I still recall the night I received an e-mail from the UCLA School of Law’s Admissions Office notifying that my LLM application had been approved. What a remarkable night after spending almost a year working on this important project.
And, yes, you read it right: UCLA School of Law. A quite unusual choice for a lawyer willing to study in the US, given that most Brazilian lawyers choose to go to the country’s east coast. Not me. Besides having family in California, I thought schoolwork and snowfalls do not go very well together.
Until then, my idea of studying abroad was kind of blurry. I thought it would be as easy as when I was a foreign exc.hange student in Columbus, Indiana at the age of sixteen. No complex classes in high school, typical students, plenty of time to socialize and enjoy my stay. I was wrong to a certain extent. As a matter of fact, I was wrong big time. But still, it was the best experience of my life.
After deciding that I was indeed going to UCLA, the next step was to plan my departure to Los Angeles with at least a month in advance to handle matters such as housing, social security and VISA matters, driver’s license, classes I would have to choose to enroll for the Fall Semester. Yes, LLM students must choose among so many different and interesting classes offered at law school with sometime in advance, so that you don’t have to beg the LLM Director that if he/she doesn’t open an additional spot at the “Venture Capital & Start-Up Companies” class, your boss back in Brazil would simply fire you. No joke, I had to do that.
Like a traditional protecting Latin American family, my parents flew with me to L.A. to help their 27-year-old “child” adjust to the new student reality. And if you get caught up by a college student asking “wow, a Masters’ Degree in Law and your parents are here with you looking for housing and.. .you’re almost thirty???” kind of question, before you look like a moron, just withhold yourself by saying Latin Americans tend to be emotional. I decided to live close to the UCLA campus so that I could save money by walking to school. Also, school is highly demanding and, although foreign students are permitted to work on campus, you will realize that it is almost unfeasible to learn all of your reading materials and work at the same time.
Well, I guess after the first couple of weeks enjoying my new LLM and JD (this is how the law students in the US are designated) friends, going out to fraternity parties and trying to get a tan at the beautiful and windy Santa Monica beach, I realized that fun and the LLM course did not go very well together.
As a matter of fact, school turned out to be my “California dreaming”. When you are sitting in a classroom filled with so many brilliant students who are frequently tested by the professors and speak with so much self-confidence and the urgency of those engaged in a very real task, all you want to do is contribute to this challenging environment. And yes, you may be randomly picked in class to answer a series of questions about one of the various complex case laws that you had for assignment the day before. And don’t you think the professor will ask you basic questions. They won’t. Their mission in class is to teach you how to think, think, think like a lawyer.
To be realistic, you must know that the study of law in the US requires dedication and sacrifices of time. If you want to achieve passing grades, it is mandatory that you spend several hours a day in the library trying to understand the rationale of the precedents and, consequently, the precepts of common law. Your course grade is determined by a combination of your final exam (which is graded anonymously, i.e., you will be assigned a student number that will serve as your only identity on all written work), participation in class and group assignments. And please remember: good grades are also your ticket to an internship at one of the top US law firms after graduation. In a nutshell, you will definitely feel miserable sometimes. But still, it is a one-time experience.
And since you are a foreign lawyer and may experience a certain degree of difficulty in becoming acquainted with such a different legal system, don’t hesitate to ask for help. You will note JDs are very smart and eager to compete for top grades and recognition, but believe me, you will realize that there is nothing wrong with it. Although they may seem reserved at first sight, if you show them you are interested in learning as they are, they will certainly give you a hand.
The amazing episodes I experienced during my LL.M. yearatthe UCLA School of Law are countless. And it is inevitable to say that I succeededinmyenterprise. The results of so much work and dedication are translated in a better ability to understand the US legal system and to communicate with US lawyers, not to mention the unique opportunity to meet people from so many different backgrounds and cultures and, consequently, be exposed to, challenged and inspired by them. And yet, in my case, to become a big fan of California.
* Associate in the Corporate Department at Felsberg, Pedretti, Mannrich e Aidar Advogados e Consultores Legais.