Margareth Etienne - professor of law

Prof. Margareth Etienne / Illinois College

The Admission Interviews (AI) are meant to provide prospective LLM applicants with first-hand information on the LLM application process. In this edition of AI, Amicus Partners speaks to Professor Margareth Etienne, the associate dean for graduate and international programs at the Illinois College of Law.

In this interview, Prof. Etienne discusses several aspects of the LLM application process – right from how one should go about choosing a law school, what should one write in the Statement of Purpose, the JSD option, and a whole lot more.

So, let’s start from the start – how early should applicants begin the LLM application process?

Students should start investigating and doing their research into different law schools probably in the Spring (March-June) before they want to apply.

And as for the applications themselves, they should begin that process by September because there is a lot to prepare. They have to, in some instances, take an English proficiency exam, arrange finances or apply for funding, obtain letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers, and so on.

Each school’s application may be slightly different. It is important to find out what the law school requires for the application process, and you should give yourself about 3-4 months for this.

How do you think LLM applicants should choose a law school?

There are several factors applicants should consider. I would focus on the faculty and the curriculum. Too many international students rely on rankings. Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students. These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students.  These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

There are a lot of programs that focus on the JD course and do not really have a good program for LLM students. So, you might have a good experience, but it does not necessarily mean you will.

Take seriously instead the areas of expertise or subject matter concentrations that the law school is known for. I would also look at the faculty to student ratio. It is easy to get lost in a large school.

And I would finally look at the location. This is important for many reasons – for example, the costs of living – do you want an American campus experience or a large city experience? Most international students don’t have cars, so they should know how close they have to live to the school, how is the public transportation etc.

Location is also important because you may want to go to a part of the country that you would not otherwise see. After all, [an LLM] is also a chance to experience a different culture.

What do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement?

I look for the student’s motivation. Why do they want to come to Illinois? Are they familiar with our faculty and our strengths in technology or constitutional law or corporate law? Do they know anything specific about the law school? Or are they writing one generic statement simply because they want to spend a year aboard?

I am much more interested in the student who can connect their decision to seek an LLM to something in their background, or their work experience.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

Is this someone who will go out and do different things? Will she think about new ways of approaching a legal problem? What is her future trajectory? A personal statement that can demonstrate these elements is a strong statement.

How do you think applicants should plan for their finances?

I would say first look for schools that have an application fee waiver. Second, when you are considering the total cost of the experience including the full cost of living and not just the tuition. When you are applying for the visa, you have to show you possess the finances that cover the full cost.

Therefore, students should be wise consumers.

Also, look for a school that has significant scholarships and also what is your likelihood of getting this scholarship. As an administrator I may have to choose between allocating 5 full scholarships or 10 half scholarships. So, you want to look at both the amount and number of scholarships.

At Illinois, over 80% of our student receive scholarships, and many of our scholarships are about 50% but not all of them. We are known for being a great bargain for a great education because we invest in top international students.

Illinois College of Law has an option for students to complete the LLM in three semesters instead of two. How does that work?

One of the things we pride ourselves is the flexibility of our LLM program. Students can begin in fall or begin in January. They can complete the LLM in two semesters or choose to finish in three semesters.

Now, some students apply for the three-semester option at the outset while others come here and then choose to extend their coursework in order to study for the bar or improve their practice or language skills. It really depends on the student.

What do you think are the benefits of an LLM from the point of view of an international student?

First of all, getting an international LLM really opens up opportunities, be it academic or career-wise. The LLM allows students to take the Bar exams in the United States, and in some cases gain employment here.

But whether a student choses to sit for the Bar or not, the LLM degree distinguishes them when they go back home. The American system of legal education is unparalleled and students think differently after they leave here.

The LLM broadens your perspectives. Students learn to think about the different ways in which things can be done about various approaches to solving legal problems.

The LLM also provides important global networking opportunities. One of the reasons I mentioned that students should look at the student faculty ratio is that many students come to the US and study for a year, but after that year, they know no one. You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career.

You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career. And the same holds true for your classmates.

And the same holds true for your classmates. The Illinois LLM is diverse and so students have colleagues from South America, Europe, Africa, and different parts of Asia. In 5-10 years into their practice, it may be helpful for them to know people practicing law in different regions.

And you can’t do this by continuing your education at home.

A lot of our clients are looking at joining academia as a profession. Any advice for those considering the JSD or other doctorate degree?

I would highly recommend the JSD for someone who wants to teach or be in academia.

In many countries, you really need a doctoral degree to join the highest ranks of academia. But the JSD admissions are also very competitive, most schools take 5-10 JSD students a year. So, if we have an LLM class of 70 students, even if they all want a JSD we can’t take them all. It is very, very competitive.

My advice for LLM students who are looking at the JSD is that they should apply to several schools because admission is so competitive.

Any final words of advice for those interested in an LLM in the US?

Do your homework and start early. All law schools have detailed websites, so do your homework and really try to understand the program as much as you can.

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