INTERVIEW: Chinthana Konganda on the LLM Experience at California Western School of Law

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on 22 May, 2019.

Chinthana Konganda is the Assistant Director for LLM and MCL programs for foreign lawyers at the California Western School of Law.  In this interview, Chinthana shares her thoughts on legal recruitment prospects in the US, how to make the most out of the nine-month course, and a whole lot more.

Let us start from the start, what do you think is the value of LLM from the perspective of an international LLM student? And why one at California Western?

LLM degree from the United States will enrich a student’s mind and add value to a student’s professional life. Having a U.S. degree helps in many ways: if a graduate decides to stay in the U.S., it can help them ease into the legal world, and help them become eligible to sit for a state licensing exam (bar exam).

If graduates decide to go back to their home countries, it opens door to career opportunities that involve working transnationally with U.S. entities.

California Western is a close-knit community with a smaller campus. LLM students get to bond with the whole community and they become especially close with other LLM students from across the globe.

We select a limited number of students for our LLM class so that every student gets individual attention from program directors who are experienced in working with international students.

Because of the small size of our LLM class, LLM students can apply to participate in one of our several live client clinics where they will get direct legal experience working under the guidance and supervision of our faculty and other attorneys.

This is a very unique aspect of our LLM program because not many LLM programs let their LLMs participate in the clinics.

Some of our popular clinics are Trademark Clinic, New Media Rights Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Mediation Clinic and the Community Law Project.

Students get to work with actual clients and help to resolve real disputes/cases and last – location, location, location! We are ideally located near law firms and courts in the downtown business district of San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States.

San Diego enjoys a perfect climate throughout the year and has some of the best beaches in the world. Who wouldn’t want to spend a year studying in this beautiful environment?

In your time at CWSL, what have international LLM students found to be the most valuable aspect of the LLM experience?

Our LLM students have expressed that they love the small friendly atmosphere of CWSL students and faculty. Our LLM program has existed for over 40 years, and we have alumni from more than 60 countries all around the world who stay in touch.

Students also appreciate that the directors help them choose which courses to take based on their individual goals and interests.

Chinthana Konganda, California Western School of Law
Chinthana Konganda

Does CWSL look for a particular profile of applicants, for instance, do you prefer law graduates with a few years of work experience?

Every applicant is unique in their own way. Yes, experience does matter, but we are equally interested in how they have performed in their legal education.

For new graduates, we focus more on their performance in law school, whether they had internships, and whether they have improved over the years or maintained their good grades.

What do graduate admission offices look for in:

One, the Personal Statement

In a personal statement, we look to see what kind of a student this candidate would be if we accept him/her. Would this candidate be a serious student?

Would they contribute to the class discussions and what is the driving force for them?

We expect personal statements to be no more than 1-2 pages. Applicants often feel the need to use flowery language on their personal statement. All we care is a reflection of who they are and their goals written in plain, simple English with no grammatical errors.

Two, the Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should come from people who know the candidates work ethic and intellectual ability. Generally, that means they should be written by professors or employers in the legal field.

The more specific the letter is, the better. If it appears to be a “form letter” that they might send for anyone, then it has less influence.

When it comes to the LLM application itself, what are the timelines for admissions?

We follow a rolling admission policy. Deadline for fall trimester is June 15 and for the spring trimester is November 1. But I highly urge the applicants to apply early in order to get their visa on time.

How much time do you think the applicant should spend on the application itself?

It depends because some students have all the items on the application checklist ready by the time they apply. Sometimes the recommenders take a longer time to send their recommendation letter.

But as far as just the application itself, it is very straightforward and easy to fill – probably no more than an hour. However, the personal statement might take longer time if they are not strong writers.

Are exemptions on the TOEFL requirement granted to those who have studied, or are studying, in schools where the medium of instruction has been English?

Yes, students from countries where classes are taught in English are waived of the TOEFL requirement. In some cases, we may ask the applicant to show proof that the medium of instruction at their school was in English.

Could you disclose any information on how much financial aid is provided, on average, to international LLM students?

Merit-based scholarships are offered to outstanding applicants and are available to foreign/international students. Government-backed financial aid at CWSL is available to US citizens and permanent residents only.

What is your reading of the legal recruitment market in the US when it comes to international LLMs?

Legal recruitment in the U.S. is saturated right now to all law graduates, and it can be even more challenging if they are international students who would require work visas.

But if an LLM student has passed the bar exam, he will be treated as well as a student with a JD degree. With globalization, international students can utilize their knowledge of the law and culture of their home countries that American lawyers would be lacking.

For example, last year we had a student from India who got a job right after graduation because one of our alumni, who does business immigration law, was looking for a lawyer from India who has knowledge of the local language and knows the working culture.

We have local LLM alumni who have created careers in many areas of law and business and would be happy to speak with students who are accepted to our LLM program.

What are the approximate living costs (annual) for the international LLM graduate?

We don’t offer on-campus accommodation. Therefore, students tend to vary in their choice of living by the beach (which will cost more) to living further inland.

They can expect approx. $15,000/year. This would include housing rent, food, books, and other expenses.

You can find out more about the LLM at California Western School of Law here.


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