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July 15, 2012

Q&A with Columbia Law School LL.M Class of 2012 Alumnus

In addition to MBA admissions consulting, I work with a small number of clients each year who are applying to Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs.  I developed expertise on LL.M. consulting back when I still working at was the Princeton Review of Japan.  When I went independent and established my own consulting service and this blog in 2007, I decided to focus primarily on MBA and secondarily on LL.M.   I have been extremely picky about my LL.M. clients.  So far, since going independent, they have all been admitted to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, and/or University of California, Berkeley.  More of my LL.M.  clients have been admitted to  and attended Columbia Law School (followed by Harvard) than anywhere else, so it seems fitting that my first LL.M. Q&A should be with a graduate from that program.
My former client, CLS2012, who recently graduated from Columbia, describes himself as follows: “I  read law as an undergraduate and worked as a law firm associate for 5 years prior to undertaking the LL.M. program at Columbia University. After graduation,  I returned to work as a senior associate at an international law firm.“

Adam: Looking back on your Columbia LL.M. experience, what do you think you have gained?

CLS2012: I have gained so much from my Columbia LL.M. experience, including the chance to study under some outstanding professors, to meet and network with other people from all over the world and from all walks of life, and to experience living in New York for a year. I particularly enjoyed the different approach taken by the professors at Columbia as compared to the more conservative approach I had previously been exposed to while studying law as an undergraduate. The professors at Columbia focused not only on what the law is, but what it should be and brought in political, social and economic analysis to inform their legal discussions. This has taught me to approach the law in a more creative and thoughtful way and to think more effectively about problem solving and finding solutions when confronted with legal issues. The experience and knowledge gained has been very valuable and will influence the way I approach and think about the law in my future work and career.

Adam: What parts of the program have you liked the most? The least?

CLS2012: The part of the program I enjoyed the most was the flexibility and the ability to tailor the LL.M. program to what one was interested in. There were so many interesting courses that it was really a struggle to fit all that I wanted to do within the number of courses I was allowed. Further, besides the traditional law courses, there were a lot of very practical courses like a course on investment banking where students were taught how to do investment banking work, as well as a large number of other courses on subjects like mergers and acquisitions and deals, which were taught by practitioners from some of the top New York law firms. LL.M. students can also choose to take a number of courses at other schools in Columbia such as Columbia Business School and have the courses taken at the other schools count towards the LL.M. degree. It should be noted that the workload can be heavy, especially if one chooses to do near the maximum number of courses one is allowed to do. Further, the school requires all LL.M. candidates to complete an LL.M. paper, which is a major writing project involving original research, in order to graduate.

The part of the program I liked the least was the fact that a number of the most popular courses were scheduled at the same time, meaning that one had to prioritize the courses one really wanted to do over other courses. This appeared to have been done to ensure that most students had the chance to get into some of the more popular courses, but given that the LL.M. program is only a year long, and that some courses are only conducted once either during the Fall or Spring term, it meant that in some cases, a number of LL.M. students did not get all the courses they wanted. That being said, the large number of courses offered by the law school did mitigate this somewhat and most LL.M. students were relatively happy with the courses they got in the end as it was normally possible for one to get most of the courses one wanted.

Adam:: What most surprised you about Columbia Law School?

CLS2012: The school really went out of its way to try and ensure that all LL.M. students enjoyed themselves during their year there. This was done mainly by the law school and to some extent the university organizing a large number of events, such as frequent drink sessions on Friday evening, a cruise down the Hudson river which went past the Statute of Liberty and many other similar type events to ensure that LL.M. students got to explore and enjoy New York.

Adam:: How would you describe the atmosphere of the school?

CLS2012: In general, the school had a very friendly and welcoming feel to it. LL.M. students take classes with J.D. students and so you get a chance to interact with both the LL.M. and the J.D. students in a number of settings. Most of the people I met in law school were friendly and genuinely interested in meeting and interacting with the other students. One thing to note though is that one tends to get to know and interact more with the J.D. and LL.M. student who happen to be interested in the same subjects and courses. While I knew most of the corporate law focused LL.M. and J.D. students quite well, I had less opportunity to interact with the LL.M. and J.D. students who focused on other subjects such as international law.

The quality of the faculty was amazing. The professors were mostly very nice and made time to speak to and interact with students even though some of them were very eminent names in their chosen fields. A few of the professors were outstanding, in that they were genuinely interested in the progress of their students during the course of the term and frequently revised the structure of their courses in light of student feedback received over the course of the term. Special mention must also go to the staff of the graduate legal studies department who were in charge of LL.M. students. They were lovely and always very helpful even though they were constantly bombarded with questions and issues by the LL.M. students.

Adam:: What are hot topics, activities, classes, etc. at Columbia right now?

CLS2012: There were frequent talks and lectures on a wide range of topics organized by the law school(there were several lectures and workshops held by guest speakers almost every day) including lectures given by two sitting US Supreme Court justices during the time I was there. The University also organized a lot of lectures and conferences and invited a lot of world-renowned speakers to come and speak at the university on a myriad range of topics.  It was an amazing experience to be able to attend some of those lectures.

Adam:: How did you feel about living in New York City?

CLS2012: I loved it. New York City is amazing in terms of the number of things to do. In the time I was there, I visited most of the museums including the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, visited a number of tourist spots such as the Statue of Liberty, watched a number of sporting events including the US Open and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and tried out all kinds of cuisine at eating places all over New York. The energy and dynamism of New York City just cannot be described, you have to be there to feel it.  

Adam:: Do you have any specific advice for those considering application to Columbia’s LL.M. program?

CLS2012: While good academics are a prerequisite, previous work experience is very important for any potential applicants who wish to apply to Columbia’s LL.M. program. Most of the LL.M. students had at least two to three years of work experience. LL.M. students also came from both the public and the private sector, the admissions committee appears to like diversity in life experiences and the resulting mix of ideas and perspectives it brings to the classroom. The personal statement is very important as it is the main way in which the admissions committee can get a feel as to what your motivations are and whether you are a good fit for the program, not only in terms of what you might gain from it, but also what you can contribute to it. Finally the large number of courses and the flexibility in structuring your program of study means that Columbia is a good fit for both people who already know what they want to focus on and for people who may want to try out and take a range of different subjects that they have not previously studied.  

Adam:: Anything else you would like to tell us?

CLS2012: Columbia Law School is situated at the main Columbia University campus in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Manhattan. Morningside Heights tends to be albeit more quiet and feels more like a student town and an oasis of calm when compared to the hustle and bustle of places like midtown Manhattan and Greenwich Village. I would encourage people considering applying to the Columbia LL.M. program to visit the campus and the law school to get a feel as to whether they would like living in Morningside Heights as well as the atmosphere at the law school and/or Columbia University in general. The good news is that if you like hustle and bustle, the more lively parts of Manhattan are just a short subway ride away from Morningside Heights.

I want to thank  for taking the time to answer my questions. 

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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