Do You Want to Stand out as an LL.M. Student? Here is How!

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

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Law schools in the United States are professional schools, which means that they prepare students for a profession, the legal profession. As such, it is expected that students behave like professionals in all respects. What is regarded as professional differs among cultures and countries, but since we are studying in the U.S., it only makes sense to use U.S. professionalism as our guidepost. I am amazed by how persistently some LL.M. students refuse to deliver on the profession's basic expectations, only to complain that things are not working out the way they had hoped.

I encourage you to track your behavior regarding the four basic qualities listed below for a week or a month, just like Benjamin Franklin did using his virtue training. Are you one of the few who consistently adheres to these practices? Don't just say yes. Test yourself.

Don’t just skim through these and say "duuuhh" and move on to Facebook. I promise you, do these things and you will stand out!

 

1. Communicate

On Monday morning at 6:00 am, I wrote two emails. One was to the head of Mergers & Acquisitions for the Americas at a big law firm, and the other to a recent LL.M. graduate and job seeker. My email to the head of M&A was not regarding a big M&A deal, but a favor I asked him on behalf of a student. The email to the graduate was regarding his job search. The head of M&A wrote back in 4 minutes and 25 seconds. The LL.M. graduate wrote back 3 days later. If the LL.M. job seeker then proceeds to tell me how busy he/she is, I cannot help but make a judgment and the outcome is: I would never ask the head of M&A (or anyone else) for a favor for that LL.M graduate, ever!  

You will undoubtedly receive many, many emails during your LL.M. studies from friends, classmates, law school professors and administrators, prospective employers and networking partners. Culturally, there may be differences in the norm for responding to emails from country to country and from region to region. In the U.S., there is a strong cultural tradition of responding to emails quickly — normally within one business day but sooner is better. The faster you reply to messages, the better the impression you will make.

 

2.  Be Punctual

Last week we had a major program at the New York City Bar Association involving multiple speakers over the course of the day. Each and every speaker was there on time, by which I mean at least 10 minutes early. These speakers are professionals who volunteer their time to assist students and job seekers. They have very busy schedules and yet manage to be on time.

Some LL.M. students insist that being late is a minor issue that does not deserve any attention. Even more, if they are reminded of their tardiness they unload a frenzy of “buts and buts.” Some go so far as to say that it is unfair to be reprimanded for tardiness. I am not exaggerating.

Again, the sense and relevance of time varies from country to country, and region to region. In the United States, timeliness is an important factor in both professional and personal settings. Classes, meetings and events typically begin at the time announced, and you are expected to be on time. I cannot stress this enough; professors and others will expect you to be on time for class and all meetings and events; arriving even a few minutes late will be noticed and is simply unacceptable.

 

3. Meet Deadlines

A deadline is a deadline. Not a suggestion, not a guideline — a deadline! Not meeting a deadline and wasting everyone’s time afterwards by explaining that you missed the deadline because your hamster died, or some other excuse, is unimpressive to the extreme.

You will face many deadlines during your LL.M. studies and beyond. Again, as a cultural matter, it is expected that deadlines will be met. It is also expected that you will read all relevant emails, newsletters, etc. so that you keep informed.

Make a record of important dates, and meet all relevant deadlines.

 

4. Research, Then Ask

U.S. law schools generally have infrastructures and administrators devoted specifically to working with LL.M. students. These offices post a great deal of information on their program webpages and may distribute other materials, for instance, through online newsletters or other mechanisms.  

Although U.S. administrators are generally considered to be widely accessible, it is important that students (and prospective students) first review available materials and then ask questions that are not addressed in the materials.  

This is a good rule of thumb for all your dealings in the U.S.: Use available information to learn as much as you can, and use questions to clarify matters not fully answered by available information.

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The four items listed above are things that require zero talent but a modicum of respect for the virtues the U.S. legal profession values. Stand out by being one of a few LL.M. students who fully embraces these.

 


 

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of A Short & Happy Guide to Networking (West Academic Publishing).