As most readers know by now, First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued, or are currently pursuing, a post-graduate course (be it an LLM or otherwise) from different schools across the world.
The FPA (International) is meant to broaden this scope somewhat, getting non-Indian law graduates to discuss their LLM experiences in different law schools across the world.
Earlier this year, Sindi Basha graduated with an LLM in American Law from Boston University, her second law master’s after an LLM from the University of Tirana in Albania. In this FPA, Sindi shares her reasons for choosing Boston University, the LLM experience itself, and a whole lot more.
The LLM at Boston University is your second master’s. What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree once again? And why choose to study at BU?
I studied Law in Albania and my first Master’s Degree was in Criminal Law. Four years ago, I moved to the U.S. and I realized that I could not practice despite my background. Law is unique for each country and even more so, when it belongs to different systems. Albania is a civil law country, therefore I needed to familiarize myself with how common law works and pursue my license within this system.
I applied at three top law universities in Boston and was accepted and offered scholarships from all of them. The choice was a difficult one to make, but Boston University offered me the most efficient route to what I was looking for. A one-year program to specialize in American Law, which provided me the opportunity to choose from countless interesting classes in accordance to my goals.
Furthermore, BU is known for its networking events as well. And there’s nothing more essential than being able to connect with professionals that can share their experiences with you and provide a deeper insight on the real-life U.S. work environment.
Before the LLM, you were working in the field of immigration law – was this a topic that you were particularly interested in? And did this work play a role in your decision to pursue an LLM?
Immigration was a field I found myself in, once I came to the U.S. The first job I landed was as an Administrative Assistant in a reputable law firm and the sector I worked at, dealt with immigration matters, especially business immigration.
It felt great helping other people overcome the same hurdles I once did and make sure their process was as smooth as it could be. It didn’t take long before I found myself wanting to learn more and more and within a year I was promoted to a Paralegal position and was now working directly on the cases. The route I took helped me understand all the steps of the process, including legal and administrative.
I realized that I enjoyed this field and would like to return again, this time in the capacity of an attorney. That led to my decision to pursue an LL.M. and sit for the bar exam.
Looking back, how was the LLM experience at BU? What would you say was the most challenging aspect of the LLM experience?
I can definitely say this experience was the highlight of the years I have been to the U.S. I was introduced to an entirely new system of studying and school environment. I met people from all over the world and was exposed to amazing cultures from all around. Boston University provided many opportunities for us to connect and forge deep bonds with one another.
I can certainly say, I have made friends for life and stepped out of my comfort zone continuously.
That said, it is surely challenging to get out of your safe space. As an introvert, I found it particularly difficult to engage in discussions during class. It was due to our great professors that even the most reserved students were able to feel at ease and comfortable enough to share their opinions and concerns.
Furthermore, as foreign students, we were in a constant state of mental exercise. Everything is being translated and processed, as we go but the faculty was more than understanding of this particular challenge and accommodated accordingly.
It seemed scary at times but I reminded myself of all the times I had been in similar arduous situations and succeeded nonetheless. The LLM is no different and with the right mindset, one can truly gain so much.
How would you compare the LLM at BU with your Master’s experience at the University of Tirana in Albania? What were some of the differences between the two?
In Albania, every year’s schedule is predetermined; we only had one elective per semester. For each subject, there are lectures and seminars. During lectures, we would simply listen to the professor explain the material and ask occasional questions. The seminars on the other hand were the ones we got to have a discussion.
At BU, we could build our own schedule based on our interests and goals. Our advisers helped us at every step of the way, until they made sure we were satisfied with our end result. Classes were either lectures, where the material would be discussed or seminars, which consisted more in assignments and projects.
I loved the fact that all materials ought to be read before class, so that during the discussion, we were getting to the essence of each case and further solidifying our knowledge on the topic. Seminars were also a very new and interesting experience, because we had the opportunity to learn how to compile actual documents, negotiate and litigate which are real life skills, necessary to our profession.
As a foreign trained lawyer in the US, what is your reading of the employment opportunities available in the US? Any advice on how one can improve their chances of finding employment in the US?
Although I am still pursuing my license and not actively applying for a job, I believe I can share some useful tips from the time I was searching for a job.
I have come to realize that landing your first job in the U.S. may be the most difficult task, one has to do as a foreign trainer lawyer. Although understandable, since our experience is inherently different from the U.S. trained lawyers, it can be highly demotivating during the process.
When I first came to the U.S. I applied to more than 300 job positions from multiple employers; most of whom never responded. It seems to be a common practice; most likely due to the high amount of applications a work place receives. It is of no use to be discouraged. I would suggest attending networking events, be it from the school or the Bar Association.
Moreover, I also recommend volunteering. There are plenty of options, especially in the immigration field, that one can apply and contribute to. This will not only help foreign trained lawyers to familiarize themselves with the work but it is also another chance to meet people from the field they are interested in, which may, in turn, lead to unexpected opportunities.
Lastly, any advice for the foreign trained lawyer who is considering an LLM in the US?
Certainly! Pursuing an LLM is an enriching experience, regardless of whether one intends to pursue a career in the U.S. or return to their country with a valuable addition to their resume. I would strongly suggest anyone considering it, to evaluate their goals and define exactly what they intend to get out of the program.
That is the only way one can make the most out of it.
Firstly, as far as the scholar year is concerned, consistency and outlining will be your best friends! Outlining was a fairly new concept for many of us, but it is definitely the one that helps students best to structure everything they have studied and be able to see the bigger picture. The workload is great and it is easy to get lost in the details.
As my Torts professor would often tell us “Don’t lose sight of the forest, for the trees”.
Secondly, despite all the efforts one may put into studying, nothing can make up for the lack of networking. Use this time to connect with people in your school and beyond. BU provides great network opportunities throughout the year. There’s a number of events every day and along with the workload, it may feel a bit overwhelming at times.
I encourage every new student to start early on, and simplify things by aiming to participate in at least one informative seminar and one social event per week. Try to connect with people you see you can resonate with and establish strong relationships.
Last but not least, do not forget to have fun! This will definitely be one of the most remarkable experiences you have encountered and looking back, I wish for everyone to feel fulfilled with their journey and have made the most out of it