The Admission Interviews, are meant to provide insights into LLM admissions right from the law school itself. The primary idea behind this series is to provide that little bit of extra information that may not be available on the law school’s website.

Chinthana Konganda
Chinthana Konganda

In this edition, I speak with Chinthana Konganda who is the Assistant Director for LLM and MCL programs for foreign lawyers at the California Western School of Law.  In this interview, Chinthana shares her thoughts on recruitment prospects in the US, how to make the most out of the nine-month course, and a whole lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

Let us start from the start, what do you think is the value of an LLM from the perspective of an international LLM student? And why one at California Western?

An LLM degree from the United States will enrich a student’s mind and add value to a student’s professional life. Having a U.S. degree helps in many ways: if a graduate decides to stay in the U.S., it can help them ease into the legal world, and help them become eligible to sit for a state licensing exam (bar exam). If graduates decide to go back to their home countries, it opens door to career opportunities that involve working transnationally with U.S. entities.

California Western is a close-knit community with a smaller campus. LLM students get to bond with the whole community and they become especially close with other LLM students from across the globe. We select a limited number of students for our LLM class so that every student gets individual attention from program directors who are experienced in working with international students.

“We select a limited number of students for our LLM class so that every student gets individual attention from program directors who are experienced in working with international students.”

Because of the small size of our LLM class, LLM students can apply to participate in one of our several live client clinics where they will get direct legal experience working under the guidance and supervision of our faculty and other attorneys. This is a very unique aspect of our LLM program because not many LLM programs let their LLMs participate in the clinics. Some of our popular clinics are Trademark Clinic, New Media Rights Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Mediation Clinic and the Community Law Project. Students get to work with actual clients and help to resolve real disputes/cases.

And last – location, location, location! We are ideally located near law firms and courts in the downtown business district of San Diego, the 8th largest city in the United States. San Diego enjoys a perfect climate throughout the year and has some of the best beaches in the world.  Who wouldn’t want to spend a year studying in this beautiful environment?

In your time at CWSL, what have international LLM students found to be the most valuable aspect of the LLM experience? 

Our LLM students have expressed that they love the small friendly atmosphere of CWSL students and faculty. Our LLM program has existed for over 40 years, and we have alumni from more than 60 countries all around the world who stay in touch.

Students also appreciate that the directors help them choose which courses to take based on their individual goals and interests.

Does CWSL look for a particular profile of applicants, for instance do you prefer law graduates with a few years of work experience? 

Every applicant is unique in their own way. Yes, experience does matter, but we are equally interested in how they have performed in their legal education. For new graduates, we focus more on their performance in law school, whether they had internships, and whether they have improved over the years or maintained their good grades.

What do graduate admission offices look for in: 

One, the Personal Statement

In a personal statement, we look to see what kind of a student this candidate would be, if we accept him/her. Would this candidate be a serious student? Would they contribute to the class discussions? And what is the driving force for them? What are their reasons and goals for studying law in the U.S., and why do they want to apply to CWSL? What do they want to achieve after they graduate from our school? If the personal statement is strong, we should be able to answer those questions.

Two, the Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should come from people who know the candidates work ethic and intellectual ability. Generally, that means they should be written by professors or employers in the legal field.

The more specific the letter is, the better. If it appears to be a “form letter” that they might send for anyone, then it has less influence.

“The more specific the letter is, the better. If it appears to be a “form letter” that they might send for anyone, then it has less influence.”

Could you disclose any information on how much financial aid is provided, on average, to international LLM students? 

Merit-based scholarships are offered to outstanding applicants, and are available to foreign/international students.  Government backed financial aid at CWSL is available to US citizens and permanent residents only.

Given that an LLM is barely nine months long, what advice would you for grad students who are looking to make the most of the programme? 

Take courses that will interest you and will help you in your home country if you plan to return, or classes that will give you some edge over others, if you plan to stay in the United States.

For example, if you are interested in Negotiation and Mediation, join the Mediation clinic. If you are interested in intellectual property, apply to the Trademark Clinic to get hands-on experience providing legal services for individuals and small businesses seeking a federal trademark or service from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Also, make sure you are in a community that feels comfortable to you and where you can enjoy your leisure time.

What is your reading of the legal recruitment market in the US when it comes to international LLMs? 

Legal recruitment in the U.S. is saturated right now to all law graduates, and it can be even more challenging if they are international students who would require work visas. But if an LLM student has passed the bar exam, he will be treated as well as a student with a JD degree.

And with globalization, international students can utilize their knowledge of the law and culture of their home countries that American lawyers would be lacking.

“And with globalization, international students can utilize their knowledge of the law and culture of their home countries that American lawyers would be lacking.”

For example, last year we had a student from India who got a job right after graduation because one of our alumni, who does business immigration law, was looking for a lawyer from India who has knowledge of the local language and knows the working culture. We have local LLM alumni who have created careers in many areas of law and business and would be happy to speak with students who are accepted to our LLM program.

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