Friday, October 10, 2014

Study Law in the USA - 5 Things You Should Know!

By Khary Hornsby
Director of International and Graduate Programs, University of Minnesota Law School

1. How different is the U.S. law system from the U.K. law system?

There are many historical similarities between the U.S. and U.K. legal systems. This is due to the fact that the U.S. is a former British colony and the U.S. based its legal system from the British common law system. 
However, both systems have evolved independent of each other in the years since the U.S. became an independent country. The current structure of the courts, the approach to legal education, and the sources of legal authority now vary highly between the two systems. Unfortunately, this is not the forum to delve deeply into those differences. However, I’d suggest that you consult some of the many books and online resources that will give you an in-depth comparison of the two systems. It’s quite an interesting subject!

2. What can I do with a LL.M. degree here in the U.S.?

Many LL.M. graduates interested in working in the U.S. go on to take a bar exam in one of the states that allows foreign trained attorneys to qualify to take the bar exam. For a complete listing of those states please visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.

However, please remember that the J.D. degree is the preferred degree of practice in the U.S. and not the LL.M. degree. Most LL.M.s, even those with bar admission, will find it difficult to obtain positions as attorneys at law firms and legal entities. Of course, there are exceptions depending upon the background and experience of each individual.

3. How expensive is a J.D. program? Is it possible to get 100% financial aid?

The costs of J.D. programs vary highly. The range is approximately $20,000 to $60,000 per year in tuition costs. This is where the distinction between public and private schools play a role. Public schools tend to be less expensive than private schools. However, private schools tend to have more flexibility when offering scholarships. A helpful resource to easily obtain tuition information is the U.S. News rankings. Rankings are often misused by prospective students. However, this is just an example of where the rankings display helpful information. And it’s much easier than consulting each law schools’ website for tuition information.

And yes, most schools offer large awards to a select number of highly qualified students. The definition of “highly qualified” will vary from school to school. It’s best to check with your individual schools of interest to obtain specific information regarding their scholarship policies. Be aware that most scholarships only apply to tuition and not living costs.

4. How difficult is it to complete a J.D. degree? Are there any dropout rates for J.D. candidates?

Students dropping out of J.D. (and LL.M.) programs for academic reasons are a rare occurrence. The goal of an admission committee is to select students that are academically and culturally prepared for a rigorous intellectual experience. Beware of any school that has a significant number of dropouts. A large number of dropouts is a reflection of the school rather than the students. Unfortunately, the only way to obtain this information is to ask a school directly.

5. Is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program a part of the LL.M. or J.D. Degree?

Optional Practical Training or OPT is technically not a part of either program. OPT (and Curriculur Practical Training or CPT) is an F-1 student visa extension opportunity that is overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It allows foreign students studying in the U.S. to extend their students visas where the student is receiving practical training in their field of study. Please note that the regulations governing OPT and CPT are controlled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Each university has a specific office (often not a part of the law school) that works directly with the U.S. government on issues regarding student visa regulations. This office is often called International Student Scholars Services (ISSS). You will need to work with the specific ISSS office at your law school to explore OPT and CPT options. Please see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security webpage for information on OPT and CPT.

Khary Hornsby is the director of International and Graduate Programs and an associate adjunct professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Hornsby has over 17 years of experience in various leadership positions in higher education and has conducted workshops and presentations in 31 countries.

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