Vive la France: LL.M. Programs in the Country of Romance

France is a popular LL.M. destination for foreign law students who want EU legal and language experience in one of Europe's most famous cultures.

When David pursued a Master in European Legal Practice at the University of Hanover, he had the opportunity to spend one of his four semesters at one of Hanover's partner universities in countries including Portugal, India, Brazil or Vietnam.

David, now a research associate, ended up spending his abroad semester at the University of Rouen in France.

"In the field of International and European Law, it's a very good experience if you study in different countries, especially if you study in France, because they have a rich legal tradition," says David.

David is just one of the many international law students that attend an LL.M. or other law courses in France every year. Some French universities are part of two international LL.M. program consortiums: there's the alliance that David participated in, which includes Rouen and the Université du Havre, as well as an Erasmus program called the European Master in Law and Economics—or “EMLE”— which includes Aix-en-Provence University.

Besides those consortiums, the Université de Strasbourg offers some LL.M.s in French and others in English; Lyon Catholic University offers English-taught programs in international business and trade law; Sorbonne Law School offers a French-taught LL.M. in French and European Community Law; and Lyon Law School offers an LL.M. in International and European Business Law in English.

[Related Article: Studying for an LL.M. in Paris]

Many of the French-speaking programs are popular among native French law students. Michel Cannarsa, Director of Faculté de Droit at Lyon Catholic University, says 80 to 90 percent of French law students pursue a French LL.M., since the French system is different from the American system. In France, future lawyers study law as undergraduates for three years, then pursue a masters of law for one to two years before gaining their certification. This means that to become a lawyer in France, students must pursue at least a year of graduate study.

But English-language LL.M. programs in France also attract international students such as David. Many of these students hail from outside the European Union and come to Europe to cultivate an understanding of and expertise in EU business and law.

"Especially when they come from countries in Africa or South America, it's going to be quite important for them to know more about European Law, because most of the time there are relations between the EU generally speaking and other countries where the students come from," says Cannarsa. "It's an advantage when they go back to their country to be able to rely on legal skills" and their knowledge of European Law.

“And some students have the prospect of finding a job in France or Europe,” says Cannarsa, “so they might be attracted by the job market."

This rule also applies for some American students, says Rania Soppelsa, international development project manager at Université Pantheon-Assas and Sorbonne Assas International Law School, which offer an LL.M. in International Business Law.

Soppelsa says many of her students come from the United States to study in Europe because they already work at an American firm with international contacts. She also says that international students sometimes study in France because they are angling for a job in France's burgeoning international legal market, or potentially in an international branch of a French law firm.

French law firms have international branches everywhere and "they are looking for international lawyers," says Soppelsa, whose program, which started in 2012, instructs students in international business, arbitration and contract law at locations in Paris and Singapore.

But many European countries offer the opportunity to learn about EU law or to pursue a job at an international law firm. So why France? Directors and officials say students often gravitate to France specifically because of its rich culture and romantic reputation, and for the opportunity to learn its language.

"That's one of the reasons why they come to France,” says Lyon Catholic’s Cannarsa. They want to improve their French in professional terms and cultural terms."

David says he was impressed culturally by how communicative and friendly his fellow French students were. But he also says he encountered some cultural differences during his studies. For example, he says his German professors in Hanover facilitated more discussion and offered a wider range of topics for discussion in class, while French professors relied more on lectures and covered a narrower range of topics.

Besides the chance to learn French and experience French culture, studying in France also has a distinct advantage for lawyers from common law countries such as the US or UK: these students can develop an understanding of civil law systems through their experiences in Rouen, Paris or Lyon.

The flip side is that France's English-speaking LL.M. programs rarely attract native French students. Cannarsa says that French students who want to pursue their LL.M. in English often cross the Channel to study in Ireland or the U.K., where they can develop their English skills within the context of a different culture and legal system.


Image: La Chiquita / CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)

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