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LLM Program Is Opening Doors for Attorneys from China

"Law is the art about justice and kindness. It has depth and complexity; every court has two sides, and society is driven by multiple different forces,” states Ying (Nancy) Zhang, an LLM student from China.

The LLM program provides students who have studied law in a foreign country the opportunity to receive up to two years of exposure to the U.S. legal system. Each student has, at minimum, a bachelor’s in law and earns a masters in law for foreign-trained lawyers. The program is currently in its fourth year, and has so far graduated 30 students from 18 different countries. This year’s class features 18 students from 10 countries, and includes Qing Lyu, also from China, in addition to Zhang.

Before starting the LLM program, Zhang completed a bachelor’s degree at Zhengzhou University, where she received training to “think like a lawyer”, and a master’s degree at China University of Political Science and Law. She also had field experience, practicing corporate law at a local firm in Singapore for nearly four years.

When her husband relocated to the U.S. for work, it opened the door for Zhang to participate in the program.

Fellow student Lyu also left China to pursue education in America when her husband came to the States for work as well. “If you have a law degree in your country, and you know a little bit about American institutions, when you come back to my country, it’s very competitive for you to find a good job.” Although Lyu is not yet sure if they will return to China at some point, she does know that she wants to get work experience in America under her belt before they do.

Lyu also attended China University of Political Science and Law, but for her undergraduate education, where she studied both law and economics. For her graduate program, she went to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, focusing on maritime law.

Similar to other LLM students, these women have noticed disparities between teaching styles here and in their home country, and both point to talking during class being the biggest one.

Lyu explained that professors will lecture, and although you can ask questions, it typically doesn’t happen. In the third year, students take classes that do allow them to talk a little bit, but note taking is still the major point of class. During her studies here, however, “We are asked to engage a lot. To ask questions, discuss with each other, or debate with professors-that’s very different.” Professors, and other students, are more open to questions here as well, and she feels that there is not such a stigma of asking a “dumb question.”

Zhang partially credited the factor of age for this phenomenon. While American law students hold some other type of degree, those in China do not necessarily have that. Law is open to younger students, meaning that they need to be told more of what the law is, and how it works, before they can reasonably be expected to make judgements about it.

This degree has also served as a reminder that looks can be deceiving. Although she researched what law school in America entailed, Zhang came to find out that actually doing it is different than imagining it. As taking class everyday in China was no problem, she didn’t understand why everyone said 17 credit hours would be too much. After delving into her classes, however, she realized that they were right. “When I’m really going through it, it’s like, Oh, okay, I really have a lot of homework. I actually need to read a lot before I come to school, I’m expected to talk in class, and I have to write a lot. I knew I would probably go through this, but actually doing it is a little bit different.”

Lyu felt similarly, originally deceived by social media posts. “I feel like it’s more challenging than I thought. A lot of my classmates came to the U.S. to study law, and they always post pictures of a lot of interesting things, like parties, and they travel a lot...I feel like I don’t have time for that. Basically, I study in the library, I prepare for class, I go home to sleep, and that’s my life.”

Although there are not as many international students, specifically those from China, at U.C. as opposed to many other law schools, Lyu views this as a benefit. “It forces you to talk with Americans or people from different countries, which also helps you improve your english skills. It’s kind of common if you have a lot of Chinese here that you just talk with them. You discuss with them about the class, or anything, so I think it’s beneficial for me not to have that.”

After LLM graduation, Zhang hopes to continue practicing corporate law, similar to what she was doing before, but to stay in the U.S.

Lyu isn’t sure where she will end up. If she remains stateside, she wishes to become a lawyer. However, upon return to China, her goal is to become a judge. Although that’s often one’s final job in America, it is not the same in her home country. After graduation, many of her classmates became clerks, in pursuit of eventually becoming a judge, saying, “In our country, we want to work for the government.”

Wherever they end up, both women are extremely happy to be a part of the program, and grateful for the opportunity to learn from skilled professors who care. As Zhang put it, “It is a privilege to be back to school at this time of my life.”

Author: Michelle Flanagan '18, UC Honors Student