A Changing World, a Changing LLM

For Richard Badger, preparing for the Law School’s Diploma and Hooding Ceremony meant practice, practice, practice. As Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs, Badger called the names of all 68 graduates receiving their Master of Laws (LLM) on June 9 in the Rockefeller Chapel ceremony. With first, middle, and last names from all over the globe, it is the kind of thing one must rehearse beforehand.

Good thing Badger has a system. Every fall at LLM Orientation, he records the students saying their names. He repeats the names, and they correct his effort. Everyone does this together, and it’s a good chance to laugh and get to know one another. But this ice breaker has a long-term purpose too: nine months later, Badger listens to this recording as he reads over phonetic spellings of the names before the hooding ceremony.

“As with anything else, it’s the thought that is important. They know I try to do it right, and they know I’m going to goof up,” Badger said.

Learning nearly six dozen full names from 24 countries was a challenge Badger was happy to face. Badger, ’68, remembers having just a few international graduate students as classmates when he was a student. The group remained small during the 1970s and ’80s in his first two decades at the Law School.

These days, you can’t miss them. The vast majority of Chicago’s foreign students today are LLMs, and they are an integral part of daily life at the Law School. Much has occurred over the last four decades to attract applications in such large numbers. Inside the Law School, faculty and staff committed to the program have driven the change. Foreign students drawn to Chicago Law decades ago by a Max Rheinstein or a Gerhard Casper became ambassadors for the program in their homelands, encouraging new students to apply. The Chicago Law reputation, particularly in law and economics, spread across the seas. This happened alongside the internationalization of law, which dictated that modern business and legal work is done with a global perspective.

Today’s LLMs tend to be interested in corporate law and are sent here by their employers to learn the American legal system. Many of them work for law firms, and some work for government agencies. All must have an undergraduate degree in law, and work experience is preferred. This is all very different from the earliest years of the program, when LLMs tended to be American. The impression is that most of those students planned on academic careers, Badger said. Some had earned a JD from another school but wanted to add a Chicago LLM to their resume.

In recent years, the LLM program has been virtually void of any American students and instead caters to international scholars. This is in part because of the Law School’s relatively small size and the fact that it does not offer LLMs on specialized topics such as taxation or securities regulation. The LLM is a generalized, but advanced, course in American law, which makes it perfect for international students.

What hasn’t changed in the last several decades is what the graduate programs, particularly the LLM program, represent: experience. LLMs have the chance to study American law and live a year abroad. The Chicago LLM experience attracts, as it always has, a relatively small cohort of the best and brightest scholars looking to continue their education in the most rigorous learning environment in the country.

Domestic JD students benefit too: they learn alongside scholars from around the world and hear diverse perspectives that go far beyond an American worldview. Plus the networking opportunities for both sets of students are priceless; if you are a New York lawyer doing business for the first time in Tokyo, whatever your country of origin, it is good to know a familiar face in the city.

Today’s LLMs choose the Law School because they find something special here: a small, intimate community in which they can become fully immersed and integrated. The Chicago LLM program is not nearly as large as at some other elite schools, and with the small size of Chicago’s JD population, these LLMs are much more able to get involved in the Law School community and get to know their American classmates. LLMs join the JDs in all kinds of extracurricular activities—they perform in the Law School Musical and participate in student government, intramural sports, and virtually every other aspect of Law School life—and they bring their own culture to the community as well, hosting country-themed parties for all students over the course of the year.

A few decades ago, “you could take out all the LLMs and no one would notice,” said Professor Douglas Baird, Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law. Baird joined the faculty in 1980, a year in which just two students earned an LLM. “Now, if you removed the LLMs, it would change the dynamic of the Law School, in a very negative way.”

International Spirit Grows at the Law School

The first LLM degree at the Law School was awarded in 1942 to Donald L. Hesson, a Londoner, but most of the first LLMs were Americans. The Master of Comparative Laws, or MCL degree, which was first earned in 1954, was the degree for foreign students. Today, the LLM and MCL degrees are identical, and the student may choose which he or she wants to earn. Some students already have one LLM, so they choose the MCL. Some countries may value one type of degree over the other. But largely students choose the LLM.

The fledgling graduate programs thrived in the ’50s and ’60s under Max Rheinstein, a name undoubtedly familiar to many Record readers. Rheinstein first came to the faculty in 1936, the same year as Edward H. Levi, after fleeing his native Germany and the Nazi regime. Rheinstein, a legal sociologist and expert in comparative law, directed the graduate programs as Max Pam Professor of Comparative Law, a title he held from 1942 to 1968.

Rheinstein drew international students to the Law School as he pushed American students to go abroad. He started the Foreign Law Program, which consisted of a year of studying civil law with Rheinstein and a language—either German or French—and then a year abroad studying with a mentor. Grants awarded after World War II brought European students to American universities in increasing numbers. Rheinstein, who died in 1977, “was greatly admired,” said James Ratcliffe, ’50, who was Assistant Dean under Levi in the ’50s and ’60s.

“He was a colorful old gentleman with a Continental background and a rich German accent. He was for some years the major link between the law faculty generally and our Continental counterparts.”

Rheinstein was the critical link to Europe in those days, but other faculty, including Soia Mentschikoff and Nicholas Katzenbach, encouraged international thinking at the Law School, said Kenneth Dam, ’57, now Max Pam Professor Emeritus of American and Foreign Law. (Dam has served as a Deputy Secretary in both the Treasury and State Departments.) In those days, Dam said, “Western Europe was the focus of where young lawyers wanted to practice, or have clients, like China is now. It was a tremendous intellectual focus.”

Consequently, the foreign graduate students coming to Chicago at that time tended to hail from Western Europe. One, Derrick Widmer, X ’63, of Switzerland, even wrote a book in 2008 about his time at the Law School titled, America in the Early 1960s: A Love Story. He writes warmly of Rheinstein as someone who encouraged the foreign students to experience everything they could in and out of class.

“He was our admired mentor throughout our stay at the school and gave us also personal advice,” Widmer wrote. “He encouraged us not only to study hard but to see interesting places,” including the Florida Keys, Cuba, and Mexico, Widmer wrote. Widmer also writes about living in International House, where rent was between $90 and $127 a month, and his irritation at “Victorian customs” that limited when he could visit women in their dormitories. He never got that Chicago Law degree, having returned to Switzerland before writing his thesis, a move he describes with great regret in his book. He now practices at a firm that specializes in telecommunications law.

In the 1967–1968 Announcements, the LLM program is described as “a year of advanced study for Anglo-American law graduates” who wanted to develop specialized interests and engage in individual research, while the Comparative Law Program was aimed at students “whose training has been in legal systems other than the common law.” By the early 1980s, it was rare to find American students in the LLM program, which was virtually extinct anyway. Only 11 students graduated with an LLM from 1980 to 1985.

A Program Reborn

The graduate programs, and the LLM in particular, came back to life under Gerhard Casper, whose deanship began in 1979. In 1984, he reinstituted the foreign graduate program, with Roberta Evans, ’61, at the helm. When Evans started working at the Law School in 1981 as Casper’s assistant, “there was essentially no graduate program,” she said. “There was one Polish student stuck here because there was a revolution and he couldn’t go home.”

Casper, a German, was once an international student himself, earning an LLM degree at Yale in 1962. Evans said his interest and support were key to the program’s success, as was the changing legal world. Foreign governments revived grants to send their students abroad, and now interest was coming not just from Europe but also from Asia and Latin America. Students were often supported by their home countries or employers and didn’t need tuition assistance, making them even more attractive to American law schools. As the LLM program grew, Evans and alumni organized reunions in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, London, Munich, and Vienna. Foreign alumni encouraged their younger colleagues to come to Chicago for an LLM. In 1986, there were four LLMs and one MCL, and by 1996, there were 47 LLMs in the graduating class.

“I think we just started getting applications,” Evans said, rather modestly. But the faculty and students present during those years are eager to give much of the credit to Evans. Hildegard Bison, ’89, still counts Evans as a close friend. Bison is a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Evans “was absolutely vital for me loving this year and making it a success,” Bison said. “She was really a mother of the program at that time. She really cared about every individual, and she was someone you could relate to.” Bison came to Chicago on the advice of a friend from the University of Bonn, where she received her law degree. He told her that if she ever considered an LLM, Chicago was the place to go. As a student, she was amazed to be in classes with only 25 students, after having taken courses in Germany with 600 or 800 classmates.

“The lectures that were given there, the way they go beyond mere teaching of the law, but broadening people’s minds, that was also exciting at the time for me. I had never had such an opportunity before.”

The work was very challenging, Bison remembered, especially reading assignments for these nonnative speakers. But there was fun too. She remembers Evans inviting the whole group of LLMs—19, in 1989, plus two MCLs—to her house for parties. Because of the exchange rate, money was scarce, and the LLMs really appreciated the invitation.

“We were all so happy and overwhelmed when we were invited to Roberta’s place for dinner,” she said. And sometimes, in true European fashion, they’d stay past midnight. Evans was truly the students’ mother away from home. She sat in the hospital waiting room during an emergency appendectomy and then called the man’s parents in Argentina to tell them he was OK. She gave advice on long-distance relationships (“if the girlfriend is worth it, she’ll wait”). When she traveled, she left her house, cats, and plants in the care of students.

Those years are long gone, but the ties remain for Evans and her students.

“I have people to visit all over the world,” she said. “That’s the best part.”

Today: A Focus on Corporate Law

This year, 885 students applied for the LLM program, and 71 are enrolled this fall. They come from 27 countries. One need only look at the names in the Glass Menagerie—or in the graduation program—to see how much things have changed, said Geoffrey Stone, ’71, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law. Stone has been on the faculty since 1973.

“It’s much more diverse,” he said. “It used to be primarily students from the Commonwealth countries and Europe. Now there are many more Asians and South Americans.” Of the LLM class of 2012, 20 were from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Thirty-one were from Asia (counting 11 from China and nine from Japan), and 14 came from South America. Mexico added another four students. Twenty years ago, European LLMs still had a numerical edge over Asian LLMs, 18 to 10.

The increase in international trade in Asian and South American economies has accounted for much of this trend, Badger said. Lately, he has received close to 200 applications a year from China alone.

“Most of them are here because their employers or potential employers think it’s a good idea to do this,” Badger said. “That’s largely because they’ll be dealing with American law firms or American clients. The idea is that exposure to American law will make it easier.” Plus, he added, American law schools offer classes you can’t find in every country, on topics such as law and economics and gender discrimination, among others.

A minority of LLMs today are interested in academia. They get their LLMs on the way to a JSD, which is usually a five-year process, with one year of residence at the Law School and another four to complete a dissertation. Some complete an LLM so they can take an American bar exam, which is another resume booster.

The most popular classes for today’s LLM students are Corporate Law, Economic Analysis of the Law, Federal Regulation of Securities, Antitrust Law, and Advanced Corporations: Mergers and Acquisitions, according to Badger’s records. The LLMs take classes alongside JDs, and they tend to be about the same age, from their early 20s into their 30s, Badger said. Because all have studied law and most have practiced, they come with the added benefit of some legal sophistication, though the language can pose a challenge.

André Zanatta Fernandes de Castro, LLM ’09, is Litigation Counsel for Google in Brazil. He took a varied mix of classes during his LLM, from Trial Advocacy and Class Action Litigation to Public International Law, Concluding Complex Business Transactions, and the Law of E-Commerce.

At his former job, the Chicago degree “helped me be promoted to senior associate in my firm earlier than many of my peers,” he said. “It was also decisive when I was offered my current position, as Google is an American company, and naturally they felt comfortable that I had a U.S. law degree. On a day-by-day basis, having been exposed to the Socratic method made me a more dynamic professional, which is highly welcomed by my clients.”

Bison said the reputation of Chicago’s LLM is far-reaching. She has recruited employees from Chicago’s LLM class because she knows “they were the best qualified students we could wish to see.”

It’s the same in Chile, said Daniel Weinstein, LLM ’10. He is a senior associate at Morales & Besa Abogados, a large firm in Santiago started by Chicago’s very first Chilean LLM student, Guillermo Morales, LLM ’87. Most of Weinstein’s clients are international, so he uses his skills from his LLM coursework all the time, he said. While at the Law School, he took Economic Analysis of the Law, International Arbitration, and Business Law, plus a Greenberg Seminar with Professors Jonathan Masur and Richard McAdams where they discussed books about crimes in Chicago. “University of Chicago has a fantastic reputation in Chile, as the architects of our economic system were economists from the University of Chicago. The Law School also has a great reputation, as there are a lot of applicants, and they admit only a few, who usually are the best students from the best law schools,” Weinstein said.

Plus, he said he’ll never forget the focus on ideas at Chicago Law. “Having spent time with such brilliant minds as I met there—and I am referring to both professors and students— both inside and outside the classroom was an experience I will never forget, especially when it is time to discuss ideas,” he said. “At Chicago you are welcome to challenge any idea and don’t have to take anything for granted.”

Back in their home countries, LLM alumni say they think of their year in Chicago frequently. Stephan Wilske, LLM ’95, acknowledges that his LLM year was one he would “not necessarily like to repeat because it was so intense.” Wilske is a partner at Gleiss Lutz in Stuttgart, Germany. Still, “I am somewhat reminded of my year in Chicago every day because I found my wife,” a Taiwanese graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Siska Ghesquire, LLM ’05, said her “close-knit” class of about 50 stays in touch. She especially remembers volunteering at poll sites on Election Day and going sailing. Ghesquire, who now practices corporate law at Linklaters in Brussels, considered other elite law schools with many more students, but with those schools she felt somewhat anonymous. At Chicago, she felt like she was noticed, she said. And now, she finds her LLM a useful background with the American clients she works with frequently.

Similarly, Bison said her time at the Law School gave her knowledge, confidence, and the inspiration to start the career she has now. “I would not have joined or even considered joining an international law firm without that experience,” she said. “It really made me more self-confident and broader in many ways.”

Even though she spent more years at her undergraduate university in Germany, Bison considers Chicago her true alma mater, she said.

“This is where I come from,” she said. “The impact it had is much bigger than the German university … it really opened up my whole life.”