LL.M. Programs Focus on International Law in a Globalized World

Academic institutions are equipping students with the skills to operate in this evolving and complex environment

The legal landscape has been transformed by the march of globalization during the last few decades. As individuals and businesses conduct complex interactions across borders, lawyers are, increasingly, being required to understand and engage with multiple legal systems, both national and transnational. 

That has forced law schools to respond to the demands of globalization, just as businesses have. Academic institutions are equipping LL.M. students with the skills to operate in this evolving and complex environment. 

“We believe that twenty-first century leaders of the legal profession need to understand law within the context of different legal systems and cultures,” says Caryn Voland, Assistant Dean of Graduate Admissions at Georgetown Law in Washington DC. 

“Lawyers will increasingly be called upon to advise businesses, individuals, governments and NGOs in matters that involve parties, laws, and judicial or arbitral bodies in two or more jurisdictions.” 

LL.M.s helping students develop transnational perspectives

To prepare for careers that transcend the borders of their home countries, LL.M. students need to develop transnational perspectives. For instance, developments in communications and transportation technology in recent decades have rendered borders increasingly obsolete when it comes to the exchange of goods, services, information and ideas. 

“Lawyers today are, increasingly, being called upon to resolve complex legal issues in an environment that is rapidly changing and requires familiarity with national, international and transnational legal principles,” Voland says. 

Georgetown law has been quick to respond by updating its LL.M. curriculum to include classes that address these emerging areas. Take something like data privacy: as technology has developed, issues have arisen, and laws have been written to address those issues. 

Brexit is another example: when the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, Georgetown immediately put together a seminar to examine the many legal aspects of Brexit, which led students to publish a book detailing their research into the issues. 

Georgetown is also a founding member of the Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London, where students and faculty from partner schools across the globe come together for a semester of study and teaching abroad. The school also draws VIP guest speakers from the judicial, legislative and executive agencies, as well as international NGOs, embassies and multilateral institutions across DC. 

Likewise, Oleg Kobelev, Associate Dean for International Studies Duke Law School in North Carolina, also sees the demand for multijurisdictional knowledge and expertise continuing to increase exponentially. Moreover, the quickening pace of technological innovation in the legal profession increases pressure on young lawyers to be “practice ready” from day one on the job. 

“Many routinized tasks that young associates used to perform in the beginning of their legal career are now done by machines,” he says. “This adds pressure on newly minted law graduates to be ready to perform complex, creative work right away.” 

Thus, courses and extracurricular activities at Duke Law deliberately emphasize technological expertise along with developing students’ interpersonal, cross-cultural, and leadership skills. 

Bringing different perspectives into an LL.M. classroom

The global representation in Duke Law’s LL.M. program, which generally attracts students from more than 40 countries, allows the participants to form relationships with classmates from many different cultures and legal backgrounds, as it does on programs at many other law schools. “The understanding and experience gained from these interactions can play a critical role in succeeding with cross-border legal matters,” says Kobelev. 

However, law schools face challenges in integrating so many different legal perspectives into their teaching. Yet Kobelev sees it as an “intellectual pleasure” to do this. 

“Both faculty and students value discourse in the classroom that challenges and informs” everybody, he says, adding that it’s a “stimulating educational experience”. 

This is echoed by Voland at Georgetown law. “While it can be challenging to teach US law to students coming from so many different legal systems around the world, integrating different legal perspectives is the goal…and it adds an important dynamic to the classroom,” she says. “We see this as more of a benefit than a challenge.” 

Actively encouraging overseas lawyers to share their perspectives in the classroom can help everyone to reflect more deeply on their understanding of their own legal system, and it improves their ability to communicate with people from different legal backgrounds. “But it is exciting when that understanding develops,” Voland adds. 

This international exposure is very attractive to employers in the legal market, according to the two law schools. “International exposure is critical to most large legal employers, and [job] applicants’ ability to navigate different legal systems while demonstrating cross-cultural competency and multijurisdictional knowledge is highly prized,” says Duke Law’s Kobelev. 

Post-LL.M. career opportunities, from multinationals to NGOs

A wide array of job opportunities are available to students who understand comparative as well as international law. Duke’s LL.M. students go on to work at multinational and boutique law firms along with in-house departments at Fortune 100 companies, as well as governments and NGOs. 

Training in different legal systems helps students understand how to problem-solve and navigate legal issues in different jurisdictions, says Voland. For example, corporate lawyers work on cross-border transactions, project finance attorneys have international clients, and litigators focus on global trade disputes.

Despite the international direction of law, she insists that local law will continue to be relevant. “I think we are still far from having a ‘one size fits all’ approach to law around the world, so having an international perspective and the ability to reconcile different systems is essential,” she adds. 

For Kobelev, globalization does not detract from the fundamental nature of law — it is governed and shaped by local rules and practices. “The international direction of law supplements local law, but any good lawyer must be an expert in at least one or two local jurisdictions,” he concludes.  

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