The Admission Interviews, are meant to provide insights into LL.M. 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.

In this edition, we speak with John N Riccardi, Boston University Law’s assistant dean for graduate and international programs and director of the Graduate and International Programs Office.

JR Headshot
John N Riccardi, BU Law

We try and ask as many people as we can this question – what do you think is the value of an international LL.M.?

And how does BU Law deliver on this? 

I believe that there are at least five true benefits of obtaining an international LLM degree from a US law school.

First and foremost is the fact that a US LLM degree is a highly valued credential in the global legal service market. That’s because the enhanced skills and knowledge base that graduates obtain is immediately applicable to their workplaces, and because the degree enhances graduates’ marketability to potential new employers. It signals rigorous training, maturity and resourcefulness.

Second, an LLM program can give students training in specialized areas of global relevance. For example, students in our intellectual property law program learn the US perspective on the protection of intangible rights.  Intellectual property doctrines that developed from US law are seen in the IP regimes of many other jurisdictions. Same with bankruptcy and securities regulation.  Our Graduate Program in Banking and Financial Law, which is quite specialized, prepares students for advancement in the field of financial services, a global industry heavily influenced by US based regulations.

Many schools such as Boston University offer both specialized programs and also a general program which enables students to take a broad range of courses that touch on a number of different practice areas, so students can, for example, combine intellectual property with corporate and transactional law.  We call our general program the LLM in American Law Program. Students have access to the entire JD curriculum, which features over 200 classes, including, of course, foundational US doctrinal classes, such as constitutional law, civil procedure and evidence.

Third, an LLM experience will give a student a solid background understanding of what I may call the “US lawyering style.” How do US lawyers go about representing their clients’ interests? We offer in classes which students work their way through real world business deals from the beginning to the end of the semester.  They engage in role-plays — drafting, structuring and negotiating the deal terms of a transaction.

Fourth, an LLM experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create and expand one’s global professional network. The faculty, staff and students you meet during the year is just the beginning.  Our alumni network consists of roughly 24,000 alumni in over 100 countries. It is very common for graduates to contact me, seeking professional references in specialized areas in various countries. I am pleased to help by referring a fellow graduate.

“Our alumni network consists of roughly 24,000 alumni in over 100 countries. It is very common for graduates to contact me, seeking professional references in specialized areas in various countries.”

Finally, another major benefit is how the experience can directly enhance one’s overall communication skills in the law. There is a premium on effective communication skills in the practice of law in the US, if not globally, and we take that training very seriously – developing students’ persuasive advocacy skills,  in writing and orally. Even if a student is perfectly fluent in English, as many of our students from India are, learning how to effectively communicate legal concepts in the US tradition requires specialized training.

Legal writing in the US is very different than in India. If a student anticipates engaging in cross-border work, understanding and being able to communicate successfully and effectively is a highly valued skill.

As the former chair of AALS’s section of graduate legal education, how do you think US law schools are going to adapt to the changing circumstances? Do you think most will opt for an online Fall semester?

First and foremost, schools will be focused on safety – for their students, faculty and staff. At the graduate level – meaning, LLM programs in the US – you will see most programs follow the lead of the school’s JD program, which in turn, will likely follow the mandates of its respective university’s leadership (if the school is part of a larger university, as we are), which will be consistent with the policies and procedures that state and local public health officials put in place.

I cannot say what most schools will or won’t be doing, as the situation is very fluid.  Many decisions will be made later in the summer, perhaps in early July.

What I can say is that more than a few schools are preparing to offer live classes that will also be accessible remotely through asynchronous and asynchronous technologies to accommodate students who cannot make it to campus, either because their visas are delayed, or are immunocompromised or quarantined.

This is known as a hybrid model.

That’s BU Law’s current plan – to be able to engage fully with enrolled students if they are not able to physically be inside the classroom.

I am also curious to know what you think about online learning as opposed to the more traditional classroom based learning experience? 

We make an important distinction between “online learning” and “remote learning.”  In general, an online class is one that is specifically made for distance learning. The presentation of the content is built from the ground up, leveraging the use of educational technologies and, often, the expertise of instructional designers to support the instructor’s pedagogical goals.

The online classes we offer in our Executive LLM in International Business Law Program are developed this way.  In general, remote learning refers to giving students who are not in the classroom the same pedagogical experience that the live students are experiencing, or something that is close to it. It involves interactions between the classroom students and the distant students and between the processor and distance students, all on equal footing.

So remote learning is much closer to the classroom experience taking place as opposed to a purely online class — because it is based on the classroom experience. Through Zoom and other synchronous technologies, faculty can call on students just as readily as if the students were sitting in the classroom.

Things get more complicated in our clinical programs, where students work on behalf of real clients in supervised settings – but we have found that some experiential courses, say, negotiation for example, can effectively be delivered to remote students. That’s how negotiations happen in the real world after all, via distance.

What are the changes that BU Law has implemented over the past few months, and will continue to do so in the near future? 

When the school was required to deliver its classes remotely during the last portion of the spring semester, the faculty quickly got up to speed on the available technologies – namely Zoom and Blackboard. This includes many instructors who had very little prior experience with these tools.

I hear that as we revert back to classroom-based teaching, many faculty members are interested in incorporating the technologies in their regular classes,  to create “flipped” classes whereby much of the background learning can take place outside of class, leaving more time in the live classroom for discussion and debate.

So, some of the lessons learned over the past few months may have a more permanent place in our instructional portfolio.

Given the short nature of the course, how do you think candidates can derive the maximum benefit from the LLM experience? 

I get this question a lot. The answer is to resist the temptation to spend every waking moment in the library. The LLM experience is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to immerse yourself in a learning experience that goes way beyond what’s in a book.  Get out and get involved – with student organizations, with networking  and professional development events.

“The LLM experience is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to immerse yourself in a learning experience that goes way beyond what’s in a book.  Get out and get involved “

Get to know your teachers outside of class. When we ask graduates about the one thing they’d do differently if they could do it all over again, they often say just that – “I’d spend less time studying in the library.’

What advice would you have for the Indian law graduate who may be contemplating applying for the BU LLM? 

Be realistic about post-graduation permanent job opportunities in the US.  Students who want to stay past the end of their period of Optional Practical Training need to have their H1-B visas sponsored by an employer, and also go through a lottery system.  While a good number of our Indian students have made it through this process, there are tremendous uncertainties.

The hit that the legal services market has taken as a result of the coronavirus will create even more challenges for students seeking to stay for the long-term.  Students should not do the LLM if their main driver is to find a permanent legal job in the US.  The JD degree is the credential for that.

“Students should not do the LLM if their main driver is to find a permanent legal job in the US.  The JD degree is the credential for that.”

Some schools, like ours, have policies that allow LLM students to apply to and transfer into the JD program on an advanced standing basis.  If admitted as a transfer student, they would be able to complete the JD in only two more years of study.

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