Miki Pike Hamstra is the Director of Graduate Programs at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
In this interview, Miki shares her thoughts about the benefits of an LLM from a US law school, drafting a good personal statement, the US job market for international law graduates, and a whole lot more.
Why should international students opt for an LLM?
I think the answer has three parts.
One, you learn American law. [At McKinney] you are going to be in advanced JD courses with experts from around the world. And I do believe that our law professors are some of the best in the nation. We have a core group of “expert adjuncts” as we call them – they are working and also teaching.
Two, the work experiences that you are just not going to get while studying in your home country. We have a lot of MNCs here in Indianapolis so, it is not about just working in Indy but working in an American legal setting.
Three, the network. You build your network here at McKinney from your first semester. Students can do their internships or externships, and we also pair them with JD mentors.
How should one go about choosing a law school?
I think every student would benefit from putting together a spreadsheet, a kind of an old school “pros and cons” list.
I think sometimes students make the mistake of asking questions that they think the law schools want to hear. I would say, flip that. Be honest about what you want. If you want a large law school with top ranking, then you are going to want to apply to schools like that.
Really think about how you prefer to learn, not just what that [degree] is going to say at the end of the year. Maybe you don’t prefer to learn in a large environment and you prefer practical experiences.
You prefer knowing your professors on a first-name basis and knowing your supervisors, having a small cohort. You need to be honest with yourself about what you are looking for.
However, I am also a realist. I know that employers globally recognize certain names. So, if the student’s end goal is to simply get the degree with the name, that is fine.
But I also feel bad for students who really want something more [but] go to schools because of the rankings and the name. And they leave feeling kind of like they spent a lot of money, a year of their life, and did not get what they wanted in the end.
How early should one start with the research?
I think students would benefit from doing some research in advance but before even doing that, be honest about what they are looking for.
And I am always happy to speak with students even if they don’t end up joining my program. As I said, I hope that they do. I believe firmly in my program and I am definitely biased towards it but I am happy to answer questions, look at their personal statement, etc.
You mentioned the personal statement. That is one of the bigger challenges in the admissions process.
I think culturally, for my students around the world it is a very strange thing to sell yourself. In America, you should know we are trained at a very young age on how to sell ourselves. We are very loud, we are very confident.
I think a lot of my students from India, in particular, think, “I am top of the class, I don’t need to sell myself” Oh no. You still need to do that.
Pretend that you are in a competition with a lot of other people – what makes you different? What makes you unique? Your [grades], and your letters of recommendation will obviously be part of your file but the personal statement – I should be able to close my eyes and know you.
I have also seen students who write one personal statement and then they mass produce it. I do not recommend that.
What I would say is that if you are applying to multiple schools, you can develop a common template. But make sure you have two or three paragraphs that are specific to that particular school.
You can talk about what kind of program you are interested in, what professor you are interested in, what they can give to you and what you bring to the table. And make sure you carefully edit.
One of the big factors in LLM applications is employment. But the US market is saturated.
That is exactly what I tell students. The legal market in the US as a whole is saturated. So, you want to look for pockets in the country where you have opportunities, and in my opinion, you should study in those areas because you can build your network when you are there.
There are a lot of students who come in thinking, “All I have to do to get a job is just get an LLM.” That is completely false. That is not even true for the JD degree. Just studying is not good enough and has never been.
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