LLM students as a law school asset: Collaboration activity for JD and LLM students

I’m very fortunate to work at a law school that not only talks the talk of LLM students as an asset but walks the walk. In that vein, thanks to some cross-program collaboration and interaction among our faculty, we recently devised an effective yet simple (and easily replicable) activity to facilitate interaction between LLM and JD students that proved eye-opening and beneficial for all involved.

The activity: An email exchange between the 33 students in Professor Rebecca Lowry’s LLM legal writing classes and the 33 students in Professor Rachel H. Smith’s JD legal writing section regarding a Title VII issue that Professor Smith’s JD students had already been working on.

This was set up as a role-play in which the students all worked for the same global law firm, but in different departments and/or offices of the firm. The LLM students were told they are associates who have been directed by a senior attorney to learn more about Title VII in order to have a better sense of a company’s value that is involved in an acquisition transaction. The senior attorney has given the LLM student the name of another attorney in the firm (the JD student) who has recent expertise with Title VII. The JD students are given minimal information and told only that they will be receiving an email from a non-native English speaking attorney in the firm asking something about Title VII.

The goals: The idea for this activity first game up while chatting tangentially during one of our LLM Instructor Workshops (workshops I organize once or twice a semester to gather professors who work with non-native English speaking students). We already run a separate lawyer-client role-play in which my ALDA students act as clients and meet with Professor Kathryn Piper’s LLM Legal Writing students who act as lawyers. The LLM Legal Writing students interview their client in person and then follow up with a written letter summarizing the conversation and detailing next steps. This activity is a great chance to work on professionalism, formulating question, and client letter writing as well as legal substance.

This led to the suggestion that we perhaps extend this to an LLM-JD interaction. Professor Smith immediately took to the idea, explaining this would be a great opportunity for her students to practice explaining a complex legal topic in an appropriate way. And of course it was an opportunity to simulate a real-life situation for an increasingly globalized world.

From the LLM perspective, this was not only a chance to work on legal business correspondence, including language and customs, but a chance to interact with and get to know JD students they might not otherwise interact with, as well as learn a little bit about Title VII.

How it went:

Prof. Smith: This activity allowed my students to practice so many lawyering and communication skills that will help them in practice. In particular, the simulation illustrated the many details that cross-cultural communication requires an attorney to master. My JD students had a difficult time correctly addressing their LLM counterparts and were unsure about which name and honorific to use.

They had to work hard to describe a complex federal statute in a clear and concise way. They also had to decide ethical questions about how much information to share with an attorney who works for the same firm, but in a different country. And they had to practice telling someone that they didn’t have the answer to a question, but that they were happy to look into it—a skill that is critical for a 1L student about to have a summer work experience. In addition to all these lessons, I was thrilled that some of the students really thought about using the exercise to forge a professional connection with another attorney.

Prof. Lowry: The majority of the LLM students will end up practicing some form of international law—either here in New York or in their home jurisdictions—so this exercise gave them the opportunity to practice critical lawyering and communications skills they will need.

Like Prof. Smith’s students, my students struggled with how to address their JD counterparts.  They also had troubles figuring out how to ask for help from someone they did not know.  This led to discussions about how much information about themselves they needed to provide, how to best structure the letter, how to address a colleague in a different office, and how to find the appropriate tone.  It also raised ethical and professional issues.  And like Prof. Smith’s students, it led to discussions about how to cultivate professional relationships and the importance of building a network of trusted colleagues.

If anyone else has examples of how LLM students have enriched the culture at their law school, or have done activity along the lines of the one described above, please feel free to share in the comments section or to email me at horowis1@stjohns.edu. We’d love to hear about it!

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