My LL.M Story: Coming To America!
rowing up in Lagos, Nigeria I remember a t-shirt my brother had that read, American Life, We Love It! The inscription made me wonder what was different about American life. Was it what I saw on TV or was there more? When the time came for me to go to college, I thought about going off to America, but I was admitted to study law in a prestigious Nigerian University and so I did not further pursue the idea of studying abroad. However, while at school, I learned of the uniqueness of the American constitution and the similarity of American law to Nigerian law. I read books by John Grisham and became a fan of Dr. Dre. These factors made me all the more interested in America. More appealing, however, was the idea of practicing law in the United States. The approach adopted (as I learned from books) was more practical; the courtroom procedures were no longer beholden to the British style formality. So I did my research into what it would take for a foreign attorney to practice law in the United States. I realized that I would have to sit for the bar exam in either California or New York, those being the only two jurisdictions that accepted foreign attorneys at the time. I also found out that my prospects of getting a job would be enhanced by attending a US law school for an LL.M. program. With that information in hand, I decided to do both.
The process of applying to study for a graduate degree was not an easy one. I had to identify and choose a number of schools to apply to. Some schools were specialized and others were not. Did I want to be on the east coast or the west coast? Some schools had application fees, others did not. In the end, my determining factors came to what school had a strong program in international law and which school offered me the most attractive scholarship/tuition assistance option.
I arrived at the DC campus of American University’s Washington College of Law in the spring of 2008. The culture shock began almost immediately. My classmates seemed genuinely interested in knowing about my background, and they liked to talk…a lot! I noticed that the roads were very wide; fitting for the big cars they carried. Students and staff at the school were nice and helpful. The resources I needed to help me study were readily available, more so than in any other country I had been.
I quickly settled into a study routine and began to find out ways to achieve my goals of becoming a New York attorney and landing a job in the Unites States. After speaking with the officers in charge of my LL.M program, I discovered that although neither of these tasks was going to be easy, there would be sufficient resources to help me along the way. For example, the school had a dedicated LL.M career advisor. School work was demanding yet familiar. The Socratic method of learning which is used in law schools in the United States demanded much of my time before class started. I was expected to read cases in depth before class as my professors called on students at random to give detailed answers to questions. Performance in class formed part of my grade. Fortunately for me, school work was somewhat familiar because of my earlier training and my experience as a lawyer.
The District of Columbia borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. The area is popularly referred to as the DMV. DC, being the capital of the United States, is very much a government town. It was not uncommon to overhear conversations on the metro (the local train service) about an impending increase in pay for government workers or whether a legislative bill would get passed. I remember being impressed by the structure of some of the many government departments in the District. Streets are named after major states in the country. DC also houses international organizations like the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. There are additionally many nongovernmental organizations and similar groups. Many students got placements in some of these organizations. I interned at a law firm in the city. At night, the work of government and the bustle of work gave way to an intriguing blend of music, poetry and dance. Me and my group of “multinational” friends explored the city’s café’s, clubs and restaurants. It was beautiful.
My LL.M year was in every way a rewarding experience, and my hard work and diligence paid off. I ended up sitting for and passing the New York Bar. I also got a job in New York City! The decision to go for graduate studies is a very personal one that has consequences for not only your academic life but also your life in general. Personally, I am happy that I decided to go for it.