INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, WASHINGTON, DC, USA
I sincerely thank Shehernaz D. Joshi, Director of Graduate and International Programs, for taking the time to answer my questions. DK
DK: Director Joshi, it has become a trend in the world for law graduates to pursue an international LL.M. degree, if possible. There are many aspects to consider when deciding on pursuing an LL.M. degree, given that it is a serious investment in terms of time and cost. I think as a first step the law graduates should ask themselves, ‘‘What is the aim of pursuing an LL.M. degree?’’ As someone who is closely involved with law graduates from all around the world, what do you think the aim should be: to gain specialist knowledge, a career in academia, to practice law in the U.S., or simply to take a break after a few years of the practice?
SJ: The world is more interconnected globally than ever before. Law intersects with just about every other discipline or industry in some form or another. For lawyers who wish to practice law internationally, the LL.M. is more of a necessity these days than a luxury. An LL.M. in the United States not only gives one the opportunity to learn the American legal system, but also how to navigate the complexities of common law, an opportunity to become a specialist in a certain subject area, and to learn how to think like an American lawyer.
As someone who has worked with graduates from all over the world, I have seen first hand the real world benefits of doing an LL.M. Not only do you learn case law, but you also have the chance to immerse yourself in the American legal system, culture and way of life for a year. More importantly, you get the chance to hone your English proficiency, to learn how to communicate and write effectively in English and to be an international lawyer.
You are so right, the LL.M. is a serious investment in terms of time and cost. You are taking a year out of your life and spending what are your life savings to move to a new country where you don’t know anyone and where everything is different: the educational system, the culture, food, language and the entire way of life. I admire our students so much for having the strength and determination to do this. They do so because they know that the long term benefits of the LL.M. will far outweigh the short term costs. They know they will reap the benefits by becoming subject matter experts, gaining bar credentials, and building a professional and personal international network of colleagues and friends that they will draw on for the rest of their lives. Most of all, studying for the LL.M. in the United States will change how they view law and the world. As my students often have told me, they came to do the LL.M. with one aim in mind, getting the credential to help them in their legal careers. But when they graduate, they realize that they are very different individuals from a year ago. The LL.M. has shaped the way they now approach the law, the way they think and most of all, how they will practice in the future.
DK: Considering that Turkey has a civil law system, what are the benefits that an LL.M. in the U.S. would provide to the Turkish law graduates?
SJ: Turkish law graduates can benefit greatly from an LL.M. in the United States. As I stated earlier, they learn common law and how American lawyers think. They learn how to advocate for themselves, how to position themselves as international lawyers, and how to succeed in a variety of different challenging environments especially when you are dealing with international and U.S. based clients. Moreover, the law is constantly evolving and the LL.M. gives them the tools to polish their subject specific knowledge and skill sets. A U.S. LL.M. helps a Turkish law graduate stand out professionally, and even more so, if they pass a U.S. bar. With an LL.M. degree from a U.S. law school, Turkish law graduates are able to develop careers across international borders.
DK: What are the benefits that are specific to the LL.M. at GW Law?
SJ: Studying law in action is the hallmark of studying at GW Law. We are one of the top law schools in the United States and our faculty are renowned for their legal scholarship. Our alumni are leaders in the U.S. government and in governments around the world, national and international organizations, law firms, NGOs and the judiciary. Our faculty of both full time and part time faculty draw on their extensive real world experience when it comes to teaching law. As a result, we pride ourselves on a collaborative and top notch legal education. Our LL.M. students benefit from all of this. They take classes alongside our JD students and are immersed in the life of the law school from the day they arrive. LL.M. students have the benefits of faculty mentorship, student events, professional development and networking opportunities. Most of all, our location, across the street from The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, gives them unparalleled opportunities for externships and internships across the D.C. region. But if there is one thing that sets GW Law apart from other law schools it is our sense of community. From the day someone applies to when they graduate and become alumni, they are part of our Graduate Programs and GW Law family. We provide support and guidance on everything from academic advising to where to find the best coffee. We plan social and cultural events for them – including a ton of free food – and make sure no one is feeling lost or alone. We see friendship form and life long bonds develop and nothing is more satisfying than to see that. We are an extremely close knit community and we become home away from home for our international LL.M. students.
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 GW Law prefers candidates who have a few years of work experience?
SJ: Our LL.M. class is incredibly diverse in terms of age, professional experience, education and nationalities. We have on average over 47 countries represented in our LL.M. class each year. We do not require that candidates have work experience, some of our LL.M. are coming right from their law school and others have been practicing judges, partners, and prosecutors. We want candidates who are motivated and who will be active participants in the law school community, bringing their diverse backgrounds and experience into the classroom and who will be supportive and collegial to each other.
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?
SJ: Proofread, proofread, proofread. I cannot tell you how many times I have read a personal statement that is beautifully written but keeps mentioning the name of another law school. As an admissions officer, the first item that I look at in an application is the personal statement. I want to learn who the applicant is and what is motivating them to apply for an LL.M. But applicants often make mistakes here: they just repeat what’s on their resume or their transcripts. That is not the information I want to see on a personal statement. I can read the resume and transcript to see what professional experience you have and what your grades look like. What I want to know is something about the applicant that I cannot discern from any other part of the application. Tell me why GW Law is on your list, what you want to do with the LL.M., and what motivates you at this stage in your life and career to do an LL.M. Tell me how you got interested in the subject of law and how GW Law will help you attain your goals. The personal statement is just that – personal, make sure it reflects who you are as a person and what your beliefs and aspirations are.
DK: What could distinguish someone who perhaps has a lower LL.B. GPA?
SJ: Our application review process is a thorough and holistic review and we carefully review all aspects of the application. Even if someone has a lower GPA, that does not mean they will be denied. There may be other aspects of the application such as professional experience or research that far outweighs the academic credentials. All of this is taken into account and the applicant should therefore stress and highlight this in their personal statement. It is important to note that at GW Law we do not admit or deny a candidate on the basis of their academic record alone.
DK: Applicants often face some difficulties with choosing referees – what advice would you have on approaching this component of the application process?
SJ: Professional or academic references are of course preferred. Please do not submit personal references such as: a colleague of your father who happens to be a lawyer and has seen you grow up. While wonderful to read, they are really not considered viable references. We want to hear from an individual who has known the candidate professionally or academically and can speak to their strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the reference should be able to address the candidate’s ability to undertake a rigorous and challenging academic program in a different legal and educational environment and in another language.
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 GW Law offers that are available to international LL.M. students?
SJ: All applicants to our LL.M. program, regardless of their area of specialization are automatically considered for all available scholarships. We offer several different scholarships. There is no separate scholarship application or process. Our scholarships are in the form of tuition waivers. We do not give living or housing stipends. Our scholarships can be full or partial tuition waivers.
DK: It is a common understating that an LL.M. degree is a key for practicing in the U.S. 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 U.S.?
SJ: If someone plans to stay in the United States and practice law long term, then I would strongly advise them either to do our LL.M. to J.D. transfer program, or go for the J.D. directly.
DK: For those who do not wish to practice law, what are the other employment or internship opportunities available to GW Law graduates in the U.S.? What should international LL.M. graduates do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
SJ: Being in D.C., there are plenty of employment opportunities for those who do not want to join law firms or take the bar. International organizations, NGO’s and multi-nationals all offer short term and long term employment opportunities. It is absolutely critical to attend professional development and networking events, go to conferences and lectures, to get to know people and to develop contacts so that one can increase the chances of finding a job after graduation. We have a dedicated LL.M. Career Counselor and Bar Advisor in our office who works with our students year around to help them with resumes, interviews, job searches and other issues. International students must not be shy about getting to know the Career Counselor and asking for professional assistance.
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?
SJ: LL.M. candidates first hit the ground running as soon as they arrive. It can be overwhelming at first and the first semester can be often challenging. It is important to know that all the international students are in the exact same boat, even if they don’t admit it. Therefore, some tips that I have gotten from our graduates. Arrive early if you can. Settle your housing, banking and figure out transportation before classes start. Then when the program begins you can fully concentrate on classes. Learn how to navigate the school, start reading legal books over the summer and acclimate yourself to reading legal English. Once you have figured out your classes, set yourself a strict schedule. Law School is all about time management and you don’t want to feel so overwhelmed that you always find yourself in the library, missing out on all the other events. Therefore, set a schedule and stick to it. Make time for personal care, for exercise, for fun and time with friends, and most of all, make time for sleep. Make time to attend student and faculty events, go to all the networking sessions and enjoy being part of the law school community. This way you will be able to make the most of the LL.M. experience.
DK: There have been several studies and predictions of the possible effects of COVID pandemic on law schools in the U.S. mainly noting that law schools will be struggling financially and shift into different teaching methods. How do you think GW Law is dealing with COVID pandemic and its negative effects?
SJ: GW Law pivoted to online learning in a matter of weeks when the pandemic forced us to go completely online. If anything, it showed how adaptive and resilient our entire law school community was. As we learned to navigate remote learning, teaching class and running a law school from the confines of everyone’s homes, we realized that we could continue to teach effectively whether we were in person or online. For Fall 2021, we are planning to be back in person to the fullest extent possible and are very much looking forward to being back in the classroom and law school.
DK: Lastly, anything you would like to add for the Turkish law graduates reading this article?
SJ: If you are considering applying to an LL.M. program in the United States, I strongly recommend that you begin the process at least a year and half before you actually begin the program. Do your research, talk to alumni, talk to admissions officers and most of all, be proactive in doing your research. Decide what factors are important to you including geographical region, weather, size of the city or town, internship opportunities, etc. Don’t just focus on ranking and financial aid. See what school is a good fit for you personally and professionally. This will probably be one of the more important decisions you will make in your life. Reach out and don’t be shy about asking questions. Remember admissions officers are an invaluable resource as they know their law school well. I will be happy to chat with you or answer questions via email. I am happy to help you with your LL.M. search!!