INTERVIEW: Professor Niels B. Schaumann, Dean of California Western Law School: LLM is Not Easy, Even For the Best Students

Professor Niels B. Schaumann Interview
Professor Niels B. Schaumann

Professor Niels B. Schaumann is the President and Dean of California Western Law School, a position he was appointed to in August 2012.

Law was not always his primary field of interest and he was once a professional musician in New York City.

In this interview, Dean Schaumann describes his shift from music to law, the benefits of studying at CWSL, international LLM recruitments, and much more.

Before getting into the legal education side of things, I read that you were a professional musician in NYC. What could have possibly attracted you towards law?

The music business is very law-heavy. Understanding the revenue streams flowing to a songwriter or composer requires a good understanding of the structure of copyright law.

So I was exposed to law, especially copyright, while I was a musician, and eventually became intrigued enough to look into changing professions.

Clearly, law was something you enjoyed – you graduated cum laude from Fordham Law, then clerked in the Court of Appeals before ending up at Cravath – all of these are extremely competitive positions. What do you think was the driving force/motivation behind each of these career moves?

Each of these jobs was fascinating to me. Clerking was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see how the law is made, and I learned to be careful and thoughtful in my writing.

Working at Cravath was my opportunity to learn first-hand what corporate lawyers do, and somewhat to my surprise, I found it very much to my liking.

Transactional lawyers are quintessential problem-solvers. They have to find solutions in which both sides benefit, or the deal falls apart. It was very stimulating to work.

Eventually, however, I realized that I was not willing to make the sacrifices required of a big-firm transactional lawyer. Nevertheless, I have immense respect for the practitioners who do that work, and for Cravath lawyers in particular.

Finally, what got you to move to legal academia?

I have always wanted to teach. My grandfather was a professor of theology, and my mother was a schoolteacher, so there’s a family tradition of education. And once I started teaching, it didn’t take long to realize that I had found the ideal job for me.

Working with students is probably my favourite thing to do.

Time went on, and before I knew it, I had become a senior faculty member. The logical next step was to move into administration, but teaching is why I got into academia in the first place.

Coming to CWSL, what do you think are the biggest benefits that the law school offers to the international law graduate?

Our faculty are excellent teachers, and they are exceptionally devoted to the success of their students.

There is a very engaged, warm relationship between our students and our faculty – even a short visit to our campus will confirm this.

On top of that, we are located in San Diego, which is one of the most beautiful settings in the USA. So it’s an unbeatable combination – a wonderful setting and a warm and welcoming school!

How do you think international LLM students, at CWSL or otherwise, can maximise their time in the LLM course?

Students will get the best out of an LLM program if they take a moment to consider carefully what it is they wish to achieve.

Many students plan to take a US bar exam after completing an LLM. They should make sure to take as many of the bar-tested subjects as possible before graduating. Most states require 24 credits in tested subjects.

Other students, who plan to return home upon graduation, might do better to combine their classroom study with externships in law offices, to get a closer look at how the law is practised in the US and major international law firms.

That experience can be helpful in landing a job in home-country offices of international firms. The point is, it’s helpful to know where you want to arrive before you start the journey.

What do you think are some of the common mistakes that international LLM applicants make, either pre-LLM or during the course itself?

The most common mistake I see is students taking on too much. They want to register for lots of courses and participate in lots of activities, all before they have any clear sense of how much work will be required from them. Completing an LLM is not easy, even for the best students!

In addition, LLM students from other countries often experience some culture shock when they arrive. It takes a while to adjust to life in the USA, and getting a law degree makes it even more difficult.

This is predictable, of course, but when students actually encounter it they are often surprised. It just takes some time to adjust to life in a different country. Students with international travel experience will know what I mean.

You have written about mental health and law schools – is CWLS’s Cognitive Wellness Program available for LLM graduates as well?

Yes, I’m happy to say it is available to all our students. It can be very helpful, and we encourage students who are struggling to give it a try.

To read the article, click here.

Lastly, what is your reading of the post-LLM recruitment options available to international LLM graduates who want to continue working in the US?

The US employment market for all law graduates is difficult. The key, of course, is passing a US bar exam. This can be quite difficult, even for American JD graduates, who have studied bar subjects for three years.

So LLM students must not take the bar challenge lightly. However, when LLM students pass the bar exam, they are treated on par with US law graduates.


Click here for more information on the LLM program at California Western School of Law.


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