INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, BOSTON, MA, USA
I deeply thank Bridgett C. Sandusky, Suffolk University Law School’s Assistant Dean of Graduate Law Programs for taking the time to answer my questions to provide insight to LL.M. programs and application processes. Defne Kahveci
DK: Asst. Dean Sandusky, 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?
BS: Lawyers who decide to pursue an LL.M. in the United States realize that the practice of law is no longer simply practicing domestic law in their home countries. Globalization and the internet have changed the way that we practice law now and how we will practice law in the future. Civil law lawyers come to the U.S. to learn about common law and to become conversant in the U.S. legal language. It is also important for any transnational lawyer to achieve complete fluency in the English language, as English is often the working language of international transactions.
In addition, a Turkish law graduate can gain a further competitive advantage by focusing on an up-and-coming area of the law. Specialized LL.M. degrees are offered in a wide variety of areas, ranging from Intellectual Property to Human Rights to Mediation. Lastly, an international graduate or lawyer will understand how a U.S. lawyer thinks and why they do the things that they do. This type of knowledge can be especially beneficial in negotiations.
DK: What are the benefits that are specific to the LL.M. at Suffolk Law?
BS: Suffolk Law School’s Sargent Hall building is a modern and sophisticated building that is located in the heart of downtown Boston, surrounded by the commercial, governmental, and financial districts. Our location allows our LL.M. students easy access to a wide array of internship opportunities in a lively, safe, and cosmopolitan city with an extensive public transit system. Across the street from the law school is the oldest public park in the United States, the Boston Public Common, which is just one of many green spaces that you will find throughout the city. Boston is the largest city in New England, and it is a young and vibrant city full of students, who attend some of the best universities and colleges in the United States.
At Suffolk Law, we are proud to offer an array of programs to meet the needs of all our students. Our LL.M. in Global Law and Technology, started in 2002, allows students to specialize in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law, International Law and Business, Biotechnology and Health Law, or U.S. Law and Legal Methods. The general LL.M. allows you to custom design the program to suit your individual needs and career goals. We also offer supportive and innovative programs for international students with our Legal English Institute, a special 3-week intensive program held at the Law School and run by lawyers, and our newest partnership program INTO Suffolk, which allows students the opportunity to earn credit toward the LL.M. degree at the same time as receiving additional English language support.
Since Suffolk Law offers both a full-time and part-time law program, international students have the flexibility to take courses starting at 9 AM in the morning until 10 PM at night. You get decide what time of day works best for you and with initial enrollment in August or in January, again, you get to choose what works best for you. Each and every student receives personal advising, which is especially important since we offer over 200 elective courses each year. To put that into perspective, a student will generally enroll in 4-5 courses in a semester.
We offer a vast array of experiential courses, where students are engaging in hands-on learning in these special simulation-based courses. This spring, for example, approximately 25% of the courses offered were designated as experiential. With so much to choose from at Suffolk, we provide our LL.M. students personal 1:1 advising, as well as access to two dedicated LL.M. career counselors, who will review your resume, cover letters, coach you in job search strategies, and conduct mock job interviews with you too. They will ensure that you have the best tools and resources to pursue an internship either in the 2nd semester of your LL.M. or after you complete your LL.M. during Optional Practical Training.
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 Suffolk Law prefers candidates who have a few years of work experience?
BS: Actually, the best way to share characteristics of successful LL.M. applicants is to tell you more about how Suffolk Law began. Founded in 1906 by Gleason Archer, the mission of Suffolk Law School was to offer new opportunity to working people and immigrants traditionally excluded from prospects of bettering themselves. Mr. Archer believed that everyone who wanted to pursue a legal education should have an opportunity to do so.
While the world has changed in many ways over the past 115 years, that mission of providing access and opportunity continues to this day. It is reflected in the motto that stretches across the seal that Archer himself designed, depicting the flame of knowledge rising from Beacon Hill: “Honestas et diligentia.” Honesty and diligence, two attributes exclusive to no caste or nation that enable people to make the most of their potential. Today, Suffolk Law embodies those values set forth on its seal by providing a nationally recognized, real-world legal education to a diverse student body from across the globe.
At Suffolk, we do not require that applicants have work experience. Our past LL.M. students have hailed from more than 65 countries from around the world. Some students enroll directly into the program after earning their LL.B., while others have practiced for several years, and still others may have practiced for a number of years.
In deciding to pursue an LL.M. in the United States, there are many factors to take into consideration, such as the type of program or specialization, cost, availability of scholarships, start dates, rankings, internship opportunities, and when to undertake the degree. I find that when to pursue an LL.M. degree is a very personal decision. There is no right time to start an LL.M. program. It is what works best for you and your own individual circumstances.
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?
BS: This is one of the most common questions that I get asked about from applicants. A personal statement is an opportunity for the applicant to share information with the admission committee that we cannot find in other parts of their application. We do not need to know about your grades or work experience, as we have your transcripts and your resume. We want to know why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree, why at Suffolk Law, and how does an LL.M. degree fit in with your future career goals. Typically, two pages is more than sufficient. It is very important to proofread your personal statement and to tailor it to the particular school, as there have been times that I have received well-written personal statements, but it includes another school’s name! I am most impressed when I see that an applicant has taken the time to do research about Suffolk Law’s LL.M. program and they can fully articulate why this program is the best fit for them and their career aspirations.
DK: What could distinguish someone who perhaps has a lower LL.B. GPA?
BS: At Suffolk, we utilize a holistic application review process, where the admissions committee takes into consideration the entire application file. We do not focus on singular components, although grades are an important part of your graduate law application file. Our admission committee understands that a student may have had a difficult time adjusting to university or a personal or family issue that had an impact on their grades. We encourage applicants to share these sorts of situations with us.
A strong recommendation letter from a faculty member, who can write about an applicant’s academic potential is one way to compensate for a lower grade point average. In particular, you may have not earned the highest grade in the class, but if your faculty member can write about your class performance and improvement during the course, as well as, about your dedication, hard-work, and participation, it can help make a difference in whether an applicant is admitted into the program.
Another way to help bolster an application is when applicants are heavily involved in outside, meaningful activities. These may be student-run or activities with outside organizations. Applicants may use these experiences to showcase their leadership roles or to show a dedicated interest to a particular area of the law.
Lastly, applicants may possess significant work experience in an area of the law which is connected to their desire to pursue an LL.M. degree. This legal experience will also provide an additional boost for their application.
DK: Applicants often face some difficulties with choosing referees – what advice would you have on approaching this component of the application process?
BS: The admission committee wants to learn more about you, so my best advice in choosing a referee is to choose someone who knows you well. It does not matter to the admission committee if the person holds a high rank if it is noticeably clear that the person does not know you. A former or current faculty member or a former or current supervisor are appropriate individuals to ask to write your letter of recommendation.
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 Suffolk Law offers that are available to international LL.M. students?
BS: Every applicant is automatically reviewed for merit-based scholarship potential. There are no separate forms to fill out. It does not matter if you are an international student or a U.S. citizen; all applicants are evaluated for scholarship potential in the same way. The majority of our admitted students receive some level of scholarship funding, ranging from a 20% – 50% tuition reduction.
DK: Does applying for financial aid affect one’s chances of admission?
BS: Not at all. In fact, at Suffolk Law, we understand that U.S. legal education is much more expensive than almost anywhere else in the world. Therefore, we try our very best to help allay the costs that our international students face in coming to the United States.
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?
BS: Whether an international lawyer decides to pursue an LL.M. degree or a J.D. degree, there is no easy way to remain in the United States after they earn their degree. Most international students arrive on an F-1 student visa, which allows a degree-seeking student the option to remain in the U.S. for twelve months after their degree completion through Optional Practical Training (OPT). During this time period, law graduates may work in a legally related field. Law graduates will also use a portion of their OPT time to prepare and take a bar exam to, hopefully, become licensed lawyers. To remain in the U.S. after OPT, a graduate would need to be sponsored for a work visa, such as an H1B visa, which is basically a lottery system. Therefore, while we have had LL.M. graduates, who have successfully remained in the U.S. and are practicing law, there is an element of luck and risk associated with the process.
DK: For those who do not wish to practice law, what are the other employment or internship opportunities available to Suffolk Law graduates in the States? What should international LL.M. graduates do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
BS: If an international LL.M. student is not interested in practicing law, we would work with the student to help them navigate their options. Per F-1 student visa regulations, they still must work in a legally related position, but the definition is quite broad. The Professional and Career Development (PCD) Office at Suffolk Law has been instrumental in helping students pursue “J.D./LL.M. Advantage” jobs, where a graduate does not need a law degree, but it is considered an advantage to have one. Students may be interested in interning in the court system, working at a non-profit organization or advocacy group with policy or legislative work, or doing compliance work at a company or bank. The process is individualized with a focus on the particular skills and knowledge that a student has that would be attractive to an employer, such as language skills, experience in another legal system, or having earned a separate degree prior to their LL.M. degree. The most successful students will be targeted in their job search process and be heavily involved in the law community by being an active networking participant.
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?
BS: To make the most out of your LL.M. experience, LL.M. candidates should arrive on campus with open minds, a curiosity about the world and people around them, and the willingness to work hard. At Suffolk, we encourage our LL.M. students to be involved in the Suffolk Law community, as well as the greater Boston legal community. We offer over 40 student law groups from Entertainment Law to Health Law to Business Law and everything in between. The student bar association is very active and this year they have planned virtual events, but we hope to return to in-person events this coming fall semester. Students will find interesting lectures and conferences on campus, which are free to students. In addition, to support the professional development of our students and to increase their networking opportunities, all Suffolk Law students receive free memberships to the Boston Bar Association and to the Massachusetts Bar Association. These are opportunities for LL.M. students to get to know their fellow law school students, faculty, and also to network with other local lawyers and alumni of Suffolk Law.
DK: Probably this has been asked you quite often, but how has Suffolk Law dealt with the COVID pandemic?
BS: This is a really important question. Above all, Suffolk University’s number one priority is to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. Suffolk took a multi-prong approach, coupled with a rigorous testing program and using best practices.
Suffolk University partnered with the Broad Institute to utilize CoVerified, a comprehensive COVID-19 platform designed for college campuses, for self-attestation, health screening, test-result management, contact tracing, and monitoring COVID-19 viral transmission rates and trends on campus. CoVerified use is necessary for all individuals who come to campus for any reason (attending classes, visiting the Library or any campus office, participating in in-person student activities or working on campus). Suffolk University posts on its website comprehensive testing data. Our overall positivity testing rate has been significantly lower than the positivity rate in the state of Massachusetts.
In addition to using the CoVerified platform, we also implemented traditional health and safety measures, such as requiring face coverings, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet, and implementing crowd reduction in common spaces like hallways, stairwells, and elevators.
DK: Lastly, anything you would like to add for the Turkish law graduates reading this article?
BS: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity for me to share with you all that Suffolk Law offers, about our programs, and about the Suffolk community, or as I like to call it, our Suffolk family. You are making an important decision, which will require you to invest a lot of time, energy and financial resources. We want you to make the best decision possible for you, for your family, and for your future and researching about programs is the first step in doing that. I encourage you to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any further questions that you may have about Suffolk Law School, about our LL.M. programs, or about the application process. We are here to help you.
I’d like to close with a quote from a recent LL.M. graduate, “Suffolk’s LL.M. program stands out among the group as a leader in innovative and hands-on information, providing its students with a rounded knowledge and a global perspective – which is so important in today’s ever shrinking world…” At Suffolk, we are preparing you to be tomorrow’s future, global lawyers.