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You know its a great fucking day when youre studying for three different finals of subjects that you don’t like, when your MUN update comes in and you represent China next week in a MUN OVER THE FUCKING UIGHUR CRISIS. WHO IN THE EVER LOVING FUCK IS GOING TO LOBBY WITH CHINA, NOT ME OH WELL SHIT I AM CHINA. 


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So, somehow 2020 has chewed us up and spat us back out in October. I don’t know how it happened, but what I do know is that it’s getting to crunch time for US LLM applications! Applications are due in about 6 weeks for the first set of law schools like Harvard and Yale. You’ve got between 2 and 3-4 months for the remainder of schools, but most are due in around mid-December.

At times, the application process can feel like a maze, especially if you are working everything out on your own. I decided to write down some of the insights I picked up along the way below - and hopefully this helps!

1. Take some of the stress off - start early!

My first and very obvious tip before jumping into this post is to say - don’t underestimate how long the applications and other administrative steps will take! You will apply for most schools, if not all schools, entirely or partly through LSAC (the Law School Admissions Council). Start this process off early (ideally now) by making an account, getting Transcript Request Forms ready and sending them to your university and first law school to ensure they send your transcripts to LSAC. 

Hot tip - Make sure to also request transcripts from universities you went to for a semester studying abroad, or that you transferred from! I needed a transcript from the US university that I spent a semester at during 2014 and so had to pay the necessary fees at my university and law school, the exchange institution AND LSAC’s fees. 

Although I didn’t have to submit a TOEFL score as English is my first language, this is another piece where starting early is very important.

I was so busy at work with a trial when I applied, and I wished I had started everything off just a little bit earlier… so learn from my mistakes!

2. Location, location, location

For me, it was quite overwhelming picking which law schools to apply to, and how many applications I should submit. I settled on 7 law schools, but that really says more about me doubting myself and lacking confidence in my prospects when applying! 

Your choice will be influenced by which schools offer any specializations or special programs you might be focused on (e.g. environmental law), which schools seem to have the best financial aid offerings, location of the school, particular professors and so on. 

From my perspective (which is shaped by my experiences pursuing a more generalist LLM where most schools offered subjects of interest), location was paramount for me in narrowing my application choices. The financial aid consideration came later once I knew what my offers would be, and then professors came last (they really do all have amazing professors!)

So let’s talk about location. I think you should weigh up whether you want to be in a big city, or would prefer a more rural, college town vibe. I personally only wanted to be in a large city to have better work/internship and networking opportunities and access to more adjunct professors (professional judges, attorneys etc who also teach) so this heavily influenced my choices when applying.

When considering the US ‘T14’ or ‘T15’ (Top 14 or 15 law schools), if you want to be in or adjacent to a big city, I would suggest applying to:

  • Harvard (Cambridge, just outside Boston)
  • Stanford (Palo Alto, outside San Francisco - *but note that Stanford does not offer any scholarships for LLMs)
  • UChicago (Chicago)
  • Columbia (upper Manhattan)
  • NYU (center of NYC in lower Manhattan)
  • UC Berkeley (Berkeley, just outside San Francisco)
  • Northwestern (downtown Chicago)
  • UPenn (Philadelphia)
  • Georgetown (Washington DC)
  • UCLA (Los Angeles)

NYU is right in the center of the action, and Washington Square Park is its unofficial campus!

If you prefer a smaller city vibe (that may also be closer to nature in some cases!), look at:

  • Yale (New Haven, Connecticut – but note, very small LLM program for those who want to go into legal academia)
  • Cornell (Ithaca in upstate New York)
  • Duke (Durham, North Carolina)
  • UMichigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
  • UVA (Charlottesville, Virginia)

I mean, Duke does look pretty beautiful!

3. Getting great, not just good, recommendation letters

For background, my referees were my former judge whom I had clerked for, a senior law professors at my old law school whom I worked for as a casual academic for a few years in an interest area of mine, constitutional law, and a partner at my employer, a commercial law firm.

It’s very important to start very early to build authentic relationships with people you plan to ask to be your referees. Semi-regular coffee catch ups or similar with former employers or professors and cultivating a mentorship relationship where they feel genuinely invested in your career is always going to be better than reaching out to them cold just before applications are due!

In any case, even if you are reaching out cold, make sure you get on your referees’ good side by giving them as much lead time/notice as possible for recommendation letters. While they only need to write one generic ‘Dear Admissions Committee’ letter for LSAC, my referees also tailored their letters for about 4 or 5 separate scholarship applications, and for the separate Harvard application. That’s a lot of trouble and effort, and so it pays to give them enough time, as well as promise to remind them or send them calendar invites.

While my referees wanted to write their letters themselves, I wrote bullet points noting key application or scholarship eligibility criteria and my relevant experience/awards/goals that aligned with those criteria. 

When I have spoken to LLM peers here, they also offered to draft their recommenders’ letters if they were too busy or if they were not as confident with their English skills. This offer was unsurprisingly often accepted!!

One key last tip - it might be worth discussing with your referees over coffee or email the typical style of American reference letters. If people in your culture tend to be quite understated, a genuinely well-meaning recommendation letter might read “Jane is a bright student, and performed very well in my class.” However, admissions committees in the US are accustomed to reading statements like: “Jane ranks among the best students I have taught in my 35 year teaching career, and I have no doubt she will be at the top of her class in the LLM program.” Conversations about this with your referee in advance might be very helpful in pushing the letter a bit further into the glowing American territory!

4. Read the fine print 

This is a simpler one, but oh, how hard it is to do when there is so much information to process!

Make sure you read the instructions carefully for each school. For example, Columbia is the only law school that requires a Statement of Class Rank as well as a transcript (if your rank is not already identified on your transcript). 

My application was marked incomplete and was held up there for a month until this separately arrived from my law school, and I spent a good 6 weeks panicking about it ruining my chances of being accepted there. It all worked out in the end, but I could have saved myself some serious stress!

On the other hand, if your class rank is pretty low and you are worried about it, it might be worth not applying to Columbia, because then you don’t need to provide this rank statement to LSAC and have it be seen by all the other schools. 

5. Weaving your narrative

This is probably the most important tip. A good American personal statement is not like a cover letter - it is your personal story in the law and beyond. Why are you the person and lawyer you are today, and who will you become? 

Everyone’s story and structure will be different because of your different motivations for pursuing the LLM e.g. are you hoping to use the LLM to shift your career focus from one area to another, such as from commercial litigation to public interest? Or are you hoping to build strong foundations in US law and legal practice to qualify for the NY Bar exam and work in the same field in the US? Or are you merely taking classes in a certain field (e.g. taxation, antitrust) to broaden and deepen your knowledge before returning home to continue working in that field)?

This was the general structure that worked for me. Please don’t take it as gospel, as I never saw anyone else’s application style or structure - but I did get verbal feedback on an early draft from a colleague who previously studied at NYU. This led me to make significant restructuring changes to make it more interesting!

a. Set the scene and hook the reader about your interest area:

“My keen interest in public interest litigation was ignited in 2015 during my work on a pro bono case whilst I was still in law school and working part-time at national firm, [X and Y]. We represented a non-profit foundation….[briefly described what the case was about, the successful outcome and the lesson it taught me].”

b. Briefly introduce your work experience, and tie in why you are pursuing an LLM at that law school 

For example, because it would provide the strongest possible foundations for a career in [X] to build on your existing experience.

c. Give two to three reasons why that law school is the ideal institution for your LLM over a few paragraphs

(e.g. particular professors/areas of strength of the law school, its experiential learning opportunities (clinics, internships, seminars, simulations etc). In these paragraphs, weave in your own demonstrated experience and/or interest in these areas, and show how you are building off your existing experience.

7. Consistency is key

One final application tip is to try to be as consistent in your narratives as possible across your personal statement, your CV and the separate questions, and to ask your referees to emphasize your ‘angle’ or hook. 

For example, if you are telling the admissions committee that you want to be Germany’s leading white collar crime defense attorney, this should be reflected and woven into each of the separate pieces of your application. It would be amazing if your referees worked in this space too (as criminal law professors, or leading attorneys in this field, or judges) but this isn’t necessary. One referee should not, however, be writing that you did so well in Intellectual Property that you will undoubtedly be an excellent patent lawyer one day. 

In short - a cohesive application is a good application!

Although this may all seem overwhelming - it all feels worth it in the end when you get to take in views like this and reflect back on all the hard work that got you to this place 😀


Let me know if you have any further questions or want me to elaborate on any of the above!

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10/3/2020 My desk this morning. I felt really productive, but I think I may have felt more creative than ready to actually start my work. I’ve started listening to my autumn music, and it’s a LOT of acoustics. Let me know if you need some recommendations for good fall jams. 

I have 65 pages to read today, across 30 different assignments. Law school is no joke, my friends. 

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I’ve lost track of what Day it is already for my Gap Year Bar Review 😬 I’ve been slacking off since the start of the month. I wasn’t able to finish my 100-pages-goals every day because I was too busy senselessly scrolling down my News Feed on Facebook and Instagram to impress the friends of the guy I dated (and still madly in love with) as I have recently discovered that several of them are stalking me. Yikes for me, I know. I’ve also spent way too much time reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, which I don’t regret because man, it’s Agatha Christie. But today I finally mustered the motivation to read the cases under Executive Department for Poli Rev as I was advised by my friends to read in advance the full texts already because for some reason, recent Consti cases are a handful and the teacher, who’s probably going to be my Poli Rev professor next year, relies on the cases for recitations and quizzes.

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I am not sure whether, Twinkle (my doggo study buddy 🐶) is smiling at me or smirking because I am not even half way through my readings. Lol.

Either way, she brings me joy whenever she does this… which is by the way every time I’d look away from my books and notes every after 45 minutes. 😂

#totetallylegal #lawschoolblog #lawschool #lawstudents #lawstudygram #lawstudentsofinstagram #lawschoolstruggles #doggie🐶 #dogsofinstagram #dogstudybuddy #doggo

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[24/09/2020] - You must improvise, adapt and overcome!

I am finishing up on the last few tasks for my paper - 6 days until it’s due! Even though it didn’t work out according to my plan, I still hope that I can submit the paper on time and pass it!

Can’t wait to finally be done with the paper and the exams in October! Halloween is gonna be sooo good! It’s also my only free day between my exams and the beginning of the new semester!

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