A Lawyer-to-Be in a Foreign Land

January 19, 2010

N.W., 1L

Why would anyone not from America do a J.D. here? It’s expensive, a long way from home, and won’t even qualify you to work in your own country.

However, a surprising number of people find that there are very good reasons to do a J.D. here. (I’m leaving aside the LLM program, which is very popular among international students.) My experience - as a non-American (and non-Canadian) doing a J.D. - is not unique. After finishing my undergrad – not in law – in Europe, I came to grad school in the U.S., and then worked for a few years in finance. When I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, I had the choice between training in Europe and training in the U.S.

It was a careful decision. In terms of price, and convenience, training at home was a no-brainer. I originally thought another advantage of training at home would be that my degree would be more useful there: if I got a U.S. degree, would this be useless outside America? I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find that the J.D. (and the N.Y. Bar exam) is extremely portable, and, depending on which jurisdiction you want to practice in, getting domestic qualification can be very easy. This meant that an American degree also conferred a slight advantage in length of training: I would be qualified in three years in the U.S., as opposed to four or five years in some European jurisdictions. But where Yale had a clear advantage over anything I could do in Europe was the quality of the opportunities and the education. This was what motivated my decision, and I haven’t regretted it.

It’s been surprising indeed how portable the Yale J.D. can be. When I interviewed recently at a (continental) European firm, I was expecting to be asked why I was studying in the U.S., but I was less expecting my interlocutor to have a detailed knowledge of individual U.S. schools and ask me why I had preferred Connecticut to Massachusetts. I believe in fact that I’ll get a lot more career flexibility from coming here than from having stayed at home. So, if you’re not from North America, give it some thought, and you might find that Yale’s a better option than it first seemed.