The LL.M. year was one of the most exciting years in my life. I had never spent time abroad before. But on top of that, coming to the US and working as a lawyer had been one of my biggest dreams. Pursuing an LL.M. seemed to give me the opportunity to make this dream come true. Now, after I have finished the LL.M. program and am pending admission to
the New York bar I face a reality — the reality of actually finding a job. I don’t want to start speaking about the devastating unemployment numbers we hear every day; a lot has been said about that. I prefer instead to talk about opportunities. Opportunities are out there, in abundance. You just have to grab them.
But first a dose of reality. LL.M. programs were established, primarily, for foreign lawyers to pursue a US education and then go back home. But the “going back home” aspect of it seems to have changed over time. More and more LL.M. students, like myself, would actually love to stay in the US and pursue a career here, but this is not what the law schools — or the legal market — had in mind for us. We are not trained to stay, we are trained to leave. I don’t mean to criticize this. To the contrary, it has to be this way. J.D. students naturally have a leg up in the US legal job market.
This means that on top of all of the challenges national law graduates already face, LL.M. graduates face additional ones. But only a few realize what the real problem is that is holding them back. The real problem is expectations. Law firms do not simply open doors just because we have law degrees from two different countries. And law schools do not bend over backwards to provide us opportunities to stay. What this means for LL.M. students is that they have to set their expectations straight. If you want to make it here, you have to walk the extra mile, and then an extra mile more.
That is why sending applications, even hundreds of applications, won’t help most of us find a job. Even J.D.’s face this problem and there are simply not enough law firms out there who need the expertise of a foreign trained lawyer. And if they don’t need it, why would they choose an international LL.M. degree holder over one with a J.D? There is no point in doingthat, unless of course you bring business with you. That is why simply writing applications won’t help you land a job. An LL.M. graduate loses on paper.
The only way you can land a job as an LL.M. is networking — networking in its broadest sense. Most of us have a misunderstanding of what networking actually is. Networking is not simply going out and meeting people. That is one part of it, but only one. Networking is a package of tasks, all executed under one detailed, well-formulated plan, focusing on a definite purpose. Networking is very time consuming. But it is of the utmost importance. Networking requires setting goals first and then identifying channels that can help you get there.
Networking is a concept unfamiliar to many foreigners. It seems strange to some of us, we dislike the “selling” notion. We feel uncomfortable. There may be cultural differences. But we have to get over this discomfort if we want to build a career in the US.
During my LL.M. studies I started LLM-United, an online community for LL.M. alumni and current and prospective students. I realized that even within our own community — the LL.M. community – we weren’t sufficiently connected. During the LL.M. year we meet lawyers from around the world. Imagine the tremendous worldwide network we could access if we were connected with those that did it before us and those that come after.
However, your network is not built by simply joining associations or online communities. Joining is only the first step. After joining you have to become active. So many join associations and online groups and then say This doesn’t work. A platform is what it says it is — a platform; it provides tools but at the end of the day those tools have to be used — by us. No one can do that for us. You have to have a top notch profile, offline and online. You have to be seen, offline and online. Offline by visiting events and seminars and speaking to other professionals and online by writing articles, commenting on your colleagues’ articles, by continuously educating yourself, by showing initiative and creating projects, by reaching out and offering your help. There is so much you can do, but you have to DO it. If you spend 2 hours changing the margins of your resume only to be able to include another piece of information you have wasted your time. Get out there instead. Some of my network members ask me how they can start networking. I answer, well you reached out to me, that is a start. Talk to people.
LLM-United is the first online networking community for LL.M. alumni and current and prospective students. The mission is to connect all LL.M. professionals on one single platform in order to create the ultimate networking and resource platform for the LL.M. community.