INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LOS ANGELES SCHOOL OF LAW, LOS ANGELES, CA, USA
Tiffany Parnell, Assistant Director of International Programs, thank you for taking the time for this interview. GHK
GHK: Assistant Director Parnell, as one of the elite U.S. law schools, being accepted to UCLA Law School takes a special kind of person — could you elaborate on what an ideal candidate’s application might look like?
TP: This is a great question – and a really popular one for prospective students! As a baseline requirement, any applicant to our program must hold or have earned a first law degree prior to the start of the program in order to be eligible. Beyond that, successful candidates will typically have a stellar academic record – evidenced by their law school transcripts and coursework from any other degrees they may have completed – alongside strong English proficiency (TOEFL or IELTS scores) and clearly articulated goals that detail their professional aspirations and how an LL.M. at UCLA Law could help them achieve those goals. We also consider the rigor and academic reputation of the school at which the applicant studied law. When considering English abilities, TOEFL scores of 100 IBT or higher demonstrate high levels of English proficiency in our experience at UCLA.
While we do not require work experience, those candidates who do bring a strong work history to the table can offer a unique perspective that UCLA Law deems beneficial for and integral to the broader learning experience. Ultimately, we value a diversity of experiences and backgrounds, and thus appreciate having candidates who have broad ranges of interests, experience, academic training, and short- or long-term goals post-LL.M. A candidate who brings experience as an associate in corporate law to our community can make just as significant of a contribution to the educational environment as another who may have worked in the judiciary or other public and non-profit sectors. Similarly, an applicant who plans to pursue our program right after law school and consequently may have very little work experience can offer a fresh perspective and flexible frame of reference in the classroom.
We don’t have expectations of one typical or ideal candidate among our applicants. That said, there are some core, fundamental characteristics that many of our strongest applicants display, which generally include: academic excellence, solid English skills, an ability to clearly articulate goals, and an understanding of how the LL.M. at UCLA fits into the professional trajectory.
GHK: What do you feel are some of the strongest LL.M. programs within UCLA School of Law?
TP: One of the most desirable features of our LL.M. Program is that we offer students the ability to custom-tailor their coursework to meet their unique academic and professional needs or goals. Notably, our students can pursue general, specialized, or individualized (self-designed) studies towards the degree. Our specializations include: Business (with tracks in Bankruptcy, Business Law, Securities Regulation, and Tax); Environmental Law; Human Rights; International and Comparative Law; Law and Philosophy; Media, Entertainment, and Technology Law and Policy; Critical Race Studies; Law and Sexuality; and Public Interest Law and Policy. As an elite law school with highly renowned professors who lead national and global discourse on these and other topics within the field of law, we are in a privileged position to be able to say that all of our specializations are strong, and highly desirable.
Certain areas – such as Business Law and Entertainment Law – tend to be very popular among LL.M. students due to our reputation, expansive network, unique offerings and positioning (such as being in the heart of the entertainment industry by virtue of our location in Los Angeles), and faculty scholarship in the discipline. That said, UCLA is a leader and pioneer among U.S. law schools across myriad areas. For example, UCLA is the birthplace of Critical Race Theory, which creates the theoretical framework within which our Critical Race Studies specialization is based. UCLA Law is unparalleled in Entertainment Law, and consistently ranks among the top law schools in that area, Environmental Law, Tax, and more.
GHK: Distance learning is on the rise with the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you inform us how the pandemic has affected the LL.M. programs offered by UCLA Law School?
TP: The pandemic has been truly challenging for everyone, within and beyond the realm of legal education. Although navigating this unprecedented, constantly evolving landscape has been difficult, I can confidently say that UCLA Law has responded admirably, with swift resilience, compassion, and an innovative spirit to serve our community while maintaining the integrity of our instruction, programs, and services.
At the start of the pandemic, we transitioned to a completely distance learning format. As a result of that change, we sought to offer students and the community as a whole a tremendous amount of support through the provision of virtual resources, counseling sessions, check-ins, and more. Though classes have been delivered remotely via Zoom, students could still attend virtual office hours with faculty, schedule meetings with administrators, or participate in student organization activities, networking events, and other academic and extracurricular programs that have been adapted for an online format.
The biggest hurdle with being primarily remote has been fostering a sense of community and creating virtual opportunities for connection for students who were separated – in some cases – by thousands of miles. Despite offering interesting online events featuring students, alumni, practitioners, and leading public figures, we all know too well the burnout that extended screen time can cause – Zoom fatigue is very real. To combat that, we’ve made concerted efforts to engage students in the conversation about how best UCLA Law can support and serve them during this particularly unique moment. We’ve leaned on student leaders to keep us attuned to the overall pulse of our students and their needs. We actively seek out and encourage them to share feedback on areas for improvement as part of an ongoing conversation.
While we are still operating primarily remotely with classes taught online and programs delivered virtually, we have ramped up our communication efforts and engagement opportunities to facilitate meaningful connections.
GHK: UCLA Law is situated in one of the world’s most lively and exciting geographic regions. Could you briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of going to law school in Westwood, Los Angeles? Any thoughts on the cost of living in Los Angeles for a student and how to manage it?
TP: I could go on about this at length! There are so many things to love about living and studying in Los Angeles! As the second largest city in the nation, LA boasts a tremendous amount of cultural, economic, and recreational diversity. With arts and entertainment offerings galore, robust industries ranging from fashion to technology, and endless opportunities to get active in the great outdoors at parks, beaches, or in the mountains, ours is a city that attracts people from all over the world – there really is something for everyone! The year-round blue skies, sunshine, and warm weather are remarkable. Throughout the year, on campus you’ll find many students lounging or studying outdoors on the lawns between classes, or simply relaxing in a hammock on the green – activities that would not be an option during the winter months in many other parts of the country.
UCLA is well-situated in Westwood, a desirable neighborhood on the west side of the city, just five miles from the beach and an easy distance to many popular attractions and destinations, like Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or Beverly Hills. Those with an adventurous spirit will find no shortage of opportunities to explore the miles of California beaches for surfing, national parks for hiking, desert retreats for camping, or mountain getaways for snowboarding or skiing – all within an easy driving distance. While academics are an important driving force behind pursuing graduate study, another significant part of the experience is also taking advantage of life outside of the classroom – both in extracurricular activities and in the city at large. LA is a perfect launching pad for exploration outside of the classroom.
As a major metropolitan city and urban hub, the cost of living in LA can seem higher than that of other more rural or suburban areas. Sometimes students have concerns about being able to afford the standard of living LA requires while adhering to a student budget. There are many resources that UCLA provides in order to help students navigate the housing market, including the option to apply for university housing. A positive of being in LA (and Westwood) is that there is ample private housing with affordable, competitive rates all over the city. We recommend students consider starting their search early and to take advantage of all of the resources and guides that we offer when deciding where to look for housing. LA also has an expanding public transportation system that provides access to the Greater LA region at low cost – all without needing to purchase a car. In short, relying on resources from UCLA, doing a little research, and knowing where to look can be the key to stretching a budget in LA!
GHK: Could you offer any general advice regarding letters of recommendation? Who would be the best person to write an LL.M. applicant’s recommendation letters?
TP: Letters of recommendation should come from individuals who know the applicant well. This could be a professional reference, like a current or past supervisor, an academic reference, such as a professor, or a colleague with whom the applicant has worked in some meaningful capacity. At UCLA, we ask that at least one reference letter come from a professor or academic source, however, we are willing to be flexible on that requirement depending on the circumstances of each individual candidate. It’s important that applicants discuss this requirement (as well as the number of letters required) with each law school to which they’re applying, as each LL.M. program may have its own separate expectations about who should be submitting references. Ultimately, it’s important that the chosen recommender can speak to the applicant’s ability to perform well in a rigorous academic environment, the type of contribution the applicant can make as a student at the law school and/or in the legal profession, and why or how the program fits in with the applicant’s career goals.
GHK: Could you offer any advice on the best way for an LL.M. applicant to write a resonant personal statement? Do you have any comments on pitfalls or clichés an applicant should avoid?
TP: Personal statements offer an opportunity for applicants to fill in any gaps about their backgrounds that may not be represented in the other application materials. They also help us (the law schools) get a better understanding of who the applicants are and why they want to pursue the LL.M. – including why they’re interested in the school. The best personal statements provide deeper insights about the applicant that can’t be directly gleaned from a résumé, adhere to the parameters stipulated by the school (such as page limits, formatting, and addressing a given prompt), and are well-written with no grammatical or spelling errors. The personal statement should also be personal rather than a statement on what applicants may think a school wants to hear. Candidates tend to be most successful at crafting a strong personal statement when they plan ahead – allotting sufficient time to be introspective about their own backgrounds and goals and allowing themselves ample opportunity to work through multiple drafts. Applicants should also write in whatever style they feel will enable them to be the most effective in communicating their story.
GHK: Could you please tell us a bit about the merit or need-based scholarships that UCLA Law School offers? Will the current state of the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic affect the number of scholarships given out?
TP: Absolutely! UCLA Law offers one form of financial assistance to LL.M. students in the form of the Dean’s Tuition Fellowship. Every candidate who applies is automatically eligible to be considered. There is no separate application required. Applicants need only to tick a box in the application form to indicate that they’d like to be considered, though they are welcome to provide any supplemental information that they believe could be compelling. These awards are limited and competitive, however, we do not anticipate that the pandemic will have any impact on the quantity of fellowships that we can offer.
GHK: California is an attractive state for many foreigners because it is one of the few states where they can sit for the bar without having passed through law school or an LL.M. in the state. How does this factor play out in the LL.M. applications that UCLA Law School receives?
TP: Although California is attractive to many foreign attorneys because of the reason you mentioned, the New York bar exam is actually the most popular option among international students. So, while California does afford a more convenient pathway to bar admission for foreign attorneys who qualify, this hasn’t necessarily had a noteworthy impact on the plans of our students. Our applications have grown steadily over the course of the past decade, but I would argue that this is due in part to the role that globalization and the increased value of a U.S. LL.M. degree on the international employment market have played, rather than fewer barriers to eligibility for bar admission in California or other states for that matter.
GHK: Are there any exciting developments, programs, or opportunities on the horizon at UCLA Law School that you would like to share with our readers?
TP: With so much uncertainty about what the future will hold in the wake of the pandemic, we at UCLA are very optimistic about our fall plans for potential in-person instruction and operations. Public health officials in Los Angeles have been working closely with campus administration as UCLA maps out the months ahead, and with the widespread availability of vaccines, we’re looking forward to being able to safely welcome students back on campus in a meaningful way, including with significant levels of in-person instruction, programs, and activities. In a normal year, the vast number of events and opportunities for student engagement is truly astounding. Though we can’t predict the future, we are optimistic that current developments are paving the way for UCLA Law to make plans for engaging events and programming very soon!
GHK: Any parting thoughts for applicants from Turkey considering UCLA Law School?
TP: I would like to commend Turkish applicants for taking a proactive role in their professional development by considering an LL.M., and UCLA Law specifically. It’s important to do as much information gathering as possible to ensure that our program and Los Angeles is the right fit. To this end, I welcome any candidate to contact me directly about how to connect with members of our alumni network to gain firsthand insights from past students – including from those who are Turkish. Additionally, please be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with us – whether virtually or in person – during the fall! We routinely host events to meet with prospective students and applicants interested in UCLA and would love to connect with Turkish students looking to learn more about our LL.M. program, application procedures, life in Los Angeles, and more. You can see where and when our next event will occur by visiting our Recruitment Events page.