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LL.M. Summer Program, AKA ‘Comparative Law in Reverse’, Gives International Students Head Start in Law School

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LL.M. Summer Program, AKA ‘Comparative Law in Reverse’, Gives International Students Head Start in Law School
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LL.M. STUDENTS came to Penn Law a decade ago without much grounding in the American legal system or, in some cases, fluency in English. Enter Professor William Ewald, who had spent considerable time studying and teaching in France, Germany, and Italy and understood the linguistic and cultural challenges facing these students.

To ease their passage and prepare them for the academic school year, Ewald created a summer program that was the first of its kind at a top law school. Years later, the innovative program, which stretches through August, has become a certifiable academic and social icebreaker. And even though some law schools have started their own programs, none matches the breadth of Penn Law’s.

"It’s an intensive course – two hours of lectures a day for five weeks,"says Ewald, professor of Law and Philosophy. "We have incredibly talented LL.M. students and in five weeks we get them up to speed so that they are able to enter into the upper-level courses, and participate on a footing of rough equality with their American colleagues."

Also offered is a course on U.S. Legal Research, taught by Paul George, director of Biddle Law Library. English as a Second Language is an optional course.

Adam Kolker, assistant dean of graduate and international programs, describes the social benefits, saying that "LL.M. students have the law school to themselves" and can bond with one another, as they acclimate to Philadelphia by going on sponsored tours and meeting local lawyers and business people at a reception hosted by the International Visitors Council.

For their part, students enrolled in the program last summer endorsed both its social and academic aspects. Rongrong Mu, of China, says the program helped her "adapt to an American-style, English-speaking academic environment," effectively shortening the time she would otherwise have spent adjusting herself to classes in the fall. Added Ezechiel Havrenne, a student from Belgium, "I got to make friends (from) different areas of the world … and (learned to) speak a few words in their respective languages."

Trying to translate the American legal system into a curriculum that anticipates the needs and knowledge of international students is tricky business, Ewald relates.

"The things that one assumes that foreign lawyers will not know about are almost never the same as the things they in fact need to be told," he explains. "There are vast possibilities for cultural misunderstanding – which is why this course is now taught as a kind of ‘comparative law in reverse.’ "

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