LLM: Know Your Story

Me: “Why did you decide to do an LLM?”

Other: “You know, Desiree, I came to the U.S. because my spouse found a perfect job at XYZ. I was a lawyer in my home country and for me to take the bar exam here, I have to do an LLM. I don’t want to do a JD because I already studied for so long in my home country. I cannot waste more time and money. 

These are valid points that make sense. But what does this tell us about the person answering my question? First of all, it suggests that studying law is a waste of time and money and must be reduced to the absolute minimum. Further, it suggests that if you studied law in one country, you obtained enough knowledge to practice law in another country. Further, it reflects the view that the LLM has no educational or professional benefit; it is merely a means to an end. Further, it indicates that this person has no genuine interest in either the U.S. legal system or the pursuit of knowledge. To sum it up: The LLM is a necessity, not a choice.

I find it difficult to get excited about an LLM candidate who tells me in so many words that she is basically sitting in my office because she has to. It is a fact that most foreign attorneys need an LLM to get admitted to a U.S. bar. But it is possible to state a fact while at the same time telling a compelling story. Why are we doing what we are doing? Because we have to, or because we choose to? Having to do something and choosing to do something are different things. The former is a passive approach to life, the latter an active one. The legal industry, just like any other, seeks proactive professionals— professionals who do what they do because they choose to, who base their decisions on motivation and not merely circumstance, who actively mold their path and who seize any opportunity to develop their professional persona.

Yes, we need an LLM to sit for a bar exam in most states and we may be here because of our spouse. But these facts cannot be our story. Why do we do what we do? Why law? Why now? Why here? Answers to these questions have to spring from inside of us, not from outside circumstances. Why are you doing what you are doing? Tell us your story. It will make all the difference.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is director of International Programs at Brooklyn Law School and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).