Tuesday, May 7, 2024
From: SUSAN SIMONE KANG
Date : May 7, 2024
To : Young Lawyers
Re : ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING AND REWARDING EXPERIENCES OF YOUR LIFE: PREPARING FOR THE LL.M. EXPERIENCE AND THE US BAR EXAM

COMING TO THE US TO PURSUE AN LL.M. DEGREE
YOUR VISION: LOOKING INWARD AND OUTWARD TO PRIORITIZE YOUR GOALS
DEVELOPING SHORT AND LONG-TERM STRATEGIES TO SUCCEED IN AN LL.M. AND BEYOND
LAW SCHOOLS ARE UNIQUE AND OFFER DIFFERENT VALUE RELATIVE TO YOUR PRIORITIES
LEVERAGING YOUR TIME AT HOME OPTIMALLY BEFORE COMING TO THE US

ALREADY ORIENTED
SURVIVING AND THRIVING DURING THE BAR EXAM PREPARATION PROCESS

 

COMING TO THE US TO PURSUE AN LL.M. DEGREE

Coming to the US for an LL.M. and having the goal of graduating and succeeding at the bar exam is an exciting opportunity to expand your career and enrich your life experience. Many LL.M. alumni have told me that the experience completely changed their work and personal life in wonderful and sometimes unexpected ways.

Of the many students I have counseled over the years, one comment about the LL.M. stands out and is repeated time and again: “This year was one of the most challenging and one of the most enriching experiences of my life.” This is true regardless of the type of law they study or the part of the world where they practice. Why is that?

 

YOUR VISION: LOOKING INWARD AND OUTWARD TO PRIORITIZE YOUR GOALS

From my perspective, both as a former LL.M. student and Director of two LL.M. programs spanning 13 years, there is one valuable tool that an LL.M. program gives you that is often overlooked or missing in our busy careers as lawyers: time. We gain the precious commodity of time for ourselves to grow and develop insight into who we are and what we want to become.

Reflecting thoughtfully on your desire to attend an LL.M. reveals both an understanding of who you are and what you can accomplish with the help of others. Your LL.M. year provides time for you to reflect on the direction of your career. This time also allows you to make important career contacts and expand your alumni and work network through your cohort of classmates who are sharing your academic experience. If you enter the experience with a mindful purpose, it can lead to lifelong friendships and business contacts from all over the world. Every minute of the LL.M. is worthwhile and precious, and thanks to social media, we are able to stay meaningfully connected, visit other parts of the world previously undiscovered, and maintain these important bonds.

 

DEVELOPING SHORT AND LONG-TERM STRATEGIES
TO SUCCEED IN AN LL.M. AND BEYOND

How do we prepare for such an exciting and momentous experience?  Preparation includes having and implementing a strategy, such as identifying and researching schools and locations within the US that are the right fit for you, applying to multiple programs, properly leveraging your communication with admissions offices to get the best scholarships possible, and ensuring that you are taking a balanced slate of classes that you need for the bar exam together with more advanced courses that you will need for your career development.

In addition, some short-term needs require planning, including whether to take a legal English course in advance of the LL.M. in the US, successfully navigating US academic institutions, and even simple matters such as renting a place to live, dealing with the US healthcare landscape, and deciding whether to bring your family with you. The decision to come to the US is a time of transition and change for everyone involved. It can enrich your cosmopolitan mindset and help expose you and whoever joins you to new and enriching cultural experiences.

 

LAW SCHOOLS ARE UNIQUE
AND OFFER DIFFERENT VALUE RELATIVE TO YOUR PRIORITIES

Early preparation decisions are crucially strategic, as not all law schools lead to quality networking, potential job opportunities, or jurisdictions that are more efficient venues for the bar exam. On a personal level, each of these choices matters and can lead you through very different paths. If you can, visiting a school in person is very helpful, but you can have a very rich impression of an institution online, both through the law school’s programming and independent chat groups. Just like any work environment, US law schools have unique institutional cultures, areas of academic expertise, and strengths and weaknesses. The benefit of doing an on-site visit is that you have the freedom to explore on your own rather than an institution curating it for you.

Many prospective LL.M. students also rely heavily on word of mouth through friends and trusted contacts, and these are very valuable resources if you cannot personally visit a law school. These contacts complement what you have already learned about the institution online and can help enrich your perspective. Once your decision is made, you are associated with that institution and all the resources it may be able to offer, so it is vitally important that you have a clear idea of your goals for obtaining an LL.M. before you research law schools and keep these in mind as you navigate the process.

 

LEVERAGING YOUR TIME AT HOME OPTIMALLY BEFORE COMING TO THE US

Before you leave for the US, you may need to start the bar process before experiencing a single US class. You should know which jurisdiction you plan to apply to, begin the registration process online, and obtain any attestations of your work experience while you still have local access to your contacts and obtain (or arrange to have sent) any home country law school transcripts from the registrar’s office. Some jurisdictions require all bar applications for LL.M.s to be completed and received by their office before October 1st of each year. Therefore, planning ahead is required. Once you are in the US, it will take time and effort to get the documents you need from home- it is better to start before you leave for the US.

Before you arrive in the US, you will want to understand which classes you are required to take and which classes you are allowed to take in the first semester.

As you arrive in the US in August, you should be planning to register and take the MPRE for the first time it is offered- usually in November. This ethics exam is required for the bar, and it is easier to practice for it and try to see if you can pass it the first time. If so, that’s one requirement off your to-do list! If not, you have other chances to retake it, and now you know exactly what extra help you might need in plenty of time to take care of it.

 

ALREADY ORIENTED

You should feel well-oriented before you start orientation! When you arrive at law school and begin actual orientation and the add/drop process for classes, it is important that you think about the following:

1) the frequency of class sessions during the week,

2) your commuting time to classes,

3) the amount of reading required for that course and the expectation for your preparedness for class,

4) whether there are major mid-term exams or assignments and

5) whether final exams will be research papers or will be open or closed book (affecting what you have access to during an exam).

For each of these milestones, you will want to map out how they fall on your calendar and how closely they are to each other. It is advisable to take exams or hand in research papers spaced apart so that you have time to recover from an exam and review your next exam before taking it or handing in a paper.  You might want to think about exams before you make a final decision to take a particular course because these due dates will affect your preparedness and can affect your ultimate grade. You should also decide whether you will study and prepare for classes and exams in school or at home, and whether and how to collaborate with your classmates about preparing for class and studying.

You then receive the most important feedback of all: your first semester grades. Armed with this information, you will make decisions about the courses you will take in the second semester, including, if possible, the type of final exam that plays to your strengths (Do you do better at exams or writing papers?). In addition, you should also be working to resolve any issues related to your ability to sit for the bar during the first months of the second semester.

Many students are using their first-semester feedback to better understand their potential place in the US market. You will need to analyze whether you are well positioned to compete in the US legal market, whether you want to start your own firm in the US, or whether you are looking outside the US for your next steps. These questions require thoughtful reflection and the advice of mentors and counselors who can give you a sense of the different legal markets and your place within them.

 

SURVIVING AND THRIVING DURING THE BAR EXAM PREPARATION PROCESS

Advanced knowledge and preparation are also necessary to prepare for the bar exam. Some states do not permit LL.M.s to become members of the bar outright, while others have unique requirements that must be met either before, during, or after the LL.M. year. Some of these requirements are prerequisites for sitting for the bar, and completing them in time may be impacted by your immigration status. All these need to be balanced and coordinated with your course load.

A few days after final exams and graduation (well earned!), you will start to study for the actual bar exam, usually a preparation course by a large service provider. These are important because other law students, including JDs, use the same prep courses and take the bar exam. You want access to the same material they have in order to succeed. It is simply not possible to take all 13 bar subjects in one LL.M. year (or even in 3 JD years!), so some LL.M. programs are geared to be longer to help you become more successful in that process. Nevertheless, having a one-on-one personal coach can help you maintain accountability, identify blind spots and help you to organize your MPT and MEE essay responses. A coach provides perspective, helps to identify issues that are personal to your success and helps with time management. This will help you feel more prepared, relieve stress, and build confidence.

Family can also be a tremendous support during this time, but you may not have as much time to balance school and life without proper support, and you may need affordable childcare, an after-school program, or primary school. Some spouses of master’s students have started businesses while their spouses were in school, and the businesses have become very successful! You never know what an LL.M. experience can bring you. That is part of the joy and challenges that come with living abroad for an extended time.

With all the details to keep track of and work-life balance to maintain, it is very helpful to have help along the way to strategize and gain insights. You begin your journey learning about and valuing your priorities, and having the right people to coach you through the complexities involved in this process will help you feel more prepared to multitask through the multiple decisions required for law school and the bar. Having someone to speak to about exploring opportunities yields insight and possible career leads.

Now, get ready to begin your LL.M. journey… See you soon! 

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