The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession at the global level. Along with the LLM application itself, these interviews are meant to bring across a slightly macro perspective on things.

Professor Petra Butler, Victoria University of Wellington
Professor Petra Butler

In this edition, I get Professor Petra Butler of the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) to share a few thoughts on a broad range of topics including the value of an international LL.M., breaking into the field of international commercial arbitration, judging the finals of the Vis moot, and a whole lot more.

I am sure you get asked this a lot, but what do you think are the benefits of an international LL.M. for today’s law graduates? 

I think the benefits are fourfold:

  1. The obvious answer is that an LLM allows to gain additional knowledge. In particular pursuing an LLM in a foreign country will allow not only to gain insights into a different legal system but will also test one’s understanding of one’s own legal system. It is also an opportunity to specialise or to explore some new legal areas.
  2. In addition it allows to  gain new legal insights an LLM offers probably one of the last opportunities in a lawyer’s life to engage with and to be part of  the wider academic  community a daily basis.
  3. If one pursues an LLM in a foreign country the additional attraction is to immerse oneself in a different culture.
  4. Lastly, one extends one’s network.

What are some of the aspects of VUW that you think make the LLM experience particularly valuable for the international law graduate? 

Firstly, the Law School was ranked first in New Zealand’s research evaluation exercise.

Secondly, VUW has a unique LLM environment with really small classes and very individual supervision. Our courses are responsive to the world around us, ie we offer courses that discuss cutting edge legal developments and we offer an internship as part of our LLM programme. The latter has been proven to be very popular among foreign LLM students since it allows the students to experience a practical legal environment.

Thirdly, we are a capital city law school. Students have easy access to the courts and Parliament. Judges, government officials, and MPs are welcome and often visitors to the Law School.

Are there any specific research fields for which you are looking to attract PhDs at VUW?

No. I would encourage prospective PhD students to go to our website and see what my colleagues are researching. I think they will discover that my colleagues are involved in cutting edge issues in all areas of the law.

As someone who has taught at universities across the world, how do you think law schools can build and foster a culture of research? 

This is an interesting question and no short answer is possible. Research and writing are creative and the environment a researcher needs to flourish will be very individual. The best a university can do is to create an environment where there is space for each researcher to be creative.

“The best a university can do is to create an environment where there is space for each researcher to be creative.”

Furthermore, my view is that universities should do their most to foster an intellectually stimulating environment, including a network of international researchers and students.

How was the experience of a completely online Vis moot?
It worked really well. It was a huge leap of faith for the organisers. Nearly 300 teams from all parts of the globe meaning all time zones competed. From what I heard everyone was patient and showed some ingenuity to work around internet problems. The final worked well with the zoom meeting being streamed on Facebook.

I know you recently had the chance to visit India, and present your findings on the Commonwealth Secretariat Study at NLU Jodhpur – what was your impression of the law students you interacted with?

The students were fantastic. I had such a great time. They were incredible knowledgable not only about the law (smiles). I am really looking forward to coming back.

Sticking with international commercial arbitration (ICA), what are some of the steps that India can take to build and encourage domestic dispute resolution through arbitration?

One of the most important things that can be done is to educate small and medium sized enterprises about dispute resolution and the benefits of arbitration. This includes education around the benefits to have a written contract setting out the rights and duties of the parties and a robust dispute resolution clause.

And for the Indian law graduate who is interested in working in the field of ICA – any words of advice on how she should approach international education, and degrees such as the LL.M.?

That is a very interesting and probably a controversially debated question. There are a number of specialised International Arbitration Masters programmes around. The most established are the ones in Geneva, Queen Mary (London)  and Stockholm.

And if a student wants to come back to their home country to help to establish an international arbitration practice these are very good choices.

However, if  a students wants to work in international arbitration in London, New York, or Paris then it might be a better path to pursue an LLM at one of the top law schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge.

Lastly, the COVID crisis has revealed the deep schisms in society, and vulnerability of the poor. Do you think this will result in an increased focus on human rights protection through legislation? In other words, will countries now begin to examine the responsibilities of private corporations when it comes to human rights? 

Very astute question- unfortunately what we are seeing at the moment is the opposite. We are seeing in a number of countries that the COVID 19 crisis is used for a power grab. We do see a lot of executive overreach.