From Around the Globe, LL.M. Students Add Diversity to Law School
Hiroko Tsurumaru has practiced corporate law in Japan for seven years. She's also a law student at the University of Virginia.
Tsurumaru is one of 36 students who will graduate in a year from Virginia's graduate studies program. Like many lawyers from abroad seeking to advance in public and private law, she decided to earn a master's in law degree (LL.M.) from a U.S. law school.
It's a very standard course of Japanese lawyers who want to work in international business," said Tsurumaru, who worked at Anderson Mori & Tomotsune just months ago, handling a variety of international and domestic capital markets transactions. After graduation, Tsurumaru plans to take the bar exam in New York and then spend a year working as part of Sidley Austin's capital markets team. After her stint with Sidley Austin, she intends to return to work at her firm in Japan.
Started in the 1960s, the graduate studies program offers participants the chance to take classes alongside the school's 1,100 J.D. students, which fully immerses them in the study of U.S. law.
They take classes depending on what their academic and professional interests are," said Polly Lawson, assistant dean for graduate studies. "For instance, we have some in this year's class who are experts in both criminal prosecution and defense in their countries and who are interested in learning more about the American criminal justice system. We have a judge from South Korea who is interested in the procedural side of the law and how the U.S. court systems settle corporate and intellectual property disputes."
Students in the current LL.M. class include, among others, those from Switzerland, Brazil, Japan, Belgium, China, Ireland, Chile, Israel, Germany, Slovenia and Russia. While the majority are practicing lawyers from other countries, two are judge advocates in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.
The application process is extremely competitive: From a total applicant pool of 466 applicants, we welcomed 36 students with an average of four years' work experience," Lawson said. It's a really diverse and interesting group of students."
A handful of students — from countries including Canada, Egypt, Taiwan, Greece, Indonesia, Israel and the United States — are pursuing S.J.D. degrees, the highest degree in law.
Often, the graduate students from other countries find the American approach to legal education is much different from what they are used to. Tsurumaru, for example, said she was struck by how Virginia Law professors will ask questions of students during class, a style that she said is much different than in Japan, where professors tend to lecture without interacting with students.
I find it very engaging," she said. I might be called on to answer his question, so I feel like I must read my assignments. I'm very motivated by the style of the U.S. professors' lectures. They are very different."
Maria Belova, a corporate lawyer from Russia who is pursuing an LL.M. from Virginia Law, was surprised to see how much emphasis is placed on helping law students obtain a job after graduation.
In Russia, job hunting is always just the responsibility of the student," she said. Nobody talks about job hunting."
The Law School's Office of Graduate Studies helps interested LL.M. students craft individual job-search strategies, Lawson said, and also assists alumni. The office participates in a New York job fair open only to graduate students from Columbia, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, Yale and Virginia.
Our career services assistance is one of the many ways in which we fully support LL.M. students throughout their time in Charlottesville and even after they've left," Lawson said.
Belova, who received her law degree with honors from Moscow State University in 2001, said earning an LL.M. has been her long-term dream."
Something happens during this program that helps you better to understand your international clients and what they expect from you as a lawyer," she said. Even if I just go back to Russia to work there [after graduation], it will definitely enhance my skills in this profession."
In Russia, Belova practiced at one of the country's top law firms, where she advised on Russian general corporate and regulatory law, notably including employment and labor law.
Belova, a mother of an 8-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl, said she chose to attend Virginia Law because of its academic ranking, as well as the community's reputation.
Charlottesville is a charming place," she said. Small community with good schools.
Jon McLeod, a Navy judge advocate who received his law degree from the University of Denver in 1998, is one of two U.S. military lawyers pursuing an LL.M. degree this year.
McLeod said the Navy views LL.M. programs as an opportunity for JAGs to gain exposure to a diversity of legal thought.
For example, the Navy might have an opinion on the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as it applies to our transit rights through Indonesia," he said. "Well, [in an LL.M. program] you might interact with a student or lawyer from Indonesia or Asia, [and] they might have a different interpretation. Getting that different perspective can be really useful."
McLeod's career with the Navy has taken him around the globe, including the Middle East, California, Hawaii and Japan. In 2010, McLeod was deployed to Iraq to serve on the legal staff of the commander of the U.S. forces, first Gen. Raymond Odierno, followed by Gen. Lloyd Austin. McLeod led the department of operational and international law, advising on issues including rules of engagement and treaty matters, such as the U.S. security agreement with Iraq.
It was, by far, the most challenging work that I've done. Very fast-paced," he said. Legal issues are constantly popping up and a lot of times there is no precedent for those issues. You're carving out new ground."
McLeod returned to the United States in April 2011. The Navy, he said, sent him to Virginia Law to specialize in international law.
They want you to go to a follow-on job following the degree," he said. That could look something like [a job] at our headquarters in D.C., where we have an international law division, which handles a lot of legal issues that impact that Navy, including international agreements."
Lawson said the LL.M. program's small size benefits participants in several ways.
"We work closely with each student starting in the summer and throughout the year to design a curriculum that is tailored to each student's personal and professional goals," she said. "The small size of the graduate class ensures that students are fully integrated into the community, and also allows students to get to know one another and build their personal and professional networks."