Interview: Prof. Lisa Black, Director of LLM Program at CWSL Tells Us About Planning an LLM; Bar Exam and Employability

Professor Lisa Black is the Director of the LLM and MCL Programs for Foreign Lawyers offered by the California Western School of Law. At CWSL, she currently teaches the Introduction to Legal Skills Course and was also instrumental in creating the Bar Exam preparation module at CWSL.

In this interview, she shares some of the highlights of the LL.M. at CWSL, what prospective applicants ought to keep in mind and a lot more.

What do you think are the benefits of a US LLM in general, and one at CWSL in particular, from the point of view of an international law graduate?

In general, it will give them an advantage in working with US lawyers and in advising clients in their home countries who do business in the US. This could make it easier to get jobs with firms that have clients with connections to the US.

With an LLM they will know how the complex US legal system works so that they can explain it to their senior attorneys and clients. They can also apply to stay for a year after completing their LLM studies to work or volunteer in a law-related job in the US.

Some of the benefits of studying at CWSL in particular:

  • Our program is highly selective to maintain the small size of the LLM class so that each student receives one-on-one guidance and support from the program directors.
  • We offer a wide range of courses, and unlike many schools, CWSL invites LLM students to participate in active learning through simulation courses and even in a variety of clinics where they will work with live clients under faculty supervision.
  • We have students from all over the world in the LLM program, and our JD program is one of the most diverse in the US. Students will meet people from many backgrounds and learn from their different perspectives. (Our current LLM students come from 8 different countries).
  • We have more than 600 alumni, from over 60 countries, many of whom maintain contact and support each other for years after completing their studies.
  • We are in San Diego, the city with the best climate in the US, with many beaches and parks. It’s a great place to be when you are not in classes.

Always curious to know what professors think of law school rankings – how would you advise prospective LLM applicants to view rankings such as, say US News?

I understand why students want to use a shortcut like those rankings. But they need to ask themselves what the ranking actually measures, and whether it measures anything that matters to them.

For instance, much of the ranking is based on the publications of the faculty, which elevates large research institutions. But many students are more interested in how the school teaches and treats them than in its faculty’s publications.

There are only around 200 law schools in the US fully accredited by the ABA, and they are all respectable.

As someone who has dealt with international LLM grads for a while now, how do you think they can best plan their 9-month stint? Any common mistakes that they should avoid? 

They should plan to move in at least a couple of weeks before school begins. Once classes start, they’ll be busy and so they’ll want to be comfortably settled. They should consider what their goals are for the program.

Do they want to take a bar exam and be licensed in the US? Do they want to focus their studies on particular subjects? They should also be aware that most students think studying law in the US is much more time consuming than studying law in their home countries.

All law degrees in the US are graduate degrees—there is no bachelors’ degree in law.

At CWSL, you also helped prepare the Bar Exam prep module. In terms of planning for the Bar, do you think LLM grads should take immediately after their LLM or take it the following year?

They should not expect to take the Bar immediately after they complete the LLM. US students attend law school for three years, which allows them to take a course in every subject tested on the bar exam.

But since LLM students have only one year of US law courses, they will need to spend time on their own, or with a private bar prep company, learning the other subjects.

And should they finish the documentation (for say the NY Bar) before leaving their home country?

I would check with the bar of the state they plan to take the exam in. But they should get started with that as soon as possible because it can take quite a while to get their eligibility approved after their documents are filed.

Again, I am sure you get asked this all the time, but if an international law graduate was looking to find employment in the US, how should she go about this?

She should try to meet lawyers in the US. She can attend receptions for lawyers and law students, contact alumni from her school, check for an organization of lawyers who do what she wants to or who are from her region and try to join with some of them.

CWSL has a professional office that will help our students learn how to craft a proper CV and letter to employers and will advise them on how to seek a job.

Lastly, what kind of student would make a good fit at the CWSL LLM programme? Is there a particular profile, or field of interest that would be best suited to the LLM at CWSL?

Open-minded students who are excited about meeting people from different countries and backgrounds and who want a warm and friendly environment would be a good fit.

We offer many types of courses. And we specialize in experiential learning, not just classroom lectures.  But we also have a special concentration of opportunities to learn commercial law, intellectual property law, and criminal law.

Note: This is a sponsored post.

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