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Cultivating International Practitioners & Scholars

August 10, 2023

LLM and SJD students come from around the world, enriching our campus and classrooms with their diverse lived experiences.

Every summer, LLM students from all over the world converge on the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School campus to learn about America’s legal system. Along the way, they burnish their credentials, make lifelong friends, and gain confidence in their ability to navigate daily life and manage a demanding course of study.

Whether they return to their home countries or stay in the United States, our LLM students leave with a competitive advantage over international practitioners without that training—and sometimes even practical experience—in U.S. law.

Welcoming International Scholars

On July 31, Penn Carey Law welcomed more than 100 students—judges, diplomats, government officials, bankers, corporate executives, in-house counsels, law firm partners, consultants and researchers—from Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, and South America as they begin a year-long voyage of discovery that concludes with a master’s degree in law and a commencement ceremony at the iconic Academy of Music.

About a quarter of the class attends the LLM program directly after law school, but most have been out of law school for three to five years.

“An understanding of the U.S. job market is helpful in the increasingly global world and our LLM alumni have used their degrees to secure international leadership positions,” said Caroline Ruhle, Associate Director for LLM Counseling and International Sector Careers.

A much smaller cohort of typically three or four students pursues an SJD degree every year, training for careers in academia. This doctorate is the highest degree conferred by Penn Carey Law. Candidates are encouraged to submit and defend their original scholarship within three years.

Our Intensive, Rewarding LLM Curriculum

A unique aspect of the LLM program is that international students arrive well before the fall semester for an intensive five-week course, “Foundations of U.S. Law,” during which they spend two hours a day, five days a week engaging with U.S. legal history, the U.S. Constitution, and Civil Procedure. LLM students are also required to take courses in Legal Writing and Legal Research.

Juan Carlos Velez LLM'20 Juan Carlos Velez LLM’20Upon completion of the prerequisites, they can step into classrooms with 2Ls and 3Ls and take a range of classes at both the Law School and sister schools on campus, with a high percentage of students earning a Wharton Certificate in Business and Law with the option of choosing a concentration in either Intellectual Property or Global Security, Sustainability, and Human Rights.

Juan Carlos Velez LLM’20, a senior partner at Estudio Muñiz in Peru who has helped close nearly $2 billion in corporate acquisitions, called the LLM program “amazing” and “an adventure.”

“At Penn Carey Law I really felt at home. I loved the classes, the professors, the intelligence and curiosity of the JDs, my LLM classmates, the sports, everything,” Velez said.

Learning with Distinguished Faculty

William Ewald, Professor of Law and Philosophy and Co-Director of the Institute for Law & Philosophy, has taught “Foundations of U.S. Law” since he started at the Law School in 1991. By his estimate, he’s taught up to 2,500 LLM students.

“I view this course as comparative law in reverse,” said Ewald. “I teach American students about foreign law, and I teach foreign students about U.S. law.”

Wililam Ewald, Professor of Law and Philosophy Wililam Ewald, Professor of Law and PhilosophyEwald said he can skip a lot of the basics because the students have been to law school and have been, in many cases, practicing law for a few years.

“They know what a contract is. They know what a tort is,” he said. “You need to explain to them the things that are going to surprise them when they get into a U.S. courtroom.”

When Ewald began teaching LLMs 32 years ago, there were 25 to 40 students in the whole class, he said. The program subsequently went through a transformation from its early and more modest roots.

“For the most part, schools don’t take the LLM program as seriously as we do,” said Ewald. “The Penn Carey Law LLMs go through boot camp. They have to read a ton of stuff. It’s a serious class. By the end of the summer they’ve learned something.”

The Evolution of the LLM

The late Matt Parker L’00, GrEd’15, former Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at the Law School, wrote a dissertation in 2015 on the origins of the LLM program in America. Among his findings, he wrote that the LLM began in the 1870s as a scholarly adjunct to what was then the traditional two-year law degree.

The Law School at Penn established the program in 1883. Students took courses in Roman Law and Common Law beginning with Anglo-Saxon Law and the feudal system. Law School officials suspended the course in 1896, and it took 11 years to reappear. More than 100 years later, the program has fully flowered, consistently attracting international students from scores of countries with more than 1,500 applications from 74 countries this year.

Eric A. Feldman, Heimbold Chair in International Law, Professor of Law Eric A. Feldman, Heimbold Chair in International Law, Professor of Law“The opportunity for interdisciplinary study is very valuable to our LLMs,” said Elise Kraemer L’93, Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs. “They take advantage of that. They really like the small size of the program and the full integration into the Law School.”

The LLM program has grown, in part, because the Law School has done such an exceptional job of nurturing international students, said Eric A. Feldman, Deputy Dean for International Programs, faculty liaison to the Office of International Affairs, and Heimbold Chair in International Law. Feldman cited assiduous efforts to assist students with housing and family matters, with class registration, with the ins and outs of exam taking, and with acclimation to a new culture.

The weeks-long orientation encompasses a wide-range of activities: presentations on networking; academic success; diversity, equity, and inclusion; wellness initiatives; and public interest careers; and exercises in team building. The Law School also organizes a range of social events including a scavenger hunt, a pizza party, and a BBQ.

“I think we’ve done far more in the international space over the last 15 or 20 years than arguably any other law school in the country,” Feldman said. “We’re firing on a million cylinders.”

Our Competitive SJD Program

Feldman led the SJD admissions committee this year. The Law School has become more competitive in recruitment since the approval two years ago of fellowships that include $20,000-per-year stipends and health insurance.

“It’s important to train legal scholars who are going to be taking academic positions in other countries,” Feldman said. “It is part of what makes us a global law school and advances our mission of creating powerful connections between Penn Carey Law and other top law schools around the world.”

Xianochuan Charlie Weng LLM'09, SJD'12 Xiaochuan “Charlie” Weng LLM’09, SJD’12In the SJD program, degree candidates must present their work to fellow students during twice-yearly colloquia and to researchers and scholars every month.

Xiaochuan “Charlie” Weng LLM’09, SJD’12 studied for both degrees in succession. He praised the Law School’s Socratic method of teaching, which is not often practiced in his home country of China, where classes are structured around lectures without substantial student participation. He said he also appreciated the flexibility in the SJD program in which candidates have an opportunity to change directions in their scholarship.

“The LLM and SJD helped me be more creative and apply critical thinking in my research,” said Weng, a member of the Law and Justice faculty at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “This is the best PhD program I know of.”

Cultivating a Multicultural Community

Every year, incoming classes come together to bridge cultural differences as they grapple with the challenges of life and a new academic regimen in a foreign country.

Velez, who eventually returned to South America, said he maintains enduring friendships with classmates from France, England, Asia (India, Indonesia, China), and Latin America. Carolina Bueno LLM’22, who was practicing law in Brazil when she came to Penn Carey Law, said she will always remember drinking chai and discussing life in the homes of her new Indian friends. Bueno said she underwent a metamorphosis in the LLM program; she came to the Law School with a plan to further her career as an antitrust attorney and left with a new focus and a job as a business consultant at McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C.

“I think a powerful part of the LLM is being around a group of people who are really diverse and amazing and have super interesting backgrounds and great dreams,” Bueno said.

Learn more about Penn Carey Law’s LLM and graduate programs.