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Studying Law in New York City

The practice of law has become increasingly transnational in nature. As a result, lawyers throughout the world have come to recognize the need to develop an understanding of the law and legal systems not only of their own countries but also of other countries that are important to the international practice of law.

Technological advancements have made international travel quick and inexpensive and communications around the world virtually instantaneous. Business transactions and foreign investments, in turn, have become increasingly global in character. The nature of international law itself has also changed in response to developments in technology and transnational business dealings. This, too, has led to an increasing demand for lawyers who can practice effectively in the international arena.

Law practice has responded to the changing needs of business by recognizing the need for and rewarding attorneys who can practice effectively across jurisdictional borders and in both civil and common law systems. Knowledge of the lingua franca and cultural nuances of multiple jurisdictions is also highly valued.

Law firms – from the largest and most prestigious to mid-sized and smaller firms – have been changing the way they do business. US law firms have been hiring an increasing number of attorneys from abroad for their home offices to service a growing number of international clients. At the same time, scores of US law firms have opened branch offices in cities around the world, seeking to capitalize on the international growth of business and law practice. Other US law firms have merged with established law firms around the world. All of these changes in the way that US law firms operate provide enormous possibilities for lawyers from abroad who are well versed in the US legal system and US law.
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In response to these changes in law and the way law firms do business, large and growing numbers of lawyers from all regions of the world come to the US to study law. Programs at US law schools offering JD (first degree in law) and LL.M. (graduate) degrees have responded to this demand. LL.M. programs in particular have grown in number, size, and scope in recent years. While most of these programs are not limited to attorneys trained abroad, they are designed to respond to the needs of such students.

Programs at US law schools offer international law students the opportunity to study US law in an environment that fosters a truly international perspective. Law students from abroad generally design a curriculum that combines basic US legal principles with courses in one or more areas of substantive interest. Students may also pursue a program of study that focuses on a particular area of specialization, such as intellectual property, corporate law, or taxation. International students are also introduced to the forms and methods of legal writing prominent in US law practice. In short, education at a US law school provides lawyers with an appreciation of the fundamental principles of the US common law system, exposure to the vocabulary of US law, an understanding of US substantive law in the areas most relevant to each particular attorney, and familiarity with US law practice.

Moreover, because students from abroad take most or all of their classes with US law students, there are ample opportunities for comparative learning and the sharing of ideas with law students from the US and around the world. These dialogues may begin in the classroom but are often continued in informal gatherings outside of class, law school student activities, language roundtables, and other events in and around the law school community. These opportunities also allow internationally trained attorneys to develop a deep sense of cultural understanding and language abilities that will help prepare them for contemporary law practice. In addition, international students at US law schools typically develop close networks of personal and professional contacts that shape their professional lives for years to come.

New York City offers special advantages for an attorney from abroad interested in a law degree from a US law school: It is the legal, financial and international capital of the US, offering the United Nations, the New York Stock Exchange, the home offices of most of the country’s largest and most prestigious law firms, and myriad other opportunities. It is also among the most culturally rich environments in the world, bringing together a truly multicultural community consisting of people of all nationalities, religions, and races. (Not insignificantly, it also offers world-class theatre, opera, museums, musical venues and performances, and other sights; exquisite culinary opportunities; and some of the world’s best shopping!)

The study of law in the US promises to enhance an international lawyer’s professional opportunities. The advantages offered by law study in the US are many - advantages that are magnified by the myriad advantages of New York City.


Toni M. Fine is Director of Graduate and International Programs at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, located in New York City

 

 

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