LLM Orientation Focuses on How to Think Like, Become a Common Law Lawyer

From a tour of the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton to the subtle distinctions between “business casual” and “casual attire,” the 2012 Orientation for the nearly 70 members of this year’s Master of Laws (LL.M.) program offered something for everyone. At the core of one of the longest and most rigorous LL.M. orientation sessions offered at any U.S. law school, however, was an in-depth preparation in the U.S. legal system, academic skills, and the art of learning how to think like a common-law lawyer.

Peter Cramer, assistant dean for graduate programs, says that was very much by design. “Last fall, we expanded our LL.M. Orientation to two full weeks,” he says. “As a result, we can now work much more on those skills that are essential to survive and succeed in law school, and we can work on them in advance of the new semester.”

Cramer, a German national who himself earned an LL.M. at a U.S. law school, says the expanded Orientation sets foreign students on the right path from the moment they arrive. “Every day the school is able to devote to Orientation gives a student more tools to focus on his or her core studies during the semester and to participate in and understand what is going on in class,” he says.

The LL.M. Orientation Program consists of rigorous preparation for the unique academic demands and expectations of an American legal education. The Orientation began with an overview of the U.S. court system, provided by Michael Koby, professor of practice and director of the Trial & Advocacy Program, and a presentation by Pauline Kim, the Charles Nagel Professor of Constitutional Law & Political Science, on the procedural aspects of a court case in the United States.

Overall, sessions were designed to build gradually on each other and collectively to provide a solid foundation for the year of studies that lies ahead. For example, in a series of programs held by Cramer; Mary Perry, lecturer in law; and Scott Baker, professor of law, students learned the basics of fundamental courses such as Torts and received an introduction to briefing, analyzing, and synthesizing cases. In addition, the students had a chance to learn how to ask questions in a U.S. law class and to participate in the Socratic method.

Other programming laid the foundation for the detail-oriented work and research required by law students and practicing lawyers. Phil Berwick, associate dean for Information Resources and senior lecturer in law, along with the law school’s research librarians held a series of sessions devoted to American legal research methods, which serve as a foundation for a semester-long LL.M. course taught by Wei Luo, director of technical services/librarian  and lecturer in law.

“Our team of professors, lecturers, and staff members presented a solid overview of what can be expected in a U.S. law class,” says Michael Peil, associate dean for international programs, executive director of the Transnational Law Program, and lecturer in law. “The students also received guidance in how to interact with their professors and peers, how to participate actively, and how to learn most efficiently from their assignments.

To add to the breadth of the orientation, the students also learned about social norms and cultural expectations within class, in the legal profession, and in the American society in general. Sessions such as “Networking and Social Etiquette” offered valuable lessons on these expectations. A Networking Event hosted in the evening then brought together the students and a group of local legal practitioners for an exchange of thoughts and a chance for the students to practice their newly acquired networking and cultural skills.

The law school’s Career Service Office also provided an overview of the job search process for American LL.M. students, led by Rebecca Brown, director of Student Advising & Employer Outreach.

Earlier in the Orientation, the students donned their “casual attire” for the annual LL.M. Picnic—another opportunity for them to meet each other and faculty members in an informal setting.

“This is what legal education can and should do for international LL.M. students,” Cramer says. “Washington University School of Law is at the forefront of making international students feel comfortable on campus and in the community so that they can reach their educational and professional goals.”

Teaching sessions during the week were:

  • Scott Baker, professor of law
  • Phil Berwick, associate dean for information resources and senior lecturer in law
  • Rebecca Brown, director of student advising & employer outreach
  • Colleen Erker, assistant dean for academic services and registrar
  • Kathy Goldwasser, professor of law
  • Pauline Kim, the Charles Nagel Professor of Law
  • Tove Klovning, assistant law librarian and lecturer in law
  • Michael Koby, professor of practice and director of the Trial & Advocacy Program
  • C.J. Larkin, administrative director of the ADR program and senior lecturer in law
  • Janet Laybold, associate dean for admissions, career & student services
  • Wei Luo, director of technical services/librarian and lecturer in law
  • Mary Perry, lecturer in law
  • Leila Nadya Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute

View photos 

By Timothy J. Fox