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Foreign Lawyers Gain Advantage by Attending USC

by Steffi Lau
Foreign Lawyers Gain Advantage by Attending USC
Ane Saraiva, the social chair of this year’s LL.M class at the USC Gould School of Law

More than 100 students from around the world leave their home countries each year to study law at USC.

Through the one-year LLM program, lawyers from other countries have a chance to gain a better understanding of American law.

For many, the advanced degree will give them a leg up in their home countries where English language skills and knowledge of American law can be valued in the legal field.

For those who hope to stay in the United States, the fusion of their multilingual skills and knowledge of both American law and foreign law can make them a valuable asset for American firms.

Ane Saraiva, the social chair of this year’s LLM class, hopes that the degree will give her an edge over other attorneys when competing for a job. She said that in her native Brazil, there are few openings for lawyers.

“In Brazil, there are a lot of lawyers. For a girl who just graduated without family members who are lawyers, it can be so difficult to get a good job. The LLM program adds something to your resume,” she said.

LLM students take an introductory course about the American legal system and can choose to focus on a specific area of law, including corporate law, international law and business law, taking classes with J.D. students. About a quarter of the students each year are sponsored by their firms and companies back home.

In most countries, an undergraduate degree in law qualifies one to be a lawyer. Ninety-nine percent of the LLM students already have law degrees from their native country and are simply seeking to gain a deeper understanding of American law.

Anne Marlenga, assistant director of graduate and international programs at USC, noted that knowledge of American law is becoming increasingly important.

“A lot of firms overseas have American clients, so there is more demand overseas to understand American law,” Marlenga said.

The increasing demand may be one factor behind the dramatic increase in applications.

According to Marlenga, in the past three to four years, the number of applications to the LLM program has increased 30 to 50 percent. This year’s class is the ninth LLM group and contains 127 students. The first class had 12.

Marlenga said that LLM programs have become more and more widespread over the years. Ten years ago, many law schools didn’t offer LLM programs, but today, every top-ranked law school does.

The benefits of the program are not limited to learning American law.

“It gives them an edge up in the job market wherever they go because they are able to understand different legal systems. Another benefit is learning legal English and legal writing. And beyond that, it’s good for networking opportunities because students meet lawyers from all over the world,” Marlenga said. “So when they go back to their home countries and have legal work involving a different country, they know someone in that country they can tap into as a resource. The networking opportunities benefit them forever.”

In Asia, according to Marlenga, these connections are especially handy as Japanese, Korean and Chinese firms often deal with each other.

Manami Shigeta, a student from Japan, can attest to the usefulness of the degree. Shigeta worked in the legal department of Olympus Corp., negotiating contracts with foreign distributors. She took a leave of absence to come to USC, saying that the degree will help her advance her career more quickly.

“Our company has many subsidiaries all over the world, so understanding of American law and English communication is very important,” Shigeta said. “International business transactions are mostly based on the American legal system. Therefore it is very important for business people to know how the American legal system is organized and established.”

Foreign Lawyers Gain Advantage by Attending USC

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