Interview of Frank Sullivan Jr. of Robert H. McKinney School of Law: Benefits of LLM, Diversity in Clerkships, Students’ Engagement in Class

Interview of Prof Sullivan

Frank Sullivan Jr. is a Professor of Practice at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law

A judge of the Indiana Supreme Court for nearly two decades, Prof. Sullivan now takes courses on commercial and financial laws at McKinney, as well as a course on his own experience as a judge.

In this interview, the professor shares his thoughts on the benefits of an LL.M. for the international law graduate, increasing diversity in judicial clerkships, keeping law students engaged in class discussions, and a lot more.

I ask this of most law professors – how do you think a nine-month course like an LL.M. can benefit the international law graduate?

A nine-month course like an LL.M. can make international law graduates better lawyers in general and teach them about U.S. law in particular, including preparing them to practice law here.

U.S. law schools have vast resources, in many cases well beyond those available in law schools in other countries, providing spectacular opportunities for students to expand their general legal knowledge and to learn about U.S. law.

This benefits those foreign-trained lawyers who wish to practice here and use the LL.M. as a first step in pursuing a J.D. In addition, some international law graduates are in fact eligible to practice here with their LL.M. in certain states (Indiana not among them) upon successful completion of the bar examination.

Preparing to become a better lawyer and learning about U.S. law can improve the foreign-educated lawyer’s marketability and increase his or her competitiveness for employment as a lawyer.

International students seek degrees from U.S. law schools precisely because such credentials mean so much to employment prospects in their home countries. Most LL.M. students I have known have told me with certainty that they would be assured of good employment at home with a degree from a U.S. law school.

Related to this, studying at a U.S. law school gives a foreign-educated lawyer an opportunity to upgrade his or her credentials. This includes specializing in a particular area of law like intellectual property or tax; studying to become a law professor or law faculty administrator (often by pursuing an S.J.D. degree); or studying to become a domestic or international judge or government official.

Many Americans use law degrees not as credentials to practice law but to pursue non-legal careers. For example, many lawyers use their legal training in business or government administrative or managerial positions, and a law degree often serves as a credential demonstrating experience that warrants a rise in the ranks of management.

Because it is easier for a foreign-educated lawyer to join an LL.M. program than to be admitted to a U.S. graduate degree program in virtually any other field, an LL.M. can be a much more efficient way of obtaining an advanced degree so as to enhance one’s career prospects in a field other than law.

In addition, an LL.M. can help international students wishing to take advantage of the “outsourcing” of legal services. In an effort to reduce expenses, some American enterprises are looking abroad for a portion of their legal work. A foreign-educated lawyer with an LL.M. might well be in a highly advantageous position to take advantage of the outsourcing trend.

Another primary reason for obtaining an LL.M. in the U.S. is to improve one’s English. In her extensive research on the LL.M. as a credential in the international market for legal services, Professor Carole Silver studied in-depth the legal services markets in Germany and China.

She observed the principal reason that law graduates from both of those countries seek LL.M.s is to improve their English. In fact, she reports that “75% of Chinese LL.M. graduates who responded to a survey about their U.S. education experience and 67% of German respondents indicated being motivated by a desire to improve their English language ability.

Some reasons for seeking an LL.M. in the U.S. are more abstract. They are grounded in the fact that traveling internationally to study broadens one’s professional network to include LL.M. graduates from around the world (and, one would hope, U.S. law professors and law graduates) and enhances one’s intercultural professional competence.

Professor Silver’s research on Germany and China demonstrates these points. Several German LL.M. graduates “emphasize[d] that exposure to the legal profession in the United States was enlightening, both in terms of students in law school . . . and for purposes of career opportunities.

Professor Silver reports that in China, an LL.M. from a U.S. law school “is appreciated . . . as a mechanism for exposing students to another legal regime, to an international group of colleagues and to the United States itself. . . These echo the value of the LL.M. in Germany.

In fact, you also took up an LL.M. nearly two decades after your JD, and eight years after your appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court. What prompted you to take enroll in an LL.M., and what were some of the learnings made during the course?

In 1999, I was accepted into an LL.M. program at the University of Virginia. Candidates for the degree of “master in law in the judicial process” attended six weeks of classes in Charlottesville in each of two successive summers and completed a master’s thesis. (My thesis was on an international human rights law topics.)

The courses were taught by leading law professors at the University of Virginia and other law schools and emphasized broad theoretical topics of jurisprudence, comparative law, and interdisciplinary subjects, rather than detailed and specific legal subject matter.

This was also an opportunity to get to know and work with judges from throughout the country.

One of the many questions I had was in connection with increasing diversity in judicial clerkships – how can this be encouraged, and any advice for Indian judges and law schools on best practices?

In 1998, a substantial amount of attention was given to the small number of minority lawyers clerking for United States Supreme Court justices. In fact, the President of the NAACP and 18 others were arrested that fall after they peacefully crossed a police line at the high court in an attempt to deliver resumes of minority law students to Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

This controversy contributed to the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) and the ABA commissioning a comprehensive study of the clerkship situation.

The “study found that minority representation in clerkships was generally lower than in law school populations, although this did vary somewhat by ethnic group. However, and this was the key finding, “this discrepancy did not result from a difference in the success of their applications, but rather a lower application rate of the minority students.

These findings and conclusions were of particular concern to the ABA which has as one of its goals the promotion of “the full and equal participation in the legal profession by minorities.” Minority lawyers were not fully and equally participating in judicial clerkships. And at least part of the problem was that not enough minority law students were applying for clerkships.

The insight from these findings was that if more minority lawyers were to get clerkships, then more minority law students needed to be encouraged to apply for clerkships.

Now the research didn’t say why minority students were applying in percentages less than their proportion in law school student bodies but one reason frequently advanced is that clerking is just not only the radar screen of minority law students.

(That’s a reason I personally relate to because, perhaps because I came from a family without any lawyers in it, I went through law school oblivious to the possibility of clerking.)

All of this served as the genesis for the ABA Judicial Clerkship Program which began in 2001. The annual three day-conclave which continues to this day brings together minority law students from participating law schools and volunteer judges from courts or widely varying jurisdiction for panel discussions, workshops, and an intense research exercise that simulates the judge-clerk working relationship (called, of all things, the “Hon. Frank Sullivan Research Exercise”!).

The program has put clerking on the radar screen of hundreds of minority law students, dozens of whom have successfully pursued clerkships.

As a Professor of Practice, how do you think international lawyers ought to plan their US education in order to become US qualified attorneys? In other words, what do you think are the pros and cons of an LLM as compared to JD?

To some extent, I think this question is adequately answered in #1 above. In brief, a student who wishes to stay in the U.S. and practice here should not depend on being able to do with only an LL.M.

I have, however, seen several international lawyers obtain an LL.M. and then continue to obtain a J.D. Usually at least some of the credits earned in the LL.M. program can be used to satisfy a portion of the requirements of the J.D.

Lastly, as someone who is quite the favourite with law students, what do you think makes for a good teacher of law?

This would probably be a better question for someone who has been a law school student more recently than I.
My goal in teaching is to keep every student engaged every minute of every class.

I try to master the substantive subject matter of my courses so that I can convey what is intrinsically interesting about even the driest material – which is often its real-world implications. In other words, I try to connect up the theory with real-life as much as practicable.

In addition, in each course, I

(a) announce specific learning objectives at the outset of the semester and review them during the last class of the semester;

(b) include a substantial unit on ethics and a question on my examinations covering this material; and

(c) prepare PowerPoints slides to highlight principal points, to diagram the facts of particularly complicated cases, and to emphasize keywords and phrases in statutes.

In courses the subject matter of which is eligible for testing on the bar exam, I give special attention to actual questions used on recent bar exams.

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