The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession at the global level. Along with the legal research and law schools, these interviews are meant to bring across a slightly “macro” perspective on things.
Yi Song is the Executive Director of Graduate and International Programs and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law. She also happens to be the force behind Master of Laws Interviews Project, a collection of interviews with foreign trained lawyers on, inter alia, how to build a successful international practice.
In this interview, Yi talks about her own LLM experience at Georgetown Law, the reasons behind setting up the interviews project, the learnings made thus far, and a whole lot more.
So, one of the goals behind the Masters of Law Interviews Project is to inspire the next generation of foreign-trained lawyers – looking back at your own journey as a foreign-trained lawyer in the US, who were the people who inspired and guided you in your own professional and personal life?
There are so many people who have helped and supported me by taking a chance on me, offering me opportunities and opening the doors for me. Professor James Feinerman who selected me to study in Hong Kong on a full scholarship. That led to me studying at @Georgetown University and doing a summer internship in DC, where I met my husband David Wu, a lawyer and an entrepreneur, and the funniest guy I know till this day.
Professor Craig Hoffman taught me how to write like a U.S. lawyer and inspired me to continue pursuing writing. He brought me back home to Georgetown Law.
Ms. Mona Shah, Esq. a former British Crown Prosecutor, who moved to NY and set up her own firm. Mona offered me a job in an emerging practice area and sponsored my work visa when I needed it the most. My years in New York with her were instrumental in my coming-of-age as a lawyer.
Mr. Ting Qiao took a chance on me and offered me the in-house counsel job. Ting is one of the sharpest entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of working with and a fun boss to travel with. I have had some of the best meals on business trips with Ting.
Now I’m inspired by my colleagues and students, our fabulous community of multilingual lawyers with global careers. I hope the Master of Laws Interviews Project can make our community more visible in the legal industry.
One of the interesting comments you made in this interview was that you wished you had been a lot less stressed during your time as an LLM candidate at Georgetown – is this something that LLM candidates continue to do, and if so, are there any ways in which this can change?
Stress management is easier said than done. Studying in the U.S. for my LLM is probably one of the most stressful times of my life. Students today face similar stress and uncertainty at this juncture in their lives with studying, the bar exam, job searches, adjusting family and living arrangements.
Too many moving pieces in a young person’s life that could have life-changing impacts.
Law schools and American society, in general, are more aware of mental wellness issues today than a decade ago.
Students have more support in terms of counseling and academic advising in law schools. I wish I heard this more often when I was a student: give it your best, but also know your limits. If you feel like you can’t focus any more, it may be more beneficial to move away from your desk, go to the gym, take a walk, or have a nice meal with friends.
Are there any common characteristics in the foreign lawyers who have made a successful career in the US? Any broad based learnings that more foreign trained lawyers ought to know about?
Networking: Almost everybody I talked to finds their first job through networking, using alum networks, LinkedIn, professional and social contacts, etc. One often overlooked advice may be to explore events outside the legal field. There are candidates who get connected to their current employers through playing soccer, tennis, exchanging recipes, hosting dinner parties etc.
Motivation: They are self-starters with an entrepreneurial mindset. As junior lawyers, they think holistically as if they are in charge of the case. When they make partner, they go the extra mile and think a few steps ahead for their clients.
Passion: To excel at what you do, you have to love what you do and love the people you work with. Each job has its pros and cons. The lawyers I talked to seem to identify their interest in broad terms. (i.e. working in a multicultural environment, being intellectually challenged, helping solve real-life problems that have positive social impact, etc.) and manage to find the elements of their interest in their jobs.
How has the Interviews Project been received thus far? Have you been able to identify where your readers are coming from, and the kind of information they are looking for?
The best thing about founding the project is to be connected with this fabulous international community on LinkedIn! It means a lot that so many people reached out to tell me that it gives them hope to see these lawyers being successful in the U.S., despite being foreign-trained and non-native English speakers.
That’s why I include a short audio clip, to make the point that you don’t need to be a native English speaker to make it as a lawyer. Many of the BigLaw partners and senior counsel of multinational corporations speak with charming accents.
My readers are mostly LL.M. candidates and new lawyers with international backgrounds from around the world. Their questions focus on how to find a job or internship in the U.S. I hope that the Master of Laws Interviews Project offer them not a playbook of job search, since the job search journey is individualized.
These are stories of hopes and inspiration. I hope that these interviews can make the legal industry more inclusive for linguistically diverse lawyers, and inspire law students and new lawyers with international background to think outside the box, to discover their true calling, to reach their full potential.
I hope they walk away thinking if that guy or gal can do it, I can do it too.
Lastly, not to put you in a spot, but is there any one interview conducted so far that has been your favorite? And if so, why?
Haha! It’s like choosing the favorite (brain) child for a parent. I love storytelling. The interviews with the best plot twist are the most memorable ones. For example, Jose Garcia Cueto turned his love of cooking into dinner parties, where he was connected to the right person who eventually hired him. Alfie Battista found externship opportunities in the most unexpected ways, through playing soccer and he happened to be playing with a guy, who connected him to two managing partners of his dream job at the Big Four.
Don’t miss out on Alfie’s “thong” story.
Another favorite interviews of mine will be published in Season 2, Yao Liu who cold showed up at the doors of each firms he was applying to, not by begging them to give him a job, but by asking the question: “why are you not hiring international law students with stellar grades?” He ended up being the first international lawyer hired in the firm’s 137-year history. He is a shareholder at the firm today. How did he make it happen? Stay tuned for Season 2 of Master of Laws Interviews!