The LL.M. experience at IU McKinney Law

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Editor’s Note: As offerings grow, we look to determine which LL.M. programs offer the best experience for both U.S. and foreign attorneys. The LL.M. used to be a rather narrow graduate degree. Foreign attorneys have traditionally been drawn to it because it could give them the chance to sit for the U.S. bar in some states. U.S. attorneys sought it to further their knowledge in a number of fields, tax being among the most popular.

Today? The degree is growing in popularity as well as in the number of specialties offered.

Gaining such a degree can help lawyers get an edge in the job market, proponents say. U.S. attorneys may see the LL.M. as a way to distinguish themselves in a certain field or as a pathway to an alternative legal career. Foreign attorneys can use it to make them more marketable in their home nations.

We reached out to a number of schools with LL.M. programs asked them how and why their programs were distinct. The overall consensus: they make the programs a priority.

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law has to deal with one slight problem when it comes to its LL.M. program. The school’s name recognition is not on par with, say, UCLA or Stanford or NYU.

The school is also aware that many foreign students might not even be familiar with Indianapolis—the city where it is based—unless they are diehard Colts fans.

But the school has put an LL.M. program in place that rocks our Honor Roll. Indeed, five of its programs made the list. It’s a key part of the school, said Miki Pike Hamstra, assistant dean of graduate programs at McKinney.

“Our mission is not about making money or supplementing our J.D. program,” she said. The major part of its focus is attracting foreign students to the school to make it more diverse and robust, as well as give these students a top-notch education and key legal experience.

IU McKinney’s program is geared mostly toward foreign students. About 95% are from outside of the U.S.

One big draw is affordability, Hamstra said. IU McKinney’s tuition is $35,000, while the average for the top 25 most popular programs is $60,000, according to the school. Additionally, students can get scholarships. The biggest one knocks the price down by 40%, Hamstra said.

And that price tag resonates. In student surveys, affordability is the No.2 reason when it comes to LL.M. choice, she said.

Then there’s Indianapolis, which is a top 20 city in terms of population. But its cost of living is considerably cheaper than most other large cities. It’s also the capital of Indiana, which again offers students a host of externships. The school offers more than 350 such opportunities.

The school prides itself on its welcoming nature, Hamstra added. Students get an LL.M. mentor, a J.D. mentor and a faculty mentor. “They’re almost over-mentored,” she joked.

Hamstra studied abroad herself, so she knows how important a supportive atmosphere can be. You are new to the nation, after all. The culture is different. The food is different. Practically everything is different.

The school has leadership and faculty that understand the needs of foreign students too, she said. Dean Karen Bravo grew up in Jamaica and got her bachelor’s degree from The University of the West Indies. She took part in the ABA’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative in the Republic of Armenia.

Among the courses she teaches include International Business Transactions, International Law and International Trade. She’s an expert in the study of human trafficking.

The LL.M. courses are taught by some of the region’s more gifted legal minds as well. Two Indiana Supreme Court justices teach, for instance. So does a former state attorney general.

The school also has a career services office that takes a very hands-on approach in helping students with their job goals. Yes, some wish to remain in the states and work, but Hamstra is upfront with them regarding the challenges they will likely face in a competitive job market.

That kind of honesty is key, she said. She wants to gain student trust. Word of mouth is the most powerful recruitment tool. “We’re not L.A., we’re not New York City,” she said. “We need to build relationships. And that’s exactly what we do.”

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