What Should I Do This Summer to Prepare for My LL.M. Program?

One of my LL.B. students in China asked me what she should do this summer to prepare for her LL.M. program. Here is a longer, written version of some tips that I gave her.

  1. Make Sure You Are Set Logistically. You ideally want to have your housing completed before you arrive in the United States. Does your university have a Facebook/Whatsapp/WeChat group for student housing? I think arranging housing before you arrive is one less major headache you will have to worry about, and am always surprised when I hear students arrive in America and start the housing search as they begin classes. Dormitories are likely more expensive than off-campus housing in most university areas, so you may have to ask around to find housing from abroad. Another surprising expense is the cost of buying casebooks. Are you going to buy expensive new books or used books? Are there current students at your school who can help you with that?


  1. Get Introduced to American J.D. Students. I say this all the time, but it is easier to become friends with Americans you already know than to start introducing yourself in the United States. If you still don’t have any American connections, ask your law school to be introduced to an American J.D. student or two. Share some of your hobbies or the area of law you are most interested in so that the school can try to match you. I recommend asking to be introduced to rising 2L (second-year) students. The students who just finished 3L will be preparing for the Bar Exam, and the rising 1L students will already be worried about On-Campus Interviews (OCI).


  1. Speak With Your LL.B. Alumni. Find alumni from your law school in your home country who went to America for LL.M. or J.D. programs. Ask them what they wish they knew before they arrived, and what advice they would give a new student. Better if you can find someone who went to your undergraduate law school and the same American law school. Successful students will be able to share great tips on their experiences, in the classroom and outside the classroom. Ask your undergraduate school if they can help you. This way, you will make a connection that you may not yet have had in your native country.

  1. Meet Legal Practitioners in your Desired Field at Home. Use your existing connections (law school, internships, family, etc.) to meet with a lawyer in the field you want to get into when you return to your home jurisdiction. What advice does that practitioner have for you? This will also be a good way to signal that you’re interested in that field upon your re-entry into your home country. And you will get some advice from someone who is currently working in that field. I recommend meeting at least one junior person, but try to also meet one senior person. This way, you will get the perspective of a recent LL.M. graduate and advice from the type of person who hires recent LL.M. graduates.


  1. Gain Knowledge on American Events. Read the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times. Or any number of other easily accessible websites. See what is going on in America. Scan the front pages of the print versions or the main screen of the online versions. Read some articles, particularly with a legal focus or in an area that interests you. Given that I live in China (for one more week!), I read the English version of China Daily every day to gain knowledge on current events in China, which helps me connect with the local people. Do the same in the United States.


  1. Start a Book Club. Ask a few friends if they want to read an English-language book. Any subject is fine, even if it is not law related. The key is a subject or story that will keep you interested. Decide how many chapters you will read each week, and then meet at the local café or set up a call to discuss. Bonus points if you commit to discussing the book in English, since you’ll also work on your speaking and listening.


  1. Don’t Worry Too Much About LAW. Your American law school should do a very good job of teaching you the law. So you do not need to read casebooks or law review articles on complex areas of law just yet. If you are going to do law-related reading, I recommend foundational work on U.S. law topics or U.S. legal education. This is the reason why my international law school classes focus on the American legal system, the American legal writing documents, and the American style of legal analysis. This provides my students with the foundation they need to be successful when they get to the United States.


  1. Set Realistic Goals. What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? Set realistic, ambitious goals and then check in every few weeks or month to see if you are on your way to achieving them. Set big picture, year-end goals. Set goals for each few months. If you are achieving those goals, great! If you are not, who can you speak to or what can you do to fulfill them? Be honest with yourself, but also be fair. You are already achieving so much by studying law in another country!


  1. Figure Out Your Relaxation Activity. Law school is hard. Decide what your outlet is going to be for stress as a way to relax. Is it going to be yoga, bicycle riding, playing volleyball, painting pictures or something else? Make sure you learn about opportunities for whatever your stress relief is when you arrive. And once you arrive in America, set a regular schedule to ensure you stick to this plan. For example, yoga every Tuesday evening. Mental health is something that is often overlooked in the legal profession, but something that is important. Happy people make for better students.


  1. Strengthen Your Current Friendships/Relationships. Being away from your family and friends is going to be hard. The time zones and your studies will make it hard to stay current with everyone. Spend the summer fortifying your existing relationships. Go to lunch with your high school buddies. Have a quick weekend trip with your law school friends. Spend time with your grandparents. You want to make sure you have the support and strength of your friends and family when you need it, and you don’t want them to think you forgot about them.

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