Many law schools offer students the chance to skill-up in their law and English skills, before starting an LL.M.
Starting your LL.M. in the fall? Need to brush up on your English or your legal skills?
Then you’re in luck: Many law schools offer summer programs designed to prepare international students for legal study.
At US law schools, these are usually divided into two groups: Legal English courses, which cover the vocabulary needed to discuss and analyze US law, and courses on the US legal system.
For example, the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle runs a two-week program on the US legal system for incoming international students.
The Summer Institute in Transnational Law and Practice director, Dr. Dana Raigrodski, says, “it is really designed to offer an overview of some of the fundamental concepts of the American legal system, but with an emphasis on how you, as lawyers, think and approach problem solving, focusing on the analytics skills, the vocabulary, and the thought processes.”
“We do spend a lot of time on the basic civics,” she explains, “the fundamental structures of government and constitutional premises, because those are very unique to the American legal system.”
Raigrodski says the program, which tends to run through the first two weeks of September, is primarily attended by incoming graduate law students who are about to begin LL.M. or PhD programs. But there are also a small number of international JDs, and occasionally they are joined by some legal professionals who are looking for a crash-course in the US legal system.
The program is not compulsory for incoming international LL.M. students, but the law school highly recommends it.
In fact, Raigrodski was a foreign-trained attorney herself when she arrived in the US to pursue her LL.M. She went on to complete her doctorate studies in the US.
“I remember that the transition from one legal system to another, and particularly to the American legal system with all of its unique features, it definitely required effort,” she says.
“So when I, and another faculty member, conceptualized this program, it was really with this understanding, that we want to give our students a leg up when they start their LL.M. studies. We want to have them already warmed up to hit the ground running, because in most LL.M. programs in US law schools, the students go immediately into fairly advanced classes.”
“Even students who come with strong English, the vocabulary component of the [summer] program is very helpful,” says Raigrodski, “It serves to reinforce to LL.M. students that they’re in the right place, and help set them up for an amazing year.”
Some law schools in the UK also offer summer programs, many of them focusing on helping incoming LL.M. students brush up on their English language skills and learn about law in England. The University of Edinburgh, for instance, offers the four-week long “English for the LL.M.” program, while the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education offers a three-week long program in English Law and Legal Methods.
Learn about US law and build an international network
Next year the University of California, Davis, School of Law will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Orientation in USA Law program.
It’s one of two summer law programs offered by the school to incoming international students – the other is an English for Legal Professionals course.
Like the summer law program at the University of Washington, these programs are not compulsory for LL.M. students arriving from around the world – but they serve as a strong foundation for the rigorous study awaiting students in the LL.M.
“Although it is not compulsory, the majority of our LL.M. students attend our Orientation in USA Law Program,” says Beth Greenwood, Associate Dean for International Programs and Director of the UC Davis School of Law LL.M. program.
“Students learn the fundamentals of US law, become more proficient in legal English and create a professional and supportive network of friends and colleagues across the globe.”
“Students who attend the Summer International Law Programs are more confident of their language, know what to expect in an American law school, and have the skills that ensure their success,” says Greenwood.
Bring your legal English skills up to speed
Professor M. Catherine Beck is a non-lawyer language specialist who has been working on Legal English programs for the past 15 years.
Professor Beck developed the Legal English Program at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, and she also teaches on the Summer English Language Studies (SELS) program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Berkeley’s SELS program includes two courses: Legal Writing and Legal English: Introduction to the American Legal System.
Professor Beck says these attract not only foreign legal professionals and law students preparing to begin their graduate studies at Berkeley, but also students who are about to start LL.M. programs in other parts of the US.
Professor Beck teaches on the Legal Writing course at Berkeley, which focuses on writing and reading comprehension, at same level you would expect from a first-year legal writing course.
“We work through reading comprehension, identifying relevant facts in cases, and we work through synthesizing the elements of the cases we’re working with to come up with a rule that we apply to a given situation,” she explains.
Students “end up writing a hypothetical memo to the senior attorney who assigned them the case – and this precisely what they would be doing in a first semester legal writing class in law school,” says Professor Beck.
She says there is some overlap between students on the two SELS courses, and that generally everyone is welcome to join the class trips.
Last summer, students visited the former prison island Alcatraz, as well as the Supreme Court of California and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, both in San Francisco. At the appeals court, students were able to meet a judge and ask questions about topics like capital punishment.
At Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, Professor Beck coordinates the summer program, as well as a legal English program that runs concurrently with the LL.M. school year, providing additional language support to international students.
The school’s legal skills seminar runs in both summer and winter, directly before the LL.M. program begins.
“It’s a combination of legal English, study skills and orientation that you would normally see over a few days, but we do it over two weeks,” explains Professor Beck.
The seminar is compulsory for incoming international students.
At the end of the two weeks, students are tested. Anyone who needs additional legal English support will go on to attend the legal English course that runs alongside the LL.M., to make sure their language skills can develop alongside their legal skills.