INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, BOSTON, MA, USA
I sincerely thank John N. Riccardi, Boston University School of Law’s assistant dean for graduate and international programs and director of the Graduate and International Programs Office, for taking the time to answer my questions about the benefits of an international LL.M.– particularly one from the US– and the LL.M. application process. Ayça Akkayan Yıldırım
AAY: Assistant Dean Riccardi, as you 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.? What benefits does an international LL.M. provide to the law graduate from Turkey that cannot be found in a domestic master’s program?
JNR: The benefits are several. First, for any lawyer seeking to represent clients with interests outside of Turkey, an international LL.M. degree can provide critical cross-border competencies, particularly if the client does business in common law jurisdictions. Turkish lawyers who attend BU Law receive training in common law and how US lawyers solve legal problems, which is very different than civil law trained lawyers. Working with case law precedent -- the major source of legal authority in our system – requires the development of certain analytical, reasoning and advocacy skills. International lawyers who understand the thinking and lawyering style of US lawyers will be more effective when representing clients whose interests implicate US law.
In addition, an international LL.M. degree will provide a lawyer with a grounding in the shared language of the law, which is English. A Turkish lawyer and a Brazilian lawyer will likely transact in English. Effectively communicating legal concepts in English is an essential skill in an international practice.
Third, there are many areas of the law where US substantive doctrine is highly influential, such as intellectual property, securities regulation, and bankruptcy law, to name a few. Lawyers who seek to specialize can gain deep knowledge of the concepts and theories in specialized fields.
Finally, I would say that an international LL.M.– particularly one from the US– puts a lawyer on an entirely different professional platform. The student develops a global network with other legal professionals, which is highly useful down the line; there are opportunities to qualify for the NY Bar after the LL.M., which is a prestigious credential. An LL.M. from a highly regarded US law school – such as BU Law -- is a prestigious credential because it signals academic excellence and rigorous professional training.
AAY: From my professional experience, I can tell that transactional work in an international environment reflects a considerable level of common law approach. How would, in your opinion, understanding US legal practice help LL.M. in American Law graduates from Turkey who do not plan to practice in the US?
JNR: Even if you don’t intend to practice in the US (and most LL.M. students don’t) understanding how US lawyers think is a valuable skill for any lawyer who anticipates working with clients whose interests implicate US law – or working with US lawyers on a deal. There’s a “US-Style” of lawyering that emerges in contract drafting (US contracts are notoriously long) and negotiating. We pay lots of attention to procedure and to facts. We are trained in certain cannons of professional responsibility and ethics. We are trained in various forms of legal argumentation. Understanding this background training will help the Turkish lawyer interact more effectively with a US-trained counterpart.
AAY: Being accepted to BU Law as an LL.M. student takes a special kind of person – could you elaborate on who would be an ideal candidate? Does BU Law look for LL.B. graduates with a few years of work experience, or is BU Law open to a wide range of applicants?
JNR: Truthfully, the most important trait of an ideal candidate is something intangible. It’s the same set of traits that outstanding lawyers possess. These include resourcefulness, professional maturity, high standards of excellence, conscientiousness, strong interpersonal skills, the capacity to self reflect, open-mindedness, and an ability to interact with people from a range of backgrounds and being nice.
The reason we interview all viable candidates is because we want to get a sense of the person behind the CV.
AAY: Any advice on how applicants from Turkey should approach the personal statement requirement? What does it take to stand out among the incredibly talented candidates in the BU Law LL.M applicant pool?
JNR The personal statement should not be a recitation of your CV. It should be about what’s not on your CV– your drivers and motivators. A well-written and helpful personal statement will give us an opportunity to get to know you and what you care about. We want to understand your goals and what you hope to accomplish through your experience.
AAY: What could distinguish someone who perhaps has a lower LL.B. GPA?
JNR: Certainly, practical training and substantive work experience can help burnish a candidate’s profile and counterbalance a mediocre academic track record. The more years out of law school, the less important grades become. Professional experience becomes a much more important factor.
AAY: Applicants often face some difficulties with choosing referees – what advice would you have on approaching this component of the application process?
JNR: Choose references who know you well. It’s more important – and helpful – to read a letter of support from someone who can speak knowledgeably about the applicant’s talents based on direct experience. We don’t put a lot of weight on letters from high-ranking officials who clearly don’t know the applicant.
AAY: I know that many prospective BU Law LL.M. applicants like to learn more about the admission decision timeline. When do you expect to begin reviewing files and making decisions for the 2021-22 Academic Year? Is there an advantage to applying early?
JNR: Our application deadline for international candidates is April 15, 2021, but we are already reviewing applications now. We work on a rolling admissions basis – so once an application is complete, we set up the phone (or zoom) interview. We inform the applicant of our decision generally within a week of the interview. We will begin to make financial aid awards in February, so it is advantageous for students to apply well before the April deadline.
AAY: As a BU Law alumna, I always suggest prospective applicants explore LL.M. options to be mindful of the significant benefits of the alumni network available. Please tell us about Boston University’s active alumni network.
JNR: BU Law has nearly 24,000 alumni, including several thousand LL.M. graduates living in over 100 countries around the world. We not only actively seek to remain in touch with our graduates – through reunions in Boston and overseas – but we seek to introduce each group of current students to the network through professional development events, as our alumni are great sources of job opportunities, both in the US and abroad.
AAY: Does BU Law offer conditional admissions? I also know that you offer legal English programs for candidates who need to improve their English language skills before starting their LL.M.s. What are the main benefits of this program?
JNR: We have a range of options for students whose English needs improvement before starting the LL.M. We offer an outstanding “two-year” LL.M. program, which begins with a full-year of legal English training in what we call our “Legal English Certificate Program.” Students receive conditional admission to the LL.M. program based on their completing the certificate program, which provides critical training in legal reading and writing and in listening and speaking skills. It gives students the important foundational training in US legal methodology, so they know how to work with case law before the LL.M. program begins. Through BU’s center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP), we offer a six-week summer Pre-LL.M. Program (“Legal English and Foundations of US Law”), which is open to anyone who has a letter of admission to a US LL.M. program. The program runs from early July to mid-August. Sometimes we condition a student’s LL.M. admission on attending this program. Still most of the incoming students attend it voluntarily, as it is a great “bridge” program to the full-time LL.M. program. Depending on the candidate, we might also condition admission on attending 12 weeks of English training at CELOP.
AAY: Graduate legal education in the US is a significant investment. Prospective students from Turkey, just like others from around the world, would like to explore all available financing options. Does BU Law offer any merit-based and/or need-based scholarships to international LL.M. students?
JNR: We are sympathetic regarding the steep costs of LL.M. studies in the US and are proud of the generous financial aid we are able to offer our LL.M. students. We have an LL.M. scholars program that provides merit-based scholarships in the form of partial tuition waivers. All applicants are eligible. There are no additional forms or applications to complete.
AAY: Do international LLM students participate in internships?
JNR: There are many ways for LL.M. students to gain practical training. Our banking and financial law program has a spring semester internship program that places students in financial services organizations for supervised experiences. Our LL.M. in American Law Program offers post-graduation internship opportunities through its ‘American Law Internship Program,’ which places students in a range of practice settings consistent with their interests. These internships take place during the post-graduation one year optional practical training period that is available to students on F-1 visas. We work with an outside organization, The Academic Internship Council, to help identify the right kinds of opportunities. These are generally unpaid.
AAY: Are there any employment opportunities in the US available to BU Law LL.M. graduates? Could you please tell us a bit about the January job fairs considering the options specifically for lawyers licensed in Turkey?
JNR: The majority of our international LL.M. graduates expect to return to their home countries following graduation. For those who decide to stay and pursue opportunities here, a small number will work for US law firms where there is a specific practice need for their prior experience. I like to tell students, “If you want to work in the US after graduation, an employer will be interested in you because of who you were before the LL.M. program.” By that, I mean that international LL.M. students should not try to find US legal employment in competition with freshly graduated JD students. They need to distinguish themselves from JD, which they can do through their international practice experience, language skills and understanding of different legal markets. We have a dedicated staff of professional development advisors who work exclusively with our LL.M.s to coach them in self-marketing.
Of course, students who want to work permanently in the US will need to be sponsored for their H1-B visas, which is never guaranteed.
BU Law is one of a small number of schools that participates in the international student interview program held in NY each spring semester. About 200 global legal employers show up to interview LL.M. students for various positions around the world. These include the top US and UK law firms, multinational companies, the big four consultancies, and prominent local firms with international portfolios. These positions are almost entirely outside the US, however. Our students often find positions in their home countries as a result of this.
AAY: Given your experience, do you think viewing the LL.M. as a means to move to start practice in the US is a realistic goal for LL.M. graduates from Turkey?
JNR: The LL.M. degree was never designed to fully prepare someone to practice law in the US. Of course, each year a small number of our international graduates obtain permanent work in the US, but this is largely because of the experience they bring to the marketplace. I tell students if they want to establish their careers in the US for the long term, they would be best served obtaining a JD degree, as the JD is the universally recognized first degree in law.
AAY: I am sure this has been asked you quite often lately, but how has BU Law dealt with the COVID pandemic?
JNR: We have a hybrid teaching model (called “learn from anywhere”), which enables all students, no matter where they are, to participate in a live classroom experience. This has enabled many international students who were unable to arrive on campus because of visa issues or travel bans to begin their studies. It also enables on campus students to follow their classes remotely if they have safety concerns or are self-quarantining. All members of the law school and university community are adhering to strict health and safety protocols. Everyone wears a mask, both inside and outside the building, and physical distancing is strictly enforced.
AAY: I remember experiencing some personal challenges and many benefits of committing to a true academic adventure in the US. What final advice would you have for a law graduate from Turkey who is considering applying for an LLM to a US law school?
JNR: The LL.M. experience is a transformative one. It is a large investment, but it pays off handsomely over time. Do your homework about the different programs available. Don’t underestimate your ability to succeed in a demanding program. Speak with the program’s alumni. Have an idea of what you want to achieve but be open-minded to new learning.