It might be a long way from her native Melbourne, but Stephanie Marsden feels at home in Los Angeles. One reason is that it’s a perfect place to pursue her interests in law and film. She moved to L.A. after getting an LL.B. at Melbourne University in 2009. She has since worked at a Beverly Hills law firm, as well as on a number of student film productions at USC – the same school where she is now finishing an LL.M. with an entertainment law focus.
Why did you decide to do an LL.M., and why at USC?
Well, I have a probably slightly different background from a lot my friends here at USC. I moved to L.A. to be with my (now) husband, who went to USC film school. The plan was always to take the bar exam and practice here. That was probably my primary purpose for applying for an LL.M. – so I would be eligible for the bar exam.
But I also really want to do entertainment law, and being here in Southern California and my husband being a filmmaker, I liked the idea of specializing in entertainment law. Besides doing the bar exam, that’s definitely what I wanted to get out of an LL.M. – to learn more about entertainment law – because it’s not very big in Australia.
Did the program meet your expectations?
Mostly. I changed a little bit of focus halfway through. I kept going with the entertainment law certificate, but I had a couple of free subjects that could either be entertainment law subjects or more bar subjects. In the end, I put my focus more on the bar exam. I started realizing my primary goal was to pass this bar exam in July so that I could actually practice.
I originally thought I was going to focus on entertainment law, and do the bare minimum for what the Bar Association required. I kind of evened it up a little bit, and did more of both, which has definitely prepared me well for the bar exam. Preparing for a bar exam is one of the greatest things an LL.M. can do for you.
What was your favorite class?
I’ve been very lucky this semester to take entertainment law with a very well-known, successful entertainment litigator here in L.A. He was great. He brought in lots of guests. The whole course is designed as an overview of what law for the entertainment industry is because it’s such a collective thing.
I think that’s one thing the school has been really great at: they’ve got a lot of connections, and they love to bring people in that actually work in the industry, and work “big-time” in the industry – so, presidents of companies, general counsels, and agencies. We get their perspective, and that’s really great.
Were you able to benefit from those industry connections?
Well, I don’t have a job as of yet, but I do have a couple of leads. I’m lucky because I have built a few connections in the industry through my husband in the last few years being here. My primary goal right now is to pass the bar exam, but I’m hoping that something will happen employment-wise through one of those connections.
I do think it is very difficult as an LL.M. to get jobs here. I’m probably in one of the best-placed positions because I have a green card, I speak English fluently, and I’ve been living here. But for a lot of people, some employers are just not interested. A lot of them don’t know what an LL.M. is. That’s probably the biggest weakness with an LL.M. course.
Most big employers, especially big law, want JD students. There’s a process by which you go about getting a job, for example a summer job that moves towards a real job after you finish. Those options aren’t really available to LL.M. students, so that’s definitely something I’d like to see grow a little bit – finding more opportunities for people doing an LL.M., especially people who are staying in the country, and could use it.
You’ve already been in L.A. for a few years now. What do you think about living there?
I like L.A. If you’re going to come for a year, L.A. is a great city. If you want a place to tour around on weekends off and things like that, California is a great place to be.
The driving is probably the one negative people always point out. I live a 15- or 20-minute drive from the school. That’s pretty quick by L.A. standards. I know a lot of my friends on the program live pretty much on campus, so they can walk, and USC has campus cruisers that will take you home at night.