It can be very challenging for international LLM students to find ways to integrate into the law school community. It reminds me of a lesson I learned when I took salsa lessons about ten years ago. I was great in class. But being a man–the one generally responsible for leading–and being a beginner made it difficult to attract dancing partners on a live dance floor. It was a classic Catch-22. And sad to say, my name has never been associated with the great salsa dancers. (Or even the mediocre or poor ones.)
Turning back to law school, many of us in the “legal English” community like to contemplate how we can better help our students–particularly ones who require more language support–create more opportunities to interact with native-English speaking members of the law school community outside of the classroom.
Here are a few ideas that my colleagues and I have used or experimented with so far:
- Teaching Assistants: Our LL.M. courses–both in Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) and in the American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) Program–employ teaching assistants. These are high-performing JD students who have been accepted to a Teaching Fellows program in connection with our Center for International & Comparative Law (CICL). They are generally interested in international-oriented law practice and appreciate the opportunity to interact with students from other cultures. They sit in on the classes. They help LL.M. students with their work. And they are friendly faces around the law school.
- JD interview assignments: As part of larger assignments or projects, I often require my students to interview a JD student in connection with a particular topic. Often the purpose is to help the student build background knowledge before engaging in research on a topic, such as for the Legal Ethics Research Project. Or another assignment involves finding and asking a JD student a series of questions about law school organization strategies. Sometimes I’ll pair my students with JDs I know will be friendly and understanding. If not, my students will often seek out a Teaching Assistant who is familiar to them. But sometimes they just have to strike up a conversation with someone in the cafeteria. And after getting to know that student, they might go back to them for future interview assignments.
- Sometimes, JD students give off-key answers. This is not a bad thing. It actually creates a great opportunity for comparison and evaluation with other sources of information.
- An additional piece of the assignment often involves recording part of the conversation with the JD student. This creates multiple real-life speech samples that we can then create transcripts of, analyze, and use for listening and speaking practice as a class.
- Alumni interview assignments: Our Legal Ethics Project always culminates with phone interviews of practicing alumni. For these, I always pair my students with willing alumni, most of whom are recent graduates who previously served as Teaching Assistants in the the LL.M. program. Students have a chance to ask a real lawyer about legal ethics topics in their practice that we’ve spent the semester studying. Having to talk on the phone in a professional manner with a practicing lawyer also provides an opportunity to practice a uniquely challenging aspect of English language and culture. Additionally, the task works well at the end of the project as a sort of assessment which holds the students accountable to themselves since the students want to come off well when speaking with an alum.
- Law School Clubs, Groups & Activities: St. John’s Law holds a fair on the Great Lawn for all of the clubs, groups, clinics, etc. to set up a table and talk to allcomers about what they do. I make a point of taking my students to this fair as a class. It’s a great chance to see and feel the full extracurricular dimension of law school life. It’s also a chance to get involved with a club that can lead to more interactions with with JD students and greater integration with the law school community. Additionally, by going to the fair with my students, they have someone to ask questions that they might be otherwise too embarrassed to ask on their own. Plus, I can also ask questions to the club representatives to get them talking while my students listen in.
- Annual LL.M. Students vs. JD Students Soccer Match: Always a fun event, and in an area that tends to play to the strengths of the LL.M. students.
These are just a few ways we’ve been getting non-native-English speaking LL.M. students onto the proverbial law school “dance floor.” I know there are many others. Please feel free to share any you’ve tried or wanted to try.