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Meet LLM student, Finnish attorney Monika Ekström

University of Cincinnati College of Law LLM students come from all corners of the globe, and each one brings a unique and fascinating story.

Attorney and current LLM student Monika Ekström first came to Cincinnati for an internship at leading local law firm, Frost Brown Todd LLC (FBT).  She enjoyed Cincinnati so much, she returned in August 2018 to earn a master’s degree in U.S. law at Cincinnati Law.

Now, Ekström is excelling in her law classes, working on cases for the Ohio Innocence Project, and taking advantage of everything the city has to offer.   

The following is an interview with Monika Ekström. Answers have been edited.   

Tell us about your hometown and your previous studies.

I come from Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I graduated with a bachelor of laws degree from Åbo Akademi in spring 2012 and a master of laws from Helsinki University in spring 2015. I majored in criminal law and criminal procedure and have worked within the field of criminal law since graduation.

Why did you decide to come to Cincinnati?

photo of Monika Ekstrom, LLM student

I have always loved to travel and getting to know different cultures. I fell in love with the USA the first time I travelled here. I knew I wanted to come back for a longer time and really get to know the culture.

During my studies in Finland I worked at a major law firm in Helsinki that was part of an international multi-law network. During a conference in Helsinki, I met the leader of the International Department at the Frost Brown Todd law firm. After hearing his presentation, I introduced myself, told him I was interested in doing an externship at their firm in the US, and asked if that was possible. A few e-mails later that year, I became the first Finnish law [student] to be offered an externship at FBT’s offices in Cincinnati and Nashville.

During my externship I had a chance to familiarize myself with what it is like to practice law in the US, which is a common law system. I then decided that I wanted to do an LLM in the United States to learn more about the American legal system, to learn about practicing law in a common law setting, and to open up more opportunities for an international career in my future.

Cincinnati felt like a safe choice because I had been here [in the city] before and knew lawyers in the area. My decision to apply to the Cincinnati Law became obvious when I saw first-hand how friendly and helpful the program manager for student services (Tonya Hampton) was in answering my questions and making me feel welcome. UC was also very affordable and offered great courses fitting into my interest areas of law.

What would you recommend about the LLM program and why?

I would recommend the UC Law LLM Program because it is a smaller program where you can easily fit in and feel at home. Both the staff and the students at Cincinnati Law are extremely friendly and easily approachable; it is very easy to find friends and feel part of the community.

Because the classes are small, you get personally in touch with the professors who honestly want to help and make sure you do well in your classes and in your future career. Many of the professors are very interested in making the international student’s year as great as possible and are happy to connect you with their legal network.

Cincinnati is a very small legal professional community and the students at UC are well regarded. It is very easy to get involved in the professional setting in the city as well. Therefore, one of the greatest features of doing an LLM at Cincinnati Law is how easy it is to connect to the professionals in town, and the opportunities to see first-hand what it is like to practice law in Cincinnati.

How will your LLM degree help you personally and professionally?

The common law legal system in the United States is very different from the civil law system I am used to in Finland. I have always felt that it is of outmost importance to have international experiences and as many different viewpoints as possible. With an international LLM degree I will learn skills I would never gain in my home country, and I will have a chance to open up my mind to different ways of thinking and approaching legal issues.

I currently work in the area of economic crime investigation; it is a constantly changing field. Crime is rapidly moving into the internet and criminal law is becoming more global. The United States is a frontrunner in computer crime, cyber security and electronic investigation techniques. Via the courses provided by UC in these fields I hope to gain knowledge that I can’t get in my own home country, yet which will be important to my professional advancement.

My ultimate ambition is to become a judge in Finland. A good judge needs to have an extremely broad understanding of both the law and all other aspect surrounding a situation. A year abroad in a completely different society and an LLM degree from a different legal system will give me a lot of new approaches and ways of thinking.

In Finland we are raised to be very humble and not make a big deal about ourselves. Because the approach and mindset in the United States is the complete opposite, I also feel that a year in this atmosphere would give me a huge confidence boost and teach me how to proudly bring out my own best features and assets. For a lawyer the most important trait is to be convincing. To do that it all boils down to how confident the lawyer is in herself and what she has to say.

The US is the biggest and most competitive market in the world and it has a huge impact on the entire world. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to familiarize myself with the American way of living and thinking, as well as get a chance to develop and challenge myself.   

What was the biggest surprise for you about UC and Cincinnati?

Because I had visited Cincinnati before, I had a pretty good picture of where I was coming. But it still surprises me how friendly and welcoming people in Cincinnati and at UC are towards foreigners. I feel that people have a genuine interest in who you are and where you are from. Being quite a small community, it is very easy to gain friends, to fit in, and to feel part of the community.

Also, both the staff and the students are extremely helpful and friendly and easily approachable. Whatever questions you may have, they will always be answered within a few hours.

About the Cincinnati Law LLM Program

Students travel from all over the world to work and study with Cincinnati Law's LLM program. Participants in the LLM program take classes alongside JD students and enjoy access to all the law school has to offer—from renowned faculty thought-leaders, to unique institutes and clinics. They are immersed in American legal and academic cultures.

Cincinnati Law’s nine-month LLM program gives program participants the opportunity to design a course of study that meets their professional goals. Our graduates are better able to represent U.S. clients and are more prepared for negotiations and litigation with U.S. parties. Since it started almost a decade ago, the LLM program has welcomed 75 students from five continents and more than 30 countries.