German lawyer advises taking opportunities to learn U.S. law

Katja Wolf grew up in a close-knit family in Germany.

So no one expected her to announce three years ago that she planned to leave the country and travel to Texas to finish her legal education and pursue her career. They certainly didn’t realize that she would follow through on this plan, said Wolf, who will earn her LL.M. in December from St. Mary’s University School of Law.

She had visited Texas before, and in 2014, while in her second year of law school at the University of Cologne, Wolf interned at a law firm in Corpus Christi.

“Some people tell me I'm idealizing my experience during that summer, and who knows maybe I am, but for me it was the beginning of when I knew what I wanted to do,” said Wolf, 24.

To be eligible to practice and to sit for the bar in America, Wolf needed to earn an LL.M., so she started planning early. She met professors at an LL.M. event in Germany in 2015, and recalls having a great conversation. Plus, St. Mary’s University School of Law’s program started in January, meaning she wouldn’t have to wait a whole year. 

In September 2016, she had completed her law degree in a year less than the average German law program. Then, she moved to Texas.

“The people, the positive mentality in the people that I witnessed and the beautiful sky that I wake up to every single morning sold me on Texas,” Wolf said. “For that reason, choosing a law school in Texas was the obvious choice, because that is where I would like to practice once I've passed the bar — keeping my fingers crossed.” 

What she has found different between the LL.M. and the J.D. that her American counterparts earn is the number of courses required. She must take just 24 credits, while they must complete 90. 

“For that reason, for example, I wasn’t able to take Contract Law nor Wills and Estate or Federal Civil Procedure and many, many more subjects that are required on the bar,” Wolf said.

So while she hasn’t actually taken the bar yet (that’s scheduled for February), she’s already grateful for the U.S. Law certificate she earned in Germany, as it helped her when she first moved to the States, and continues to do so on topics where she can’t take entire courses.

“If I can give out any kind of advice to prospective LL.M. students without actually having taken the bar yet, I would probably advise them to use every opportunity to learn more about U.S. law subjects,” Wolf said.

This can be done beyond just taking courses. For example, some schools let students audit a class, meaning they sit in without having to take it for credit. Wolf also asked a professor who had started his own law firm if she could intern to learn more about wills and estate law. He went above and beyond, she said, and took lots of time out of his business day to teach her.

Wolf said that she hopes her international education help to make her a better lawyer as she pursues a job in Texas.

“I am aware that no legal system is perfect and just like with cultural differences between countries, you can’t compare every legal or cultural aspect with each other and make a clear decision of what is the right way and what is not,” Wolf said. “I appreciate and love the German civil law and the German culture just as much as I do the U.S./Texas common law and the culture we live in over here. Different doesn’t mean one must be better.”

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