For many incoming LL.M. students, the application process can be difficult. Preparing transcripts, writing personal statements, securing recommendation letters; not to mention waiting for the final decisions.
But you’ve gotten into to an LL.M. program now and have a whole summer before you start. What now? Should you read books, or work on your English-language skills? Or just hit the beach?
Turns out a good combination of the above is probably the best approach. You want to be well-prepared for your LL.M., but also refreshed and ready to hit the ground in the fall.
Here are five ways you can use the summer before your LL.M.
1. Enrol in a summer law program
If you’re not completely confident with your legal English, or just want to brush up on your basic law skills, you might consider enrolling in a summer law program. These programs are offered by law schools all over the world and many are designed specifically for incoming LL.M. students.
Although many of these programs are optional, at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the pre-LL.M. summer program is compulsory.
“I think we’re a bit of an outlier here,” says Elise Kraemer, Executive Director of Graduate Programs at Penn Law. “We have a mandatory five-week summer program that all of our LL.M.s need to do. It’s a five-credit program, so they’re doing five weeks of intensive study in foundations in US law and US legal writing and research.”
“The programs also help students ease-in socially over the summer,” says Kraemer.
Knowing there’s a compulsory pre-LL.M. program means students can rest easy beforehand, and focus on the practicalities of preparing for an LL.M. rather than trying to cram in extra study.
“We really don’t recommend or require anything prior to the summer program,” says Kraemer.
This pre-LL.M. program sets students in good stead for the demands of legal study. “Once they go into the fall classes,” says Kraemer, “they don’t have any additional requirements and they take all their classes with the JDs.”
However, if English is not your native language, you may want to give your language skills some attention over the summer.
“Our admission is not conditional,” says Kraemer, “so we admit people based on their English language skills at the time of admission. That being said, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your English, especially if you don’t use English day-to-day.”
Incoming LL.M. students at Fordham University School of Law can pursue the Fordham Law Summer Institute, which is “a three-week survey of different topics within US law,” says Toni Jaeger-Fine, assistant dean for international programs.
The school also offers a semester-long version of the program called the Legal English Institute, which acts as a bridging program for students heading towards an LL.M.
2. Read up
Some law schools will provide you with a recommended reading list. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush up in areas where you may be lacking – especially if you’re going to be studying law in a language other than your mother tongue.
“If they’re really eager,” says Jaeger-Fine, “they should just familiarize themselves with trying to read some legal English. Especially for non-native speakers, they should read a bit about the legal system.”
“Obviously LL.M. programs are accustomed to getting people up to speed with this, but try to read some judicial opinions, just sort of familiarize themselves with legal English,” she says.
Ravi Malhotra, vice dean of graduate studies at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, offers a couple of specific recommendations: “I do think reading something like John Rawls’ canonical work, ‘A Theory of Justice’, or Coase's famous article from 1960, ‘The Problem of Social Cost’ can be useful for some students, but it all depends on their interests.”
3. Set goals and make connections
Taking some time to set goals and make a plan will help keep you on track once you find yourself busy with study, potentially in a new city, far away from your support network.
“If part of your LL.M. goal is to network here,” says Jaeger-Fine, “either because you want to try to find a job or an internship, or because a network will be really important to your practice when you go back home, you should have a networking plan.”
She recommends you make a list of the kinds of organizations you want to join or activities you want to participate in during your LL.M. “The time will go really, really fast and once you start your studies you won’t have so much time to do that research,” she says.
“For example, for students coming to New York City, I would want them to have looked at the relevant bar associations and other organizations they might be interested in joining and getting involved in, and a bit of a plan for how to make that happen.”
You can also get a head-start on your networking by joining any relevant online groups (such as on Facebook) to get to know your classmates a little before you meet in person.
4. Allow enough time to settle in
Jaeger-Fine says that not having allowed enough time to find accommodation, unpack and settle in can hold new LL.M. students back from fully engaging in their studies.
“I want students to have settled in before the first day of orientation,” she says. “Inevitably, every year we have some students who arrive that morning or the night before and they’re looking for an apartment or they haven’t unpacked or they’re totally jetlagged. I think you put yourself at a huge disadvantage if you don’t settle in some days or a week before your LL.M.”
Making sure you’ve secured accommodation well in advance will mean you can arrive in your new city with ease and take the time you need to unpack, orient yourself, find nearby amenities and get some good rest before the program begins.
Jaeger-Fine says “I want our students to have had a really good summer. I want them to be happy and healthy and feel like they are ready for the program.”
An LL.M. is a massive undertaking – it’s a mental challenge, as well as a big change in lifestyle. So taking some time out to rest and recharge your batteries can make a big difference once it’s time to hit the books.
The University of Ottawa’s Ravi Malhotra agrees. “Relaxing as much as possible is a great start.”
- Law Book Shelf by Pixabay CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
- The Quad at UPenn in the fall by Kevin83002 CC BY 2.0
- Orientation at Newman University, Birmingham by James Nayler CC BY-SA 4.0