Three things LL.M. grads wish they knew when they started

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

Not every LL.M. student has the goal of staying in the U.S., but many do. Whatever your goal, there are things you can do to help achieve it.

Often, my clients tell me that there are things they would have done differently had they known during their LL.M. studies what they know now. Below are three things LL.M. graduates wish they knew during their LL.M.

 

1 | I wish I knew how short one year is.

Too many times I receive an email along the lines: “I am about to graduate from my LL.M. and I really need a job, can you help?” 

A year is a year, but the LL.M. year seems to work with a different clock. The time goes by too fast. At the beginning, we are preoccupied with understanding how U.S. law schools work, how U.S. professors teach, how to reads hundreds of pages of cases in a few days. 

We tell ourselves to focus on the study and to worry about the rest later, until later arrives. I do understand the importance of adjusting to law school life, but getting stuck behind the walls of the law school is problematic. The LL.M. year offers many opportunities outside of the law school and outside the LL.M. community. 

Not being interested in what is out there is detrimental to our goal, no matter the goal. I understand the difficulty in finding the right balance between managing academics and the world outside. But we must find that balance to take full advantage of what the LL.M. experience offers. An LL.M. program is a vehicle that should be steered properly to reap the benefits of that huge investment. The benefit is not the degree itself; it is what you do with it. The year is short. Don’t postpone the things you should be doing now.

 

2 | I wish I knew that being creative is not only allowed but appreciated.

A creative approach to seizing opportunities is not only accepted but required and admired, especially for those who act out of a position of disadvantage. 

Americans love the story of the underdog who succeeds against all odds. A foreign lawyer without a J.D. trying to maneuver the U.S. legal job market can certainly be considered an underdog. We call the U.S. the land of opportunities and for me, being a foreigner myself, it truly is. A creative approach in pursuing one’s goals creates real world opportunities in ways I could not imagine happening in Europe, for example, where I come from. 

We do not need the creativity of Goethe to create opportunities during our LL.M. If we have a genuine interest in the people, the legal industry and the country we will see things others don't, in places others don't look. That’s creativity.

Too many people try to be interesting when being interested is so much easier and more beneficial. Interact with professionals outside of your law school on a regular basis, be interested in the country that you call your home for a year, its culture and business style and do not wait to do so until the LL.M. year is over.

 

3 | I wish I understood the importance of networking.

The term networking sends shivers down the spines of many LL.M. students and graduates. It is the most overused and misunderstood term LL.M. students hear from the very beginning of their LL.M. program. A professional network is a support system in which people share information and services among those individuals and groups who have a common interest. Too many LL.M. students focus on the word “system.”  

Business networking is not a “system” that only a few understand and master, networking simply means interacting with other human beings. Instead of thinking of a “system,” it is better to focus on the words “support,” “sharing of information,” and “common interest.” 

You have been “networking” today without even knowing it. We have all been “networking” and will be doing so for rest of our lives because we are humans and do not live in solitude or in a vacuum; we are social creatures.

In our private life, when we need help we call a friend. If the friend can‘t help us, that friend might call someone else he knows who he thinks might help us. If we read or see something that could be useful to our friend we let him know. And so will our friend.  Our friend introduces us to his friends, and we introduce him to our friends. Doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? Doing exactly that on a professional basis doesn’t change the core of it — support and sharing.

Interacting with professionals outside of the law school building is what LL.M. students often fail to do. Not only should we interact with other professionals but we should do so based on a genuine interest in the person we are interacting with.  So, get out there and interact with professionals and do so with genuine interest.  That’s “the secret” about networking 

Take full advantage of your LL.M. by seizing each moment, being creative and meeting as many people as possible. 

 


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).