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LLM manual for New York City

By vnukoff on Jul 01, 2013

I have completed my LLM and my one year OPT. Based on my experience and my mistakes, here is a list of tips for LLM students who want to try themselves in NYC. Good Luck to you guys. 0. Before you start your classes, do the Online Foreign Evaluation for the NY Board of Bar Examiners. Do not expect them to be nice when you call them. But call them if necessary to check that they received all the docs and there's nothing outstanding.

1. In contrast to LLM in some special area (e.g. taxation), LL.M. in American Legal Studies is good for sitting for the NY bar exam. It gives you an overview of US basic courses and teaches you how to find the law and how to write legal papers. Make sure you take classes in Securities and Corporation ( I had tough time trying to master those courses during two-day class at the bar exam prep).

2. While in law school, take MPRE in October. Otherwise, you'll have to take it in March and you don't want to build up the stress at the end of your LLM.

3. After you first semester, right after you get your grades, start applying for internships. An internship at a large NYC law firm pays up to $3,000 per week. The problem with the large law firms is, you have to be an Ivy League graduate to get it. If your school is not quite there yet, apply anyways, but also look for something more reasonable. But in any event, make sure your internship pays. There are a lot of "smart" attorneys who would love to offer you an unpaid internship. Beware of them, they'll take advantage of you. Try to negotiate at least something.

4. Work with your Carrier Services people at your law school. A lot of applicants submit only their resume and cover letter. You should not be like them. Make sure that you have a PERFECT Resume, Cover Letter, scanned references (ask your professors, employers, supervisors, colleagues etc.), scanned certificates of your achievements, scanned transcript and a writing sample. A lot of employers will read your reference letters and will form a better opinion about you even before they meet you. Some people recommended including your professional photo. MAYBE you should consider that especially if you're beautiful/handsome or just well-groomed. It really matters for some employers. But also be aware that employers will google you and look at your Linked In profile as well as Fb. Make sure it's clean, neat and impressive. Carrier services at your law school are your best friends for that.

5. In May, apply for your OPT.

6. After obtaining your degree, prepare for the Bar. TAKE A PREP COURSE. Do not think that you're smarter than "those Americans" and you will be OK just by preparing on your own. If you want to save money, take the Kaplan and buy an old set of BarBri books (no matter which year - go on Craigslist). Kaplan is good with Multiple choice questions (they require you do at least 33 questions EVERY DAY). During my Bar exam, I saw 4 questions that I had seen during my preparation for the Bar! BarBri is very easy on multiple choice, so the BarBri students were not quite happy when they took the bar.  However, I liked the BarBri approach for the essay tasks. I thought it was more helpful than Kaplan's.  Take online course - there is no need to waste your time travelling to the classroom where you'll be shown the same video that you can access at home.

7. During your test preparation, look for a job/internship. Craigslist, monster, indeed, linked in, American Bar Association web site, sites of law firms etc. Also, look at the resources offered by your law school. Try to visit LLM job fairs which are organised by NYU and Columbia in the Spring.

8. On the bar day, take 10 pencils and a snack. Go to RiteAid or CVS and get raisins, cranberries and other dried sugary fruit - it'll keep you going. Bar preparation feels worse than the actual exam. Keep track of your time and you'll be ok.

9. OK, you took your bar exam. After you relax and recover from the shock, go online and register with legal staffing agencies.Change your resume and indicate that you're "awaiting for the NY Bar exam results." Here is a basic list: hirecounsel.com franklylegal.com epiqsystems.com lexolution.com compliancestaffing.com specialcounsel.com towerls.com beaconhillstaffing.com strategiclegal.com All these agencies offer Document Review projects. Basically, on the discovery stage, when opposing party requests to produce "all correspondence and papers which are relevant to this lawsuit," you will be among a number of attorneys who would go through all the papers/files and see which file is relevant and which isn't. If a file is relevant, you'll determine if it falls under some category which is at issue in this lawsuit. Easy job, kills your brain. That is why there is a superstition among the employers that once you start doing Doc Review, you'll never get out of it and you're not capable of doing actual legal work anymore. So not list Doc Review on your resume, but do it to sustain yourself until you find a job. Also, actively look on the web-sties etc (see p.7). Some law firms may agree to hire you for an Associate position on the condition that you pass the bar. They may offer you one rate of pay at first, a higher rate after you know your result (you'll learn in the beginning of November) and another higher rate after you're admitted (you'll be admitted in Jan-May next year). Once again, it is not recommended that you agree for an unpaid internship - they take advantage of you. Reasonable attorneys understand that one can't afford to live in the city and work for free. Hence, decent employers will offer you something.

10. Once you know your result, write to the agencies again, let them know you passed. Change your resume to "Awaiting for the NY Bar admission." They may offer you some projects which is suitable for non-admitted lawyers.

11. Once you're admitted, write to them again. Now you qualify for attorney document review. They pay $25-35 per hour, some offer overtime (rate and a half). For foreign language projects, they pay $40-55 per hour. 

12. However, do not forget, Doc Review pays, and it is a perfect default job, but they NEVER sponsor for visa. Therefore, KEEP LOOKING FOR EMPLOYER WHO WILL SPONSOR YOU. You should find this employer before April. April 1st is when USCIS start to accept H1B applications and LLM students qualify for additional quota of 20,000 applications (for regualr bachelors the quota is 65,000 aoolications). But do not relax, it runs out so fast. In 2013, the quota was exhausted by April 7th. for your comparison, in 2012, it was exhausted in mid-July. So do not panic, but do not relax, too.

13. For the interview, wear your best suit. Appearance sells.Be open and confident. confidence matters a lot. Print out your "standard package" and have it with you just in case. Go to all interviews, even though they seem absolutely useless sometimes and the position is miserable, just go and see.

14. Visit professional events and network. It has not helped me, but do it just in case. Who knows. Order your business cards - go to vistaprint.

15. Stuff that is not legal, but helpful in NYC:  - you can live in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island or NJ. Transportation is ok and you can find nice safe areas everywhere. See craigslist, airbnb. -  NYC offers tons of free stuff and good deals: see pulsd.com, groupon, livingsocial, lifebooker, giltcity, evetbrite, etc. - run in central park. it's free (comparing to the gym) and much more pleasant. keeps your mind clear of stress.  So I think this is all I have to say, I'm sure your experience will be different, so please comment on this post. Hopefully, one day it will help somebody.

My life back home after LLM and OPT are done

By vnukoff on Jul 26, 2014

Ok... I graduated in 2012, was admitted to the NY bar in 2013 and my OPT finished August 2013. Now it is 2014 and I am in Moscow, Russia, being an in-house lawyer at an international company.

Here are some hindsight thoughts:

1. LLM was soooooooo useful. And my experience as an associate at a law firm in NYC during my OPT year was even more useful. My horizons widened, and I feel like I come up with better solutions just because I know that lawyers in the US would do it this way. The NYC way should be changed according to the specifics of Russian law and culture (or rather, lack of culture).

2. My interaction with international colleagues-lawyers who were trained in the common law systems is more productive because we speak pretty much the same language. 

3.   Time-management and organization that I have learned in the US is outstanding. I feel like after the US law school the bar exam experience, nothing is impossible!  Multitasking, ten different researches, a couple of "extremely urgent" requests, no time for anything, a small talk with colleagues, conference calls, run in a park - all this happening pretty much in the same time. But there is nothing special about it for a US lawyer, we all know how it works! 

4.  IRAC or CRAC. This is a total hit. I write everything in Russian using this structure and everyone loves it! And the sweetest part of it is, I don't even sweat to structure my writing this way, it just comes out naturally.

 All in all,  my LLM experience has been very useful for my professional life. I don't know if this is the way to stay in the US... It really is pretty challenging and it depends on your luck. Having said that, it is not impossible. I would suggest to go ahead and try it. Will be happy to answer any questions and share my experience, I hope it will help. 

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