The Admission Interviews: Elizabeth H. Woyczynski, School of Law at CWRU (Part II)

 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

You may remember Elizabeth H. Woyczynski from her previous interview here at Amicus Partners. In the second part of the interview, we go a little deeper into the LLM programme, the Bar exam, and what can students interested in academia look out for.

What do you look for in LLM applicants?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We start with just getting the completed application on time, everything that we ask for is important, as are the deadlines. At CWRU, we do not look at TOEFL or IELTS scores from our Indian students so our main focus, and the most important one, are the marks that students get in their undergraduate law degrees. I think that where the student studies law as an undergraduate is not that important to us.

When you mention marks, is there a range of marks that you are looking at?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We are looking for students who are in the top 30-35% scoring bracket. Sometimes we get questions from students who think they need to have graduated with their bachelor’s degree [before applying]. But, as it works with our JD applicants, we are really just looking for all but the last year of marks.

Apart from the grades, how important are things like moot courts, publications etc?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: I think where extracurriculars really help is when the grades are not strong enough. Especially where they show that the student is really motivated and focused on a career in law. So, moot courts and internships would be helpful. Also, activities that show they are interested in activities beyond their own country, and are open to [different] perspectives – these would be helpful especially if the grades are not the best.

Publications, I think, are a little too much to expect from students completing their bachelor’s degree but certainly if a student did have that, that would be outstanding.

What do you think is the value of the LLM experience?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is great to see students coming from another country, and just figuring out how to get things set up here. It seems like a small thing, but it is, in a way, one of the most endearing values of a LLM degree – to come to another country and set up your life here. That is a great experience in and of itself.

In the classrooms it is great to see, what is very often, a different way of teaching. Our professors use the Socratic method, and class discussions are important.

And of course, students should definitely take advantage of meeting people from all over the world. This is your chance to discuss culture, politics, law and make the enduring friendships that often last a lifetime.

In terms of jobs, we have an advisory board of lawyers who work in regional and national law firms, and MNCs based in Cleveland where they try to offer opportunities specifically to international students in the LLM program. They are not easy to get, our best students (the top 10-15%) are most likely to get those jobs. So, that is a great experience to get before the students head home.

We have had Indian graduates, with their LLM here, start careers here in Cleveland. One of them is now a Partner at a national law firm, another one does immigration law here in Cleveland. But I would say most our Indian graduates return back to India and they find the LLM degree to be very helpful in finding jobs back in India.

How does Case Western help students prepare for the Bar Exam?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We advise our students on how to take either the Ohio Bar or the New York Bar. The New York Bar is the most popular for LLMs all over the country.

We tell students what classes these exams require during the LLM; you have to be careful to choose the correct classes. Usually, we advise students to take the general LLM which is the most flexible, and take as many Bar tested subjects as possible. But some students are trying to balance – they may really be interested in subjects that are not on the exam. So, you have to decide what is important for you.

And then we definitely help students with our Bar prep class. It is one thing to take the right classes to qualify, but then of course you have to do the right things to pass the exam.

How long does exam prep take?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is most common to start in the Fall, although we have students in January too. If you start in the Fall, you can take the July Bar exam. I do let the students know that if they are interested in the exam, they have to get all their paperwork in order by the first of October. This can be hard to do if you are just arriving in August.

So, either you take the July exam, or with the OPT, get some internship time and then study for the exam that is offered in February. I think if the student has the ability to stay that extra time to prepare, that helps. Especially on subjects that they haven’t had time to take while as a LLM student.

A lot of Indian law students are now thinking of a career in academia. 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We have a larger LLM program than the SJD program. Honestly, we do favor our own LLM graduates, so it will be harder for those with a LLM degree from another university. We do accept LLM degrees from common law countries, but I think we prefer an LLM from the US, and from the Case Western in particular.

Students interested in the SJD, don’t really have to indicate their interest until the second semester of their LLM degree. And by then we also have a sense of their marks in the LLM degree, and this helps us advise them whether the SJD is the right choice for them.

 

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Studying the preferences of Indian law students with respect to foreign LLM’s

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Over the past few months, we have been conducting online surveys for Indian law students interested in an LLM abroad. Broadly speaking, there are two goals behind this exercise: one, to understand just what the client (in this case a law student) has in mind, and what her future plans are. The other, and I think this is more important, is to help measure just what do Indian law students look for in terms of higher education opportunities.

The survey has nine questions in total, ranging from where the student wants to study, the criteria for choosing a particular university (at the master’s level), and how the master’s degree is going to be funded. Thus far, we have managed to elicit just under 100 responses (96 to be exact) from six different law schools across the country. The law schools that have participated thus far are NUJS, GLC Mumbai, Jindal Global Law School, KIIT Law School, NLU Delhi, and the School of Law at Christ University in Bangalore.

Admittedly, the survey has been a tad rudimentary, though I hope to change this as time goes by. Ideally, I would like the surveys to be taken offline, and also include a descriptive section where one can really understand the motivations behind wanting to pursue a master’s degree.

Anyway, this is what we have managed to find out so far.

1. Where do Indian law students want to do an LLM? 

In a lot of ways, this was largely unsurprising. The US and the UK have traditionally been the favoured destinations when it comes to an LLM, and I don’t see this changing in the near future. And even within these regions, the commonly sought after law degrees were the ones offered by Harvard Law School, Oxford University, Columbia Law School, LSE, and Cambridge University.

We did see something similar in the EU region, with a number of students expressing interest in the MIDS programme in Geneva. What I did find surprising is how close Canada and Australia were in terms of percentages; I also expected “Asia” to be more popular given the cost benefits, as well as the fact that both Singapore and Hong Kong have some highly-ranked law programmes.

2. How do they go about choosing the law school?

This is where things get a little interesting, with expertise in a particular course or faculty are the most compelling reasons for choosing a law school. This factor pips both employment prospects, and tuition costs although not by much. Why I found this particularly interesting is that it leads to questions on how students judge domain expertise, and faculty quality.

3. How will the LLM be paid for?

Tuition costs are an inevitable part of any consultation on LLM applications, and a very, very important one. Nearly half of all respondents say they would opt for some sort of financial aid, while the remaining are equally split between self-funded and student loans. One of the things I would like to do here would be to map the responses to this particular question over the next 5-10 years and see whether there is any change in proportions.

4. What do they intend on doing post the LLM? 

And finally, what is the post-LLM plan of the Indian LLM student. The leader here, again not by much, was working outside the country as a transactional lawyer. In other words, using the foreign LLM to land a job outside the country. The only other finding I would like to highlight is that 30% of the respondents were looking at joining academia, be it in India or abroad. This, to me, is reflective of a trend that will become more noticeable over the next decade or so.

Four great resources for writing a good Personal Statement

Personal statements are never the easiest things to draft. Nor, for that matter, are statements of purpose. In fact, when it comes to LLM admissions in particular, I have found that apart from actually selecting where to apply, it is these documents that can often take the most amount of effort.

But, not to worry. Help (via Google) is at hand. Well, sort of. Before going into the list below, there are two riders I would like to add here. One, all of these cater to individuals  who are, typically, US graduates interested in the JD degree. Cultural, educational and other differences will certainly exist.

Two,  if you listen to too many experts, you may find yourself more confused than when you started off. Like most types of advice, the one on LLM applications is often given away for free. The difficulty is in knowing which pieces of advice are  worth your time.

Anyway, enough of that. Here are four great resources you can use if you are applying struggling with the personal statements and/or statements of purpose.

1. Chicago Law School for some inspiration

Chicago Law School has a page dedicated to the SoP’s of some of their JD students. Admittedly, these are American students who have already completed an undergraduate degree. But you could pick a few pointers from the site.

Some of my favourite lines are from the application written by Osama Sandy (Class of ’13) who writes,

Osama, my name is Osama. I went from having a unique name that served as a conversation starter to having the same name as the most wanted man in America. The stares and the comments were just the beginning.

2. Spivey Consulting for some (useful) pointers

Spivey Consulting, an educational consultancy that has been in business for, well forever, also has an interesting blog that provides plenty of useful advice.

The one post I liked best was this one that has a list of ten words that are “most overly, wrongly, and (at times) annoyingly” used in applications.

A sample:

Unique. The singularly most overused word in law school admissions. Things are rarely, truly one of a kind across law schools. “I am applying to your school because of your unique international law program” is about as painful as it gets. Actually, there is a higher level of pain. If you qualify unique such as “my extremely unique background.” Nothing anyone has ever done is more unique than just unique.


3. Yale Law School for some great guidance

They may be a decade old, and addressed to the JD crowd (once again), but these blog posts by Asha Rangappa, former Associate Dean at Yale Law School contain some wonderful advice. Search out the “P.S. Boot Camp” ones where she explains into what works (and what does not) while writing a great personal statement.

My personal favourite is this one where she writes,

You want to reveal as many facets as you can about what makes you who you are. And let me be clear: I don’t mean that you should show that you are superficially “well-rounded” by listing a bunch of activities that you aren’t really involved in. You can be completely immersed in one particular idea or activity—you just don’t want that one thing to define you as a person. Presumably, you do spend some time in your day thinking of or doing other things, and you need to let those come through in your application as well.

4. Berkeley Law and UCLA for some tough love (and a PDF too!)

This page on Berkeley Law School’s website has some great words. The advice may seem slightly harsh words here but I still consider this to be mighty helpful.

For instance,

“The statement should avoid simply summarizing what is in the resume. It should avoid simply asserting how able, accomplished, and well suited for law school the applicant is. It should avoid uninformed attempts to ingratiate oneself through exaggerated claims of one’s interest in Berkeley. For instance, more than a few applicants stressed how much they want to work with named individuals who are at best passingly related to a Center or the like and aren’t even members of the faculty; these claims make one doubt the applicant’s due diligence.

Oh and here is a PDF from UCLA on understanding the differences between a personal statement, and a statement of purpose, and a whole lot more.

First Person Accounts: Soumya Shekhar (National University of Singapore)

Soumya Shekhar.jpeg

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

Soumya Shekhar, a graduate of NLU Delhi (Class of ’13), completed her LLM from the National University of Singapore (Class of ’16). In this FPA with Amicus Partners, she talks about the things that worked, and those that did not, and a whole lot more.

Amicus Partners: At what point in your undergrad did you start thinking about a masters? Or was this something you chose, after you started working?

Soumya Shekhar: I always had a passion for academics. Since my fifth year, I had a plan in my mind that I would pursue a Masters degree after obtaining some work experience. Hence, a Masters degree was always the plan.

AP: What made you join Luthra & Luthra? Looking back, would you have done things differently?

SS: I had interned at Luthra when I was in my fourth year of law school. The work environment and the learning opportunities there were unparalleled. Hence, when I received an offer, I did not think twice before accepting. No, I would not have done anything differently.

AP: Two years at Luthra, you enrolled for an LLM. How did you choose the course and university? Apart from NUS, were there any other schools that you were looking at?

SS: Since law school, I have been extremely interested in corporate and financial services laws. A number of my publications and paper presentations were also on various aspects of corporate law. Hence, the subject in which I wanted to pursue a Masters was always to be corporate law.

NUS has a very good faculty in corporate law plus I had interacted with a few of its alumni before deciding. I did get through University College London but I chose NUS over that, primarily because I got offered a full scholarship from NUS.

AP: How was your LLM experience at NUS? Anything you particularly liked and/or disliked? If you could give any advice to law students who are looking to do a masters, what would it be?

SS: My experience at NUS was brilliant. The academic culture there and the quality of lectures are very different from the way we are taught in India. The stress on analytical thinking over rote learning was something which impressed me the most.

Students looking to pursue a Masters should do so for the right reasons. Do a Masters if you are genuinely interested in academics and have a passion for learning.

AP: Did you opt for any scholarship/aid for your LLM?

SS: I received the Faculty Graduate Scholarship from NUS.

AP: How were the recruitment prospects of your LLM cohort? Did you consider working in Singapore, or was there little scope of this once you graduated?

SS: At the time of passing out I had three offers from various top law firms in India. My cohorts too had secured good offers. I, personally was not inclined to work in Singapore, however, those who wished to work there did land jobs.

AP: You mentioned that you are now working as an independent consultant. How has that journey been?

SS: The journey has been amazing so far. Being a legal research consultant requires me to provide my clients with impeccable research and legal writing. The wide variety of legal research and the writing style picked up by me during my time at NUS immensely helps me in my current work profile and also adds to my credibility.

Three costs that LLM applicants should keep an eye out for

The fact of the matter is that LLM programs can be prohibitively expensive, especially when you look at the offerings of the top US law schools. Of course, this is a well-documented feature, and by now, most LLM applicants have a rough idea of how much the master’s in law is going to cost them, and what they should  budget for.

Having said that, there are still a few “hidden” costs that can often lead to a ballooning of the final cost of the degree. The three mentioned below are some of the more commonly overlooked ones.

  1. Application fees

    Most, if not all, law schools will charge you an application fee; the quantum of this is usually around the hundred dollar mark. Now if you are only going to apply to one or two law schools, than this may not be a significant expenditure.

    However, if you are looking at multiple options spread over different continents, than the application fees can often touch the thousand dollar level. Which, if you think about it, is a cost that you can largely avoid by simply spending some more time deciding just where to apply.

  2. Living costs

    Very often, the only figure that will catch your eye is that related to tuition fees. Which can be misleading. Because, even if you have shortlisted courses on the basis of fees charged, you may end up paying a lot more for living costs. The general rule is that big cities are far more expensive than rural or university towns.

    But then, cities very often come with cheaper public transport, something that smaller towns may not offer. Hence, while drawing up the initial budget, do keep such factors in mind.

    Lastly, include the costs of social events (formal dinners, travel excursions etc) under this heading.

  3. Healthcare and insurance

    Very often, the health insurance will have to be sourced through the law school and the costs for the same will be spelt out in the “Tuition and costs” page. If not, then you should do some research on the insurance options available to you, and their costs.

    Once again, this may by itself seem like a minor cost, but put together with the above two, it can add up to a significant amount.

 

First Person Accounts: Bhavya Mahajan (Pepperdine University)

Bhavya Mahajan

Bhavya Mahajan

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

Bhavya Mahajan recently completed an LL.M from the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University.

In this FPA with Amicus Partners, the Panjab University graduate (Class of ’16) talks about choosing the ideal LLM, internships at law school, and a whole lot more.

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to pursue a master’s degree? What did you want to get out of the LLM program? 

Bhavya Mahajan: I wanted to pursue a master’s degree from the very beginning of my law school. Initially, there were no expectations, and I just wanted a master’s just for the sake of it. It was during the 4th and 5th year of my law school when I started giving it a serious thought.

I then wanted to get a specialization in an area of my interest which, I was clear by that time, was not litigation or corporate law. I also hoped to getting more exposure and experience in a different and better academic setting.

AP: How did you go about university selection? 

BM: My application process was very haphazard. I was not looking to apply to the States or any other country rather I was preparing for my CLAT entrance. One thing that I was clear about was that I wanted to specialize in a field that had other prospects than litigation.

It was a complete coincidence that I found out about Pepperdine University and their ADR programs, and it interested me a lot. So, I went ahead and applied.

However, I still was not sure about going abroad, and did not apply to any other university. Besides, I was a little late with my applications and some universities had stopped accepting applications by then.

AP: Also, was it your internship at the State LSA that prompted your decision to study dispute resolution? 

BM: Partially, yes. I briefly interned at the State LSA and had some exposure to mediation. When I was considering various specializations, dispute resolution was on my mind. There were other factors at play too.

AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid/scholarships?

BM: Yes, I did. So, all the applications submitted to Pepperdine University are, by default, considered for partial scholarships. The amount awarded by the university generally varies but can go up to 50% waiver in the tuition fee.

I also applied for the JAMS scholarship which sponsors the education of one student. Unfortunately, I could not get the JAMS scholarship but I received a 50% waiver as the Straus Merit Award.

AP: What were some of the biggest learnings during the LLM? How demanding was the course?

BM: The course itself was very fulfilling and challenging. The biggest difference there was the focus on research and analytical learning which, sadly, I missed out on during my LLB. I had never realized my strengths at legal and academic research before this. Simultaneously, I had a chance to get hands on experience in mediation as well as arbitration.

The course load can be very demanding as we are required to balance our academic requirements whilst doing our mandatory internship(s). But the best thing about the course structure is that it is flexible. As an international student, you also have an option to complete your degree in more than one year or two semesters.

AP: You also managed to secure a few internships, as well as a Research Assistant  (RA) position. Any advice for how one can go about this process?

BM: The procedure for hiring an RA varies from university to university. I had applied for the position in the very beginning of the program but got appointed after one semester. Pepperdine’s School of Law generally tries to evaluate the new students before offering them research positions.

The best approach here would be to stay in contact with your professors, and before applying for research positions figure out what would be the area of your interest. Also, RA positions can be demanding too. So, to start working as an RA and then be unable to focus on academics is a bad idea.

As far as the internships were concerned, the key was networking. Most of the universities in the States have a culture for promoting communication. Pepperdine especially, was very proactive in organizing meet-ups with professionals from the field, host guest lectures or interactive sessions and seminars.

The first internship that I secured during my masters was with a guest lecturer who was a family law attorney and mediator. I liked her lecture and ended up talking to her after the class. I expressed my interest in interning with her and she was kind enough to offer me a position.

AP: How did the United Nations Funds and Programmes internship happen? What is the kind of work that you did there?

BM: I stumbled upon the opening a few days after my graduation and decided to apply. The position requirements were specific and they wanted someone with an academic background in mediation. I thought I was a good match for the position. Their selection procedure included a review of academic writing samples and course transcripts. The final decision was then based on a Skype interview.

The work, initially, focused on office’s outreach and mediation advocacy. The Office catered to five different UN agencies and conducted various training programs and conflict management seminars on a regular basis. I was actively involved with this and simultaneously assisted the Ombudsman with the cases.

This included communicating with the visitors, follow-ups, participating in intake and mediation sessions. Most importantly, I was given the responsibility to research and draft articles for the Office’s annual report. I was also actively involved in the editing of the report, which came out during the last week of my internship.

AP: Looking back, anything that you would have done differently with respect to your LLM applications?

BM: Yes, definitely. I would have planned things more thoroughly and researched more about different universities and the programs that they offer. Also, I would have researched the scholarship programs better. I did not know about the Fulbright program until after I started my LLM. Had I known about it earlier, I would have definitely given it a shot.

AP: Any advice for law students considering a master’s course?

BM: I would say that plan ahead of time. Keep exploring different options. Choose a field based on your interest or experience, and not because it will pay well in future or someone else said it was good.

AP: Last question, what do you think a good legal education should provide?

BM: I strongly believe that a good legal education should focus on analytical learning. The legal education system in India is designed to ask the students ‘What the law is’ rather than ‘How to apply this law’. Experiential learning is important too and requires equal emphasis but the former can help the students prepare better for the latter.

The Admission Interviews: Elizabeth H. Woyczynski, Case Western Reserve University

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

In the first interview under The Admission Interviews, Amicus Partners speaks with Elizabeth H. Woyczynski from the Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law. At CWRU, Elizabeth is the Administrative Director of Admissions and Student Services,  Foreign Graduate Legal Services.

In this interview, Elizabeth discusses crucial aspects of the LLM application process such as the personal statements, letters of recommendation, as well as what are the things to keep in mind while applying for an LLM.

 

Amicus Partners: What do law schools look for in personal statements?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: What’s most important is that your personal statement is well written.

We want to see that you know how to structure a paragraph, and an essay – with introductions, arguments, and conclusions.  LLM students need these skills to succeed in law school. Of course, we want to see good grammar too.

Secondly, we want to get to know you. An LLM is a demanding program of study, and we want to know your motivation to study law in your country, and your motivation to pursue an LLM in the USA.

Thirdly, we like to see that you have investigated LLM programs, and you have a sense about how our LLM program meets your personal interests.

AP: How are letter of recommendations evaluated by the Admissions Office?

EHW: We require two letters of recommendation.  We like to see a least one letter of recommendation from a law school professor.

If you can’t get both letters from law professors, get the other letter from someone who has supervised you in the work place, who can speak to your work ethic and your career ambitions.

AP: When should one start the application process?

EHW: It’s best to start the application process as soon as possible.  Look for application deadlines on the LLM websites.

Make sure that all your admissions documents have arrived before the deadline. Students who apply too close to the deadline, or worse, after the deadline, don’t have as good a chance of getting admitted or, especially, getting merit scholarships.

CWRU

CWRU LLM has rolling admission. So, whenever you complete your application for admission, one month before the deadline or six months before the deadline, we let applicants know about admission and merit based scholarship within one week of the day they complete their applications for admission.

AP: What are the chances of securing financial aid?

EHW: CWRU LLM awards all merit scholarships on the basis of the application for admission.  I think this is common for LLM programs at many universities.

Just to be sure, you should email each LLM Admission Office to ask if they have any separate applications or deadlines for merit scholarships. The CWRU LLM does not award need-based financial aid. We award our scholarships on the basis of academics and geographic diversity.