Towards a More Ethical LL.M. Degree: Let's Give International Lawyers the Value They Deserve
42 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 9, 2020
Created for international lawyers seeking American credentials, LL.M. programs have proliferated, filling a need in an increasingly global market. Yet the American Bar Association offers no guidance as to how programs specifically designed for international lawyers should be structured. The road to a more ethical LL.M degree necessarily begins with the American Bar Association and the need for it to establish guidelines for such programs, at least for those programs which qualify international lawyers to sit for the bar exam.
Nor do law schools do enough to ensure that LL.M. students seeking to become licensed attorneys in the United States develop the skills necessary to do so. In the typical one-year LL.M. program, students must conquer a host of challenges that include mastering legal English, adapting to an American law school, and learning how to navigate a new legal system. There is simply not enough time afforded these students to successfully acclimate and, for those who wish to, prepare for the bar exam.
LL.M. students have a right to expect that their expensive degrees have value. However, the American Bar Association, charged with accreditation and oversight of American law schools, provides no standards or oversight of LL.M. programs. The authors argue that the ABA, as gatekeeper to the legal profession, has an ethical obligation to all law students. LL.M. students, like their J.D. peers, should meet some minimal standards of competence. This necessarily requires establishing experiential requirements, learning objectives, and learning outcomes for LL.M. programs.
Consistent with those standards, the authors also propose that law schools adopt a more rigorous curriculum to ensure that students succeed. Initiatives like summer sessions and ESL (English as a second language) instruction for those who need it would go a long way towards achieving that goal. Lastly, the authors propose a dual-track curriculum for those seeking an American degree: One track would offer a required two-year “Bar-Track” curriculum for international lawyers seeking to sit for the bar exam. Such a program would give students more time to develop and enrich their understanding of the American legal system, better equipping them with the tools they need to pass the bar exam. The other track would offer a one-year “No-Bar” curriculum for students who wish to return to their home jurisdictions with an American credential or who simply wish to burnish their resumes. At the very least, these proposals will provide some measure of quality and assurance to international lawyers seeking an American degree.
Keywords: LL.M., bar exam, international lawyers, international students, experiential learning, ABA, legal education, legal writing, ESL
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation