The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession at the global level. Understandably, a large number of Indian law graduates approach the LL.M., or other master’s courses, as a means to find employment outside the India.
And one of the people who has a bird’s eye view on this, especially for the US market, is Desiree Jaeger- Fine, the founder of Jaeger-Fine Consulting LLC. As someone who works closely with international LLM graduates in the US, Desiree is an ideal candidate for a macro perspective on recruitments in the US legal industry.
Desiree also happens to be the founder of LLM-United, a network for international LLM graduates in the US. It was an idea that came to her while she was pursuing an LLM at Fordham Law School, and she sold it a few years after completing the LL.M.
What made you choose a specialized LLM at Fordham? I am especially curious given your previous work as an actress and recording artist.
I graduated with an LLM in Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law and I chose this specialization precisely because of my background as an actress and recording artist.
During my time in the entertainment industry, I had managers and agents on whom I had to rely to safeguard my intellectual property rights. In my first major deal for a multi-year TV show, I basically signed away my entire rights, my image, my likeness, my voice, etc. I chose an LLM in Intellectual Property because I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of this practice area and to learn it from the perspective of a lawyer.
During my LLM study, I was always able to relate back to my personal experience and see the effect of legal issues on real life.
“In my first major deal for a multi-year TV show, I basically signed away my entire rights, my image, my likeness, my voice, etc. I chose an LLM in Intellectual Property because I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of this practice area and to learn it from the perspective of a lawyer. “
Looking back, what were some of the highlights of the LLM experience?
The LLM was the best year of my life. During that year, I developed professionally and personally in a way that I could have never imagined. I remember the first day in New York, I was crying every 30 seconds because I missed my family and friends so much. Everything felt strange, every smell, every sight, it wasn’t home. Living through this, making a new place your home, speaking in a language that does not come easily, and navigating a new culture, is tremendously rewarding.
“Everything felt strange, every smell, every sight, it wasn’t home. Living through this, making a new place your home, speaking in a language that does not come easily, and navigating a new culture, is tremendously rewarding.”
Furthermore, being in a U.S. law school with other students from different countries and cultures is very stimulating. You learn not only about U.S. law but also about how different cultural backgrounds influence the way the law is approached, defined and analyzed. The interaction with the faculty and administrators is different from Germany as well and I was stunned by how engaged they are with their students.
I miss my LLM year and whenever I meet someone who is about to do their LLM, I get excited for them because I know what they are about to experience.
How was the experience of starting, and then selling, LLM-United? What were some of the more unexpected learnings made along the way?
While I was studying for my LLM, I noticed that I knew the LLM students from my school but not from other schools. I thought that this is a missed opportunity and that we should find a way to get together. LLM-United was a professional online network in which prospective, current and former LLM students could interact and support each other. We had the means of staying connected even upon our return to our home country and thereby created a truly global network of U.S. LLM fellows.
I sold the platform two years after its launch. I was excited that something I built was of value to someone else. I coded the entire platform myself. I did not know how to code and had to teach myself while studying for the LLM. I was so proud that the platform actually worked and amazed everyday to see that it did not crash.
A lot of our clients ask us whether an LLM, especially in the US, is worth the cost of attendance. Don’t mean to put you in a spot here, but what do you think?
I remember that I was devastated when I first saw the tuition for an LLM. I thought there was absolutely no chance for me to come up with the financial resources. The LLM meant for me a heavy financial burden and risk, but it was worth it. As I said before, the experience is like no other.
What you will learn during your time in a U.S. law school is worth much more than the cost of attendance. I am not saying that one should take the costs associated with an LLM lightly, but that one should not take the cost as a reason for not pursuing it. There are many possibilities – scholarships and other assistance – and one should consider all available options to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.
“What you will learn during your time in a U.S. law school is worth much more than the cost of attendance. I am not saying that one should take the costs associated with an LLM lightly, but that one should not take the cost as a reason for not pursuing it.”
Another common question revolves around sitting for the NY Bar – do you have any advice on this, especially when it comes to planning for the exam, and how early one should start the BOLE registration process?
This is an important question and I am happy you asked it. I always recommend that the minute the LLM application is completed, one should start collecting the documents for the advanced evaluation by the Board of Law Examiners (BOLE).
The process of collecting yet another set of documents seems daunting, especially after just having gone through the LLM application process. But the BOLE will need a minimum of 6 months to evaluate whether a foreign attorney is eligible to sit for the NY bar exam. And 6 months is the best-case scenario. It can take much longer than that.
The easiest way to come up with the required documents is while you are still in your home country. It will be very difficult to accomplish once you are in the middle of your LLM studies, thousands of miles away, in a different time zone. I have seen too many times that those who did not initiate the advanced foreign evaluation early enough were denied eligibility to sit for the bar exam. They could not collect the documents early enough for the BOLE to make a timely decision.
“I have seen too many times that those who did not initiate the advanced foreign evaluation early enough were denied eligibility to sit for the bar exam. They could not collect the documents early enough for the BOLE to make a timely decision.“
The inability to sit for the bar exam when you planned to can throw off your entire financial and immigration plan. For most of us, we will have to keep our visa situation in mind. So, I urge everyone to get started on this procedure immediately upon applying for an LLM.
How do you think international students should go about choosing just where to enrol for an LLM? Rankings like US News are for the JD program, so what should the prospective LLM applicant look at?
The rankings are not helpful at all for LLM students but unfortunately that is the first thing you find when you do a Google search.
International students should ask themselves some questions before even looking for a school. What is my interest, what would I like to learn while in the U.S., something specialized like me, IP, or just general U.S. law? Which states can I see myself living in? The U.S. is very big and very different in different regions. Do I want a big law school with 600 LLM students or a smaller one with 20 students? Are there certain professors you would like to work with? Do you want to take a bar exam?
Only after these and more questions are answered should one start looking for those schools that match our criteria. It is important to narrow down the field, otherwise, one will be overwhelmed.
“It is important to narrow down the field, otherwise, one will be overwhelmed.”
In your talks, seminars, and books, you are quite vocal about the need to network, especially for international LLM students – could you share specific examples on how one ought to go about it?
Networking is such an important and big topic. I don’t think I can do it justice here. Coming from Germany, I was totally puzzled by the concept of networking when I heard it for the first time in the U.S. It did not make any sense to me. Today, I am the author of A Short & Happy Guide to Networking.
We are social creatures and we need relationships. Networking means nothing other than building and nurturing relationships and friendships within a professional circle. I don’t call my network, my network. I call it my circle of friends because that is what they are. My friends, some of which are lawyers, some are other professionals.
When I came to NYC I did not know anyone, that is scary and lonely. The first instinct a human being has is to connect with others—to share. If you approach networking from this very basic premise, it will not be difficult or daunting.
“When I came to NYC I did not know anyone, that is scary and lonely. The first instinct a human being has is to connect with others—to share. If you approach networking from this very basic premise, it will not be difficult or daunting.”
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s but not quite sure whether she should go for it or not?
Please go for it! You will not regret it!!