Angela Mackie-Rutledge is an LL.M. graduate from George Mason University, a law clerk, and also a past participant on the UK quiz show, Mastermind. And that is just the beginning. For the past few months, Angela has been spending a substantial amount of time on the US LLM experience, be it through surveys, interviews or starting the 10 List Journal.
This is her interview.
Angela, you are doing such fascinating work! Can you tell me what keeps you motivated and spend the kind of time and energy you do on initiatives such as the 10 List, and Black Hair Big Law?
Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to participate in this Q&A.
So what gives me the energy to work on these initiatives? I know this sounds a little bit cheesy but I do have a desire for the world to be a better place. On a very selfish level you know if I see something that doesn’t exist in the world and I think it should exist, then I feel that the impetus is on me to make it happen. The Black Hair Big Law Symposium was a massive undertaking.
And when I look back at working on it, I acknowledge that it took time away from my law studies. It took time away from studying for the bar exam. But what I got out of it was so much greater than what I put into it. I would suggest that every LLM student try organizing a symposium at their law school. It is the ultimate way to network.
I didn’t realize that when I started it but having done it I’m so glad!
The time issue is a whole other aspect. Do I have time to do all of this? I mean I don’t know I make the time somehow. But yeah it’s difficult it’s really difficult because I’m not just balancing law school I’m balancing a full-time job, three kids, a husband, having to be the breadwinner.
It’s not easy.
I think one thing that does fuel me, whether positive or negative this is just an aspect of my personality, is that I have very serious hardcore ADHD. So I get into these phases where I hyper-focus, where something has got my complete attention and I simply cannot move on from it until it’s complete and then I can go to the next thing.
That wreaks a certain amount of havoc in one’s life though.
You mentioned that when you were shortlisting law schools for your own LLM, the availability of career services was not something you paid much attention to. With hindsight, would you have done this differently? And if so, what is the kind of information that you would seek out to measure just how much support LLM candidates get from the law school?
With hindsight I probably would have made career services an aspect of the law school that I picked but really there’s not good information out there. For example if you’re a JD, you can see the employment statistics of other JD’s that have gone through law school.
That’s part of the consumer information that law schools must provide as part of their ABA accreditation. That same thing doesn’t exist for LLM’s so prospective students are having to pick an LLM program without really knowing how things will end up, without having any clear insight as to what your path is going to be after graduation in a way that’s very different from JD’s.
So you know, would I have done it differently? I probably would have tried but I don’t think I would have been that successful because the information isn’t out there.
Recently I saw someone from Harvard Law School’s LLM class state that out of his cohort, only about 15% of people got jobs. That’s a horrible statistic!
That means if you’re going to Harvard Law School, you have an 85% chance of not getting work and having to go back to your home country. But you don’t know that at the point you’re applying to Harvard. No one really associates Harvard with struggling to find a job.
As a student or even a parent of a student, if I’m paying Harvard money you better believe I want a job when I leave there!
I think in some aspects it’s really up to the American Bar Association to require law schools to publish their statistics on LLM job placement within a year of graduation. Now I know that can be more tricky for LLM’s because we’re graduating at different times of the year but I think there’s a way to make it work if someone really put their mind to it.
The thing that frightens me is that if someone from Harvard, a very prestigious law school, has passed the bar exam – this particular person passed the exam with a 310 and struggling to find work – what does that mean for other LLMs? What does that mean for students who haven’t gone to the Harvards, the Yales, the Penns, etc. What about the ones who have gone to schools in a “lower” tier?
Do we have a hope in hell of finding an associate attorney position if someone from Harvard can’t?
Regarding what type of information would measure how law schools support their LLM students – this is a tough one. I don’t know that there is an answer for this. There is absolutely no way to measure this accurately. Because some of it’s subjective and LLM programs across the US are not standardized. Or at least they’re not standardized in the way that JD programs are.
So, there’s no way to quantify what makes one LLM program better than another unless you can speak with graduates of that law school. All of this requires the prospective student to do a heck of a lot of research on their own. And if English isn’t even the student’s first language, they might have trouble with this research.
But what I would suggest to foreign LLM students is that if there is a particular program you might be interested in, see if there’s anyone from your home country who has been through that program. Speak to them because they would probably have more useful information to tell you than the law school themselves could tell you.
But even that wouldn’t have helped me because for the LLM program I was in we were the inaugural class. So we were the Guinea pig cohort. There are things that happened since we have graduated that didn’t happen when we started. And I’m glad that the law school is learning from our experiences. But we had to take a leap of faith when enrolling.
And this is not just limited to jobs right, it is also about being included in law journals, participating in moot courts etc – why do you think LLMs tend to get less attention from law schools?
In terms of extracurricular activities such as moot court law journal clinics etc. LLM’s will most likely get a raw deal.
Part of this has to do with when the LLM starts their enrolment. So, if you’re an LLM the best thing you could probably do is to start school on the same schedule that the JDs start. JDs are starting school at end of August / beginning of September. So the moot court schedules the clinics, the law journals, they’re all going to go on a September to May academic schedule.
If you’re an LLM starting in January or May that really doesn’t help you much if you want to participate in those types of activities. And if you are a foreign LLM, you may not even know the importance of those activities. By the time you do figure out, you’re already halfway through your degree and you’re on an academic schedule that is out of sync with the JDs You’re just really, really, really out of luck.
Other factors make this hard too.
LLM’s generally have less time. An LLM is 12 months or less so there are only certain activities you can get in in that period of time. Whereas if you were a JD you have three years. And if you miss an opportunity one year, you might be able to do it the next year. But with the LLM if you miss an opportunity, you might not get that opportunity again.
If you’re an LLM and you are employed full-time, like me, then you just generally have less time to dedicate to these extra activities.
One of the most interesting things we discussed was how not pushing back, or demanding more from law school administration could just be a cultural practice for international students. Any advice on how this can be overcome? Or perhaps how one can navigate this process?
I think something that is interesting is that there’s this whole notion of being the ‘grateful immigrant’ and being so grateful to have been taken into your new country. That sentiment carries into law school. I’ve met so many foreign LLM students that are just so grateful to be here at the law school. And I understand that gratitude but in some ways I think that it can work to their disadvantage.
When you have this sense of gratitude and you’re feeling like “Wow, I’m just really lucky to be here.” You don’t wanna rock the boat. You don’t want to shake things up. And I had this in the reverse when I was in law school in the UK.
I was there on a full scholarship. There were things that were not going right for me academically, things that weren’t my fault like having my exam marked against the wrong set of exam answers, not providing me with my exam accommodations, or just giving me wrong information.
These were not only unfair but also totally out of my control.
I was reluctant to push back and complain because I was there on a full scholarship and I was grateful to be going to law school for free. I didn’t want to shake things up. And eventually, things came to a head where I was like “Alright I am going to have to complain and complain quite fiercely because I don’t agree with some of these things going on.”
I think there is a bit of that for LLMs in the US.
The first issue is that you don’t always know what you should be asking for. The second issue is that you don’t know who you should be asking for it. And the third is you don’t know how hard you should be pushing for it.
For me, being a foreign-educated American going to an American law school for an LLM, I could see the situation with a bit more clarity because I’ve been through university in the United States. I sort of know how things should go.
Now, I might not have been to a brick-and-mortar law school in the US but I’m reading up on other JDs’ experiences and I’m comparing them to mine. And I’m figuring out that there may be some discrepancies here.
I don’t have a problem pushing back when I feel that LLMs aren’t getting what we should be getting.
That being said, I do have a good relationship with the administration and faculty of my current law school. I don’t ever want to be in an adversarial position with them but I have been firm on what I think the LLM’s need.
I think to negotiate you need to figure out what you want from your LLM program, what the LLM program is offering and if there are any discrepancies between the two. Is there a way to get what you need from the law school or does that mean going someplace else?
In hindsight, I would have done a lot more research on LLMs in general and have spoken to other LLM students before applying.
I know the LLM survey is still underway but could you share any surprising findings you have made thus far?
I want to add some context here for your audience. I’m the editor-in-chief of the 10 list and Law Journal, the only law journal exclusively for LLM students. As part of the 10 list, our content will include results from the LLM Happiness Survey.
As far as I know it’s the first of its kind. This is a survey to gauge how happy LLM students and recent grads are with the LLM program they have completed. It’s only 10 questions. It will take you less than 3 minutes. But the data is extremely important.
I think one of the more interesting aspects, without revealing any of the law school names, is that there’s one particular law school that has split results. Half the students are totally satisfied and have loved the experience. And the other segment of students from that very same school are totally unsatisfied and feel that they’ve wasted their money. There is really no in-between.
I’m finding it very perplexing how there are vastly different outcomes for one law school with no middle ground. Maybe when we get more responses, this will give a clearer picture.
We’ve been reaching out to the heads of LLM and international departments at many, many different schools throughout the US. And what’s perplexing here is that they’re not exactly being supportive. I mean maybe they see this survey as a bit of fluff. But maybe they’re afraid of what the results will show.
And if administrations are afraid of what students have to say about their LLM education, then maybe that gives them some pause to think whether they are giving these students value for money.
One of the motivations behind the 10 List is to help elevate other LLM graduates and candidates – are there any other goals that you have for this initiative in particular?
There are auxiliary goals of raising the profile of the existence of LLM students and their capabilities and what they can contribute to the job market. With the 10 list I want to have an opportunity to really showcase the best LLMs in the US. I don’t know that there is an avenue where LLMs are given the opportunity to shine.
This is a project I have a lot of passion for.
I want to elevate the profile of these LLM students. I want hiring attorneys and legal recruiters from across the country to know what is so special about these 10 individual LLMs. I want their profiles to be known and for them to be able to get jobs on the back of that.
We are looking for submissions. You can find an application form on the10list.law
Final question – in your own experience, what do LLMs bring to the table that JD candidates might not?
I addressed a lot of this in the article I wrote: Top 10 reasons to hire LLMs. and one thing I didn’t put in the article was maturity. So, LLM students come to the table with maturity and previous experience that you don’t get from all JD’s.
I know some JD’s are nontraditional students, some have come from other backgrounds but for LLM’s it’s a bit different. We’ve already gone through law school. And many of us have practiced somewhere else. We’re not a KJD [kindergarten to JD student] who’s never had a serious legal job.
Also, the very real visceral thing that LLM students have to deal with is that there’s a lot at stake. When you put it in terms of, “Get a job or leave the country”, there is a lot riding on our success. And we have every reason to strive and be the best attorneys that we can be!
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on my thoughts about LLMs, law school, and the 10 List. I am a passionate advocate for foreign LLM students. If there are any LLM’s out there who need a bit of advice, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.