- Experiences and Advices for Those who are Interested in Studying Abroad
Ai-Tang Irene Chang 張愛堂
J.D., Washington University in St. Louis
LL.M., Washington University in St. Louis
LL.M., National University of Singapore
LL.B., National Chengchi University
Since this is an article about my experiences studying abroad, I shall start with my academic background. My name is Ai-Tang Irene Chang (張愛堂), I had a LLB from 政治大學 (“NCCU”), LLM from National University of Singapore (“NUS”), LLM and JD from Washington University in St. Louis (“Washington University”). I used to work at Lee and Li, Attorneys-at-law as a law clerk when I was an undergraduate. I have also worked at Microsoft and The Coca-Cola Company during the summers of my LLMs and JD.
For the rest of the article, I will go through (1) my motivations in studying abroad, (2) my JD experience in Washington University, (3) my working experience with Microsoft and The Coca-Cola Company, and (4) some final suggestions for Taiwanese students who are interested in studying in Singapore or the U.S. The purpose of this article is to give students who are interested in studying abroad a short introduction to the legal education environment in Singapore and the U.S. and to give some short advices based on my personal experiences. Hopefully this is helpful to you if you are facing a similar situation.
II. Why Studying Abroad
I have always wanted to study in the U.S. because my father used to study in the States. When I started law school in Taiwan, I realized that the U.S. is not a major studying abroad destination among Taiwanese law students. It did not discourage me because I knew I should do things I want to do, not what others do. Besides, being minority has its advantages. When I was a sophomore taking Prof. Bruce Liao’s Introduction to Common Law course, I realized I was not alone. I remember vividly Prof. Liao (who graduated from Indiana University Bloomington) called on me in one class, which rarely happens in traditional lectures in Taiwanese law schools, and asked me what I want to do in the future. I said “being a multinational corporation legal counsel”. From that moment on, I knew I have a different career path than most of my classmates, and I needed to tailor my undergraduate life to the one that suited me the best.
III. Experience in Singapore
A. Why Singapore
During my undergraduate years, I had the chance to work at one of the international symposiums at NCCU. Prof. Robert Beckman from NUS was one of the speakers at the panel. I was interested in his topic and went talk to him after the session. While talking to Prof. Beckman, I realized Singapore is actually a very good place to study law. After all, Southeast Asia is a growing economy, Singapore is the hub of Southeast Asia, there is Asian food everywhere, and it’s four-hour flight from home. So I applied to the LLM in NUS and was very fortunate to be granted the Microsoft scholarship.
B. Legal Education in Singapore
The legal education in Singapore is a one of a kind. The student body in NUS is very diverse. Students are from all over the world and I met some of my best friends during the LLM. One thing I love about Singapore is that most of the students, either Singaporean or other international students, have comprehensive international experiences and are very open-minded. If you are looking forward to do business with people from this region, Singapore is THE place to go.
In term of the courses, Singapore is a common law jurisdiction which inherits a great deal of British law. Case law studies are expected. Unlike in the States where study aids are readily accessible, the amount of assignment and readings in NUS can sometimes be pretty time-consuming. Talking to professors and keep a good network of friends may help going through the program. Class participation is normally anticipated, but not mandatory. If you are afraid of speaking in class, try focusing on the subject. Being passionate about the substantive law will incentivize you to speak up in class and so you know what other people think about your ideas. One good thing about Singapore is that its culture is not too different from us. You can be more confident that people could understand what you mean.
C. Working in Singapore
For those who are thinking of working in Singapore, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that both Singaporean LLM and Taiwanese LLB do not qualify one to sit for the bar. If you want to have a Singaporean license, you will need to take the Singaporean LLB or have first degree in law in certain universities (mostly from UK, US or Australia) and take a special program in order to sit for the Singaporean bar. However, the good news is that Singapore has a thriving economy. You may still be able to find something. Another way to increase your chances of getting employed, which was what I took, is to get a JD. JD is like a LLB, but post-graduate. Details of my JD experiences are discussed below. It suffices to say here from my understanding that getting a JD would make it easier to find employment in either Singapore or Hong Kong, especially in multinational firms or corporations.
IV. Experiences in Washington University
A. Why JD
A lot of people ask me why I choose JD among other programs. To answer this question, it is essential to know what the options are. Here is a brief introduction to US legal education. For a Taiwanese law graduate, there are 3 types of programs we can choose from, the LLM, JD and SJD (or JSD). The basic differences are explained below.
– Nature: This is a one year master’s program. Most students with first degree in law enroll in the LLM program as it is a lot easier to get in the LLM than either JD or SJD. There are various LLM programs, some schools provide seasonal LLMs for those who wish to work during the LLM year, such as Berkeley.
– Eligibility: To apply for an LLM, you need to have first degree in law, or you must have certain legal training as required by each school. You will need to submit statement of interest and your undergraduate performance or any other supporting materials as required.
– Funding: As for funding, it is fairly difficult to get school funding for LLMs. You can look for private organizations or government funding if you have trouble financing yourself.
– Bar Exam: Another question I always get is the bar exam. You will qualify to sit for the New York bar exam through your Taiwanese legal education and the LLM. My understanding is that you can sit for D.C. as well. Also, if you have a Taiwanese license to practice law, you can sit for the California bar exam after completing the 1-year LLM in the States. Note that the fees are normally higher for students using foreign credentials to sit for the bar. There might be some other states that would allow you to do that; these are the ones I am aware of. As to whether you will be prepared enough to take the bar exam after one year, it is very possible. I know a lot of people did it after a year of LLM in the States. It’s all about attitude, as long as you are dedicated enough, you can do it for sure.
– Nature: This is a program designed for American students. If you know nothing about it, this is “the” law school described in the movies. The program lasts 3 years. You would be taking classes required by the American Bar Association together with other American students.
– Eligibility: You will need to take LSAT to be eligible for the JD program. LSAT is a fairly difficult test. It tests on your comprehension and logic ability in a time constrained fashion. There are several first tier law schools that allow LLM students to transfer to JD without taking the LSAT, such as my school, Washington University. However, there are stringent requirements for transferring. Most law schools are being increasingly careful about such transfers because JD graduates affect law school ranking and foreign jobs do not count as employment for ranking purposes. Some people I know take a different route. They took the LSAT and got into a second tier law school first. They try hard during the first year (1L) and apply to transfer to a better rated school after completing 1L.
– Funding: If you transfer from LLM, it is very hard to get school funding because scholarship decisions are made when you enter the school as a JD. If you take the LSAT and apply directly for the JD program, you will be able to apply for school scholarships. Otherwise, you need to look for private organizations or other institutions for funding.
– Bar Exam: Since this is the program for the Americans, once you graduate and fulfilled all the school requirements, you will be able to sit for the bar in any state.
JSD / SJD
– This is our understanding of PhD where you have to find a professor to be your director and write a dissertation. My understanding is that most of the students who are doing the JSD took LLM first to either learn more about the American legal system or to find a professor who will be interested in directing them. Most students who take JSD want to be academics. I do not know a lot about JSDs as they are fairly small programs in each school. Most of the students in Washington University are foreign students who are interested in teaching in their home country and are doing some kind of comparative law studies. If you want to teach or research, ask your professors who graduated from any JSD programs; they can give you much more information than this.
Now you understand the basic structure of American legal education, I can talk about why I chose JD. I am not very interested in teaching, so I JSD is out of the picture. I chose JD because I wanted to practice abroad for a few years and to learn American laws like the Americans do. One tip here for those faced with the choices: evaluate your abilities, resources and goals. Do you want to stay in the States or do you want to work somewhere else? Do you have enough funding? From my experiences, not knowing what you want is THE reason of failure. Trying to take on too much normally does not end well, especially when you are learning an entirely different legal culture using your second language. I hope my experiences below can help you make an informed decision.
B. Law School Classes
The first year of JD is very competitive because all students are trying their best to get the best grades possible to get good summer employment or to transfer to a better school. In the first year, you will be required to take the basic courses which will later be tested in the bar exam such as contract, tort, criminal law, Constitutional Law, property, civil procedure and legal writing and research. Classes are conducted in Socratic Method, meaning professors would call on every student. Depending on the style, some professors stick to one or two students for the entire class session, some move around more often. The bottom line is, you will have to answer the question or you will be wasting everyone’s time and money. Because both classes and the case books are aimed at stimulating thinking, getting a general picture of the law (sometimes referred to as the black letter law) may be difficult. Most students refer to the outlines or study aides, which are readily available online or in the library. Normally I go through the black letter law first, and read the cases to see how the rules are applied. This approach fits most students coming from civil law countries (at least at the beginning) where legal rules are given in the codes and precedents do not carry too much weight.
As you may know, common law is a constantly changing. As such, law school cannot possibly teach you all the law. Instead, American law schools focus on training future lawyers with basic legal principles and skills they need in actual practices. I did not get this the first semester I was in law school and the results was not that great. Luckily I did figure out a schedule and study method that work for me in the second semester. One study tip here is to put yourself in the position of the lawyers who are arguing the case, think about how you would argue the case in the context of the court’s ruling. Remember, independent analytical ability is what they are looking for; no one is going to spoon-feed you with the law like we did during undergraduate or in the cram schools in Taiwan.
C. Other Law School Activities
There are all sorts of activities you can participate in law schools which can boost your resume and gain real-world legal experiences. I will share my experiences of being on the law review and externship at American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”).
a. The Law Review
Every major law schools have law reviews. To get in the law reviews, you will need to participate in a write-on competition. My write-on was a week-long assignment with (1) around 600 pages of close-book readings, (2) around 30 pages to write, and (3) bluebook assignment. Bluebook is the citation system American legal profession follows; it contains specific rules for different forms of cites. The write-on competition week is going to be tough. I locked myself in the house for 3 days trying to finish all the reading. The rest of the week I basically lived in the library. Once you get in a law review, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice blueblooking, read and edit articles summited for publication. These experiences effectively sharpen my legal research skills, which is a very important for practicing law. Moreover, you will need to write an article for publication, which will be reviewed by senior students in the law review. This is a great chance to have someone look over your article and writing style. In addition, your article would automatically be considered for publication. Although the competition is hard for publication, you do get a fair chance competing with your fellow classmates.
American law schools are fairly flexible in their credits. Most schools allow students to work off-campus and get credits at the same time. Externship experience largely depends on what jobs you get. The organization I worked with is ACLU. It is an organization focusing on civil liberties. Most of their cases concerns Constitutional law and administrative law. I worked on cases such as drug testing at schools and First Amendments. Mostly the assignments are writing memos or motions. One interesting part of the externship is to attend be circuit court oral arguments. ACLU takes on a lot of cutting edge cases, so oral arguments are normally very exciting.
D. Summer Internships
American law schools have long summer breaks, normally from May to late August. Most students intern or get a summer associate job during these periods. I interned at Microsoft and The Coca-Cola Company in Singapore. I wanted to work in-house in the future, so I chose to intern at multinational corporations. At Microsoft, I had a lot of opportunities to take on my own initiatives. I was introduced to everyone the first day of work. My supervisors explained to me what the duties of each person at the office and I was free to talk to anyone and figure out what I wanted to do. I ended up doing software licensing, comparative patent law and technology innovation. Since the legal and corporate affairs team in Microsoft also did charity work, I also participated in some of them.
The experience with The Coca-Cola Company is a bit different. I was hired as a trademark executive and have more specific job duties. There were fewer initiatives to take on and I was much more involved with the everyday operation of the business. By this time I already knew that I wanted to practice trademark law. My duties involve all kinds of trademark affairs, mainly trademark clearance, research on comparative trademark laws, comparative adverting among others. I learnt a lot from this internship and most importantly, it reaffirmed my interest in trademark law practice.
Summer internship really helps me understand my career path better. For those who are interested in doing summer internships, my suggestion is not to be shine. If you have some ideas in mind, talk to someone. Do your project diligently and have fun with it. Evaluate yourself after each project and readjust your career goal if needed. Remember most other students in Taiwan may not have such luxury to experience their career paths, so make the most of it.
E. Personal Life during Law School
I am not going to lie, it is tough being a JD students. One month before the finals, you are going to live in the library, look terrible and be a coffee addict. It is all true. It is very stressful. I remember throwing pillows to the wall as stress reliever. Yes you have to study a lot and try to take on as much as you can. However, this does not mean that you have to live in hell all the time. You won’t be able to party like crazy, but you can still find time to be with your friends and families. I met a lot of interesting people in law school.
Law schools are trying hard to make the experience less stressful, too. For example, Washington University has activities for law students every Thursday evening at local bars where students can get cheap drinks. Also there are happy hours every Friday where free food and drinks are provided. Remember to balance your time and make plans ahead of time. It is doable. If you ever feel overwhelmed, tell yourself that a lot of people did it, and you can do it, too.
Conclusion and Final Suggestions
What I have written is based my personal opinion and experiences. I hope it is helpful to you, but remember to seek further information and second opinion. The last thing I want to address is what you can do now if you want to study in the U.S. or Singapore after graduation.
The most important thing is to know yourself and what you want to do. Once you know that you really want, be brave and confident to pursue it. Each individual is responsible for his or her life, and we do not have too many chances to screw up. Try to push yourself as much as possible. Making yourself too comfortable may not get you to the place you want.
There are great opportunities in Taiwanese law schools. Get involved in Jessup International Moot Court Competition is a great way to start. You will love the Taiwanese Jessup family. During my 1L year, I won an Award for Excellence in Oral Advocacy at Washington University. I could not have done it without the Jessup training back in Taiwan.
Go out and look for opportunities. Opportunities won’t just fall on you. If you want your dream to come true, you need to put yourself in that direction. In other words, use the resources around you. Talk to professors who graduated from universities you are interested in applying. Go to symposiums and talk to people. You might just meet your “貴人” in the most unexpected situation.
If you have time, try to intern somewhere or join legal aid foundation. Get as much real world experiences as you can. Law is a tool to achieve different social ends. To achieve the goal you believe in, you must know how the law works in the society you live in. Internships give you an early start. You can also build up your network, enhance your legal education, or maybe find out a career path that suits you.
Finally, I cannot stress this enough. Stay positive and open minded. Know where you are and be brave in pursuing your dreams. I sincerely wish all the best to all of you.