Pursuing a Graduate Law Degree

Michaela Hailbronner is a Professor of Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Giessen. At the time of this interview, she was Humboldt Research Fellow at the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, University of Pretoria. 

Why did you choose to attend YLS?

Because of its strong academic focus and its faculty. After two German law exams, I very much needed a breath of fresh air and an environment to think again.

What might you say to a prospective student considering attending YLS's graduate programs?

I would tell her to only do it if she is open to experiment a little, to look at old things from a new angle or to explore entirely new fields. If that’s the case, then it’s the perfect choice. But it should not be a place where you go just to acquire some additional doctrinal knowledge to then pile onto a problem you’ve encountered in your home jurisdiction. Also, to be heretical just for a moment, New Haven might not be a place you come for the pizza either, but that might just be me.

What is your area of research and interest, and how did you pursue it at YLS?

When I came to Yale I only really knew I wanted to do public law. The different ways in which U.S. lawyers talk about the Supreme Court then made me wonder about my own court, the German Constitutional Court. But trying to understand German constitutionalism better involved learning a lot not just from the US debates, but also from scholars in different fields such as Mirjan Damaška here at Yale who has written a brilliant book on the different models of authority and statehood in different countries, as well as from different disciplines such as history, political science or even psychology. The graduate program was an ideal setting, I found, to explore early versions of ideas among colleagues who would give you excellent critical feedback without being combative.

Which experiences at YLS were most significant and memorable to you?

That’s a tricky question since I also met my now-husband at YLS. … There were many memorable moments: Bruce Ackerman singing in the classroom, a research seminar with Robert Post and Reva Siegel sparring with each other and students, an excursion to Ottawa organized by a Canadian class member, our doctoral conference … and of course, many evenings with friends over drinks.

How did YLS contribute to your intellectual and professional goals and to your work today?

Well, for one, I can’t bring myself to be interested in pure doctrine anymore and that’s quite a big thing for a German lawyer. I now always want to know more about what really drives legal developments. But most importantly, there are now things I want to write on that get me genuinely excited, and you probably can’t hope to take away more than that.