INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: GEORGETOWN LAW, WASHINGTON DC, USA
Caryn Voland, Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions, thank you for taking the time for this interview. GHK
GHK: Assistant Dean Voland, law is increasingly called upon to respond to challenges posed by the global legal environment. Considering this, what do you think the point of an international LL.M. degree is, especially for someone with a civil-law background? Considering that Turkey has a civil law system, what benefits does an LLM in the States provide to Turkish law graduates?
CV: As our world becomes more and more interconnected, almost all lawyers will encounter issues of international or transnational law at some point in their careers. An international LL.M. degree is an excellent way to prepare for this because it gives young lawyers the opportunity not only to be immersed in the legal culture of the country where they will be studying, but also to develop a network of other lawyers from all over the world. Students studying in the LL.M. program at Georgetown, for example, will be learning about the U.S. legal system and about the different way that common-law educated lawyers approach problems, but will also be learning together with students from all regions of the world who bring their own perspectives on law into the classroom. Studying in the U.S. also gives non-U.S. lawyers the opportunity to develop their legal English skills, which is very helpful since many interactions between lawyers from different countries will be conducted in English. If a lawyer is familiar with both the vocabulary and the approach taken by lawyers from different legal systems, he or she is much better prepared to be able to quickly understand and resolve issues. In addition, lawyers often find themselves reflecting more deeply on their own legal system and understanding it better when comparing and contrasting it with how things are done elsewhere.
GHK: Georgetown Law is a prestigious school and highly selective in admissions. Given the selective admissions process, could you give an insight to students from Turkey on what an ideal candidate’s application might look like? To be admitted, what qualities might he or she possess?
CV: We do not use any specific criteria such as GPA cutoffs or years of work experience. Rather, we look at all parts of an application to determine whether a student is ready to succeed in the LL.M. program. English language skills are important, so we do require a TOEFL score of at least 100 points or an IELTS score of 7.5. We look for students who have finished around the top 25% of their law school classes, from schools which have a good international reputation. And we are always happy to see some work experience with a legal employer – either during or after an applicant’s law studies. Extracurricular activities such as participation in international moot court competitions or publication of legal articles are also seen as positive factors. So, all of these things taken together, along with the way an applicant expresses him or herself in the personal statement, and insight provided by letters of recommendation, factor into the decision of the Admissions Committee.
GHK: What advantages are there for international LL.M. students at Georgetown to being in Washington D.C.?
CV: Washington, D.C. is a great place to study law because it is the city within the United States where laws are being debated, written, passed, and enforced on a daily basis. It is kind of our “local industry.” Students feel a part of this legal community. Our campus is located within sight of the US capitol and within walking distance of the Supreme Court, government agencies, and the White House. Washington, D.C. is also a very international city, considering that the World Bank, IMF, and other similar multilateral organizations are located here, so international law is also at the forefront. It is also a very beautiful city in which to live, with many parks, trees, flowers, museums, and other cultural offerings, restaurants, etc. Many young people from around the U.S. and the world come to Washington to study and work, so there is always a vibrant community of people beginning their careers in law, government, and other areas.
GHK: Does the admissions committee come across letters of recommendation that hurt an applicant’s admission chances? If so, what sort of letter should be avoided? Could you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation??
CV: I don’t think there are any that hurt, but there are some letters that are less helpful than others. If an applicant only provides letters from family friends or people who know the applicant in a non-academic or non-legal context, this is not very helpful. The most helpful letters are from professors, moot court coaches, or work supervisors who have worked closely with the applicant and can talk about the abilities that make the applicant a good lawyer and law student (academic, analytical, writing, etc.).
GHK: I have witnessed that some of my friends have been afraid to take the leap of faith necessary to apply to an LL.M. program due to their low GPAs or language scores. How should applicants address a low GPA or language score in their Georgetown LL.M. application? What can candidates do to stand out and make themselves something more than a mere statistic?
CV: An applicant can overcome a low GPA by showing that the GPA has not affected their ability to be a good lawyer. Typically, this means they will have some years of work experience after finishing their studies. If this work experience is with an employer that has a strong reputation, this is best. The applicant can also explain their low GPA in their application; it is not unusual for someone’s grades to suffer for a semester or year during a difficult personal or family time, for example. Language scores are more of a challenge to overcome because it is very important for applicants to be prepared to work exclusively in sophisticated English during the LL.M. If an applicant takes the English test 1-2 times and does poorly, it is better to take some time to study and improve English before trying again. Or, if a person has problems with standardized tests, but they use English often in their work, they could ask one of their English-speaking clients or employers to write a letter testifying to their command of English. Some schools may request an interview to better assess an applicant’s English skills.
GHK: What advice would you give to the prospective applicants from Turkey when it comes to writing the personal statement? Are there any clichés you would advise avoiding?
CV: I would avoid trying to be someone that you are not (for example, if you are not a comedian, do not try to be funny), and I would also avoid trying to “sound like a lawyer” by using a lot of “legalese.” The personal statement should convey honestly who you are and what you expect to gain from the LL.M. program (unless the school to which you are applying asks you a very specific question to answer). Remember that the readers of your application can see your transcripts and your resume, so they can see what you have done, but they cannot “hear” from you in your own voice aside from your personal statement; so, you can use it to tell them what you would like them to know about you.
GHK: Since LL.M. degrees are typically expensive to obtain, could you please tell us a bit about merit or need-based scholarships that Georgetown Law offers? What kind of characteristics does Georgetown Law look for in a candidate for merit or need-based scholarships? Does applying for financial aid affect one’s chances of admission?
CV: Studying in the United States is indeed expensive. Because of this, we advise students to start as soon as possible to research various types of funding options. There may be scholarships available in Turkey for Turkish students who want to study law in the United States. Also, most schools offer some kinds of scholarships for LL.M. students. At Georgetown, we have some scholarships that are related to specific subject areas (for example, Taxation, Global Health, or Environmental Law) that can provide partial or full tuition assistance, and we have other general merit-based scholarships that can provide varying levels of partial tuition assistance. For awarding these scholarships, we look for students with strong academic performance at their law schools, as well as some relevant work experience or other exceptional experience (outstanding performance in moot court, unusual internship or pro bono work, etc.) and a clear motivation to earn the LL.M. and develop their career as a lawyer.
GHK: It is a common understating that an LL.M. degree is a key for practicing in the States for someone who has a foreign law degree. Do you think that an LL.M. degree is the best choice for international lawyers who plan to stay and practice law in the States?
CV: I am glad you asked this question because, actually, we think it is important for applicants to understand that an LL.M. degree does not mean that you will be able to find a long-term job in the United States. An LL.M. is an excellent way to build your skills for an international career, but you will still primarily be a Turkish lawyer. There are some U.S. employers who will be interested in hiring Turkish lawyers with an LL.M. degree because they have interests in that part of the world. Also, some international organizations such as the World Bank often hire internationally educated lawyers. However, the majority of law firms and legal employers in the U.S. will be interested in hiring U.S.-trained lawyers to fill their associate positions. So, the answer to this question is the typical U.S. lawyer answer of “it depends…” — It depends on various factors such as your previous experience in Turkey, your English skills, how you perform during the LL.M., what type of job you want in the U.S., what part of the U.S. you wish to live in, etc. And in all of these cases, the job market is competitive.
GHK: What job search support is provided to international LL.M. students at Georgetown Law? What should international LL.M. graduates do to increase their chances of recruitment after graduation?
CV: We have a team of career advisors dedicated to working with our LL.M. students to help them navigate the US and international job markets. LL.M. students should be prepared to invest time and effort in the job search, and our career advisors help with resume reviews, mock interviewing, networking skills workshops, inviting practitioners to speak about their practice areas, etc. We will also introduce you to our extensive network of LL.M. alumni around the globe, who are always eager to help fellow Georgetown students.
Graduates who are hoping to work at a major law firm in Turkey or elsewhere in Europe should consult with mentors (for example, law firm partners who have supervised them during an internship) before starting the LL.M. for advice about how to prepare for their desired practice area during the LL.M. Those who are hoping to work in the U.S. might ask those same mentors whether they have contacts at U.S. law firms who could be helpful.
Finally, students should not get discouraged if they do not find a job quickly. It can be a long process, but perseverance will pay off.
GHK: In my time in Washington D.C., I have met brilliant Georgetown Law S.J.D. candidates. Do you have any general advice that you would like to offer to S.J.D. applicants from Turkey who wish to be one of these candidates before putting together applications for Georgetown Law? On another note, could candidates get financial aid or a paid position at the law school to finance their S.J.D. degrees?
CV: Georgetown’s SJD program is quite small but provides individualized attention to students. Admission is competitive because it requires the applicant to have strong grades and excellent writing skills. It is also necessary that the student’s research can be supervised by one of our professors who has expertise in the area (sometimes we have very strong applicants, but their research interests are not a good fit for our available faculty supervisors). We do provide some financial aid (tuition waivers) to SJD students, and some SJD students do hold research assistant or teaching assistant positions on campus during their program.
GHK: In closing, what advice do you have for Turkish law graduates reading this interview about pursuing (and succeeding in) an LL.M. degree?
CV: One of the things I always hear from alumni years later is that the LL.M. was one of the best years of their life. I think that many young lawyers understand the general idea of what they will learn during the LL.M., but don’t realize the impact that it will have on them professionally and personally. It can be a transformative experience, helping you to grow as a person as well as a lawyer. You will graduate with a network of colleagues and friends that span the globe. It is a challenging year – the academics are demanding, and you have to balance that with finding time for experiencing the culture and making friends. But if you are able to do it, you will not regret it.