LL.M.: Learn, laugh, matter through service


How can we make our LL.M. experience more valuable? By remembering to learn, laugh and matter through service.


The LL.M. program is an educational program. So first and foremost, we should focus on learning. I am stating the obvious but what may not be so apparent to some is that learning is not confined to the walls of the law school building. On the contrary, the LL.M. degree unfolds its actual value when we extend our learning beyond the law. Many, like me, come to the U.S. just a few weeks before our LL.M. program starts, so we still have much to learn about the culture, customs and traditions. But even if we have been living in the U.S. long before the start of our LL.M. program, we still have many opportunities to learn. We never stop learning. This is my tenth year in the U.S., and I still have a great deal to learn about the U.S. legal system, culture and customs. But beyond that, I learn about other cultures, traditions, and customs, because the US is a true melting pot, as are our LL.M. cohorts. I learn from every human being I meet, and I have learned more about various religions, traditions and cultures in the last ten years than I have in my previous thirty years. Being a great lawyer in this century means being an open-minded, culturally well-versed and adaptable professional embracing change and differences. Let’s learn!


Pursuing an LL.M. is stressful, and a big part of the educational process is learning to cope with stress. But I am saddened to see how many students lose their smiles along the path. What starts as an exciting adventure, turns for some into a dreadful process. Unfortunately, I hear more complaints than I hear expressions of joy and gratitude. One reason for this is the human tendency to bond over misery, but LL.M. students are particularly vulnerable to being caught up in the wrong spiral. How easy it is for us to forget that we are the fortunate ones. We are in the U.S. to pursue an education, something millions of people worldwide can only dream of—and do dream of. We are here to pursue an education that opens the door to the bar exam and, with it, to a profession that can be of real service to our society. How lucky we are and how often we forget. The LL.M. is not a hurdle that we must overcome but a blessing that we should be grateful for. Let’s laugh more and remind ourselves of how great an opportunity this is.


The legal profession which we seek to enter is a service-oriented profession. We serve clients and communities at large. If we do our work wholeheartedly, our work can matter. But even during our LL.M., while we are still “only students,” we must serve. We have countless opportunities for our actions to matter both in the legal community and the community in which we live. Too many LL.M. students hide within imagined boundaries of their LL.M. education and postpone their contributions to their communities for when they are done. But when are we ever done? Students often tell me that they feel that they do not yet have anything to give since they have not yet completed their education in the U.S. But what about the experience we acquired before we landed here? We did not drop from the sky but had a journey through which we learned. Our experience, if shared, can help others as well. But even beyond that, every single one can serve by offering time and two hands. Let’s roll up our sleeves. There are many organizations in our legal community and the community at large that need our help. Our contributions matter. The LL.M. is not only an opportunity to gain but, more importantly, an opportunity to give. 


Desiree Jaeger-Fine is a writer and author of "Pursuing Happiness: One Lawyer’s Journey (forthcoming August 2021),” "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking,” and “A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired."