial Arbitration Law (ICAL) for instance is highly competitive as Stockholm is internationally recognised as a leader in the field of arbitration and home to one of the most active and respected arbitration institutes in the world, the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce – which students on the ICAL programme get to visit, of course! And what better place to study Environmental Law than Stockholm, which hosted the first major UN conference on environmental matters, the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972?
Another aspect that makes Stockholm University a stimulating place to study law is our focus on putting theory into practice. Teaching is conducted by academics and legal practitioners – lawyers, judges, etc. – giving a very hands-on approach to the subject. Our students also get to practice their legal skills through group work and moot courts, and go on study visits, in Sweden or sometimes even abroad, like in our LL.M. in European Economic Law where a visit to EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg is organised every year.
GHK: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student’s application, such as GPA, language score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation? How should an applicant from Turkey address a low GPA or limited English proficiency in an LL.M. application to Stockholm Law?
CR: When reviewing applications, none of our selection criteria weighs significantly more than the other. Rather, they balance each other out. While grades from earlier legal studies and extra-curricular/professional experiences typically carry more weight, eligible applicants are selected on the basis of a weighed assessment of all selection criteria, including the personal statement and two letters of recommendation. A well-articulated and well-focused personal statement or a strong and personalised letter of recommendation, for instance, can be serious assets for students who may have a low GPA and will always stand out more than standardised statements.
It’s important to note, though, that English proficiency is not a selection criterion but a general entry requirement to all university studies in Sweden. All our LL.M.s are taught in English with students coming from all over the world, and adequate English skills are obviously necessary to partake in the education and essential for the courses to run smoothly, especially since the study culture at Stockholm University – and Sweden as a whole – involves a lot of group work and class discussions. Students need to be comfortable expressing themselves in an advanced academic context in front of their peers.
GHK: Could you offer any advice on the best way for an LL.M. applicant from Turkey to write a resonant personal statement? Do you have any comments on pitfalls or clichés an applicant should avoid?
CR: We could honestly write a book with all the inspirational quotes applicants start their personal statement with! 🙂 Joking aside, the best advice we can give is to be focused on the programme you wish to apply for. Even if you are interested in several programmes, it pays off to take the time to write an informed and well-targeted statement showing that you have genuinely taken the time to investigate a specific programme and what it has to offer you. Since we also ask applicants for a CV, there’s really no need to devote too much space to previous studies or professional experiences in the personal statement if these are not directly relevant to the area of law you are specifically interested in. Too many of the statements we receive are unfortunately unfocused and feel very standardised. We could sum up by saying that the personal statements that stand out are the ones where students are able to highlight and support their legal competences in a concise and relevant way while communicating their enthusiasm and motivation about our programme!
GHK: Could you offer any general advice regarding letters of recommendation? In particular, what do you think about the generalized recommendation letters starting with “To Whom It May Concern” as opposed to the tailored ones?
CR: The purpose of the letters of recommendation is obviously to strengthen the application by highlighting the reasons why a particular candidate would be an asset for our programmes. While we have no preferences regarding whether such recommendations should come from academics, an employer, or an internship supervisor, what we are after is information pertaining to both the applicant’s ability to successfully carry out legal studies at advanced level and, when possible, to their skills and competences in the particular area of law they wish to specialize in with our LL.M. We do recognize that it’s not always easy for applicants to obtain a perfectly-tailored letter of recommendation, especially if they are new graduates with little or no professional experience. But it is essential for us to feel that the referee has a genuine relation to the applicant. Whether the letter is addressed directly to our Admissions Committee or not is not so important as long as the content of the letter is relevant to the programme at hand.
GHK: Since LL.M. degrees are typically expensive to obtain, could you please tell us a bit about merit or need-based scholarships that Stockholm Law offers for non-European students from Turkey? Does applying for financial aid affect one’s chances of admission?
CR: There are several scholarship opportunities for our programmes at Stockholm University. One of them is the Stockholm University Scholarship Scheme, which is aimed at especially qualified students and covers the entire tuition fee for a Master’s programme at the university. Typically, two to three such scholarships are available to law students every year across our five programmes. Besides these, SU Law also has collaborations with law firms based in Stockholm which generously offer to cover tuition fees for especially talented international students admitted to our ICAL LL.M. One of these scholarships, the Swedish Arbitration Association (SAA) Scholarship is open to all admitted fee-paying students. And, we want to stress that applying for a scholarship does not affect one’s chances of admission in the least bit! As a matter of fact, applications to the Scholarship Scheme at Stockholm University open only once students have received their notification of admission results. All admitted students who are eligible for a scholarship will therefore be sent information on how to apply. The same applies to the SAA scholarship, when available. All updated information about these scholarships can be found on our departmental website.
GHK: Being a non-European applicant from Turkey, how would one find suitable scholarships to cover living costs in Sweden or, in particular, Stockholm Law?
CR: In addition to the scholarships mentioned above, Turkish students can also have a look at the scholarships offered by the Swedish Institute every year. These scholarships have an earlier deadline than those offered directly at Stockholm University, so it’s important to keep track of these! At the end of the day, the best place to start looking for information about scholarships will always be Stockholm University’s web page about scholarships. This is where all the most relevant information and links will be the most readily available.
GHK: If one had an LL.M. degree from Stockholm Law, can one be a practicing lawyer in Sweden? Or, does Stockholm Law offer any programs for people interested in becoming a lawyer practicing in Sweden but have a foreign law degree?
CR: The only way to become a practicing lawyer in Sweden is to hold a juristexamen, which is the standard law degree required for professions such as that of a judge, attorney at law and prosecutor. In that respect, our international LL.M. programmes unfortunately don’t enable graduates to practice law in Sweden in that way. Instead, Stockholm University offers two tracks to become a practicing lawyer in Sweden, which both require fluency in Swedish. The most common is taking the normal law school track that takes 4,5 years, while the other is a government-funded short programme of 2 years for students who already hold a foreign law degree, the so-called “Conversion Programme for International Lawyers”. Our international LL.M.s are more devised to provide and practice skills that will help students refine their legal profile. Many of our alumni have found work within international organisations or NGO’s for instance or brought the knowledge they gained with us back home where they now practice law.
GHK: What job search support is provided to international LL.M. students at Stockholm Law, and what are the job prospects in Sweden after an LL.M. for international students from Turkey? What do you think international LL.M. graduates should do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
CR: Many law firms in Stockholm are looking to hire students with a juristexamen, as this is of outmost importance for practicing law in court in Sweden – most everyday work will indeed likely involve the Swedish legal system and laws in some way, or the impact of the EU-Law framework and how that affects national law. Some lawyers with foreign degrees are employed by law firms in Stockholm, but realistically, that is more the exception than the rule. That said, with solid motivation, foreign law students can manage to remain in Sweden after their graduation! One way to get your foot in the door so to say is obviously through legal internships, which we advertise on our department web page or pass onto students directly when law firms contact us about these. Another obvious way is through networking – and thanks to the many practitioners teaching in our programmes, you should be able to do plenty of that during your studies with us!
GHK: Finally, do you have any parting words of wisdom for applicants from Turkey applying Stockholm Law?
CR: Do not feel intimidated about applying even if you have only just graduated from your law studies! If you have your mind set on one of our LL.M.s and on beautiful Stockholm, apply! We pride ourselves on having students from different horizons in our programmes, not merely geographically but most importantly in terms of academic and professional backgrounds. We welcome newly-graduated students as much as experienced legal practitioners because we know that, in their own way, everyone can contribute to making our programmes an enriching experience.