Duke Law welcomes international LLM class of 2017
Ninety-five lawyers from 41 countries began Duke Law’s LLM program in August, embarking on yearlong studies designed for internationally-trained lawyers interested in learning about the U.S. legal system and taking advanced courses in specialized areas of the law.
Rym Khadhraoui is pursuing an interest in international law and human rights, having studied and worked on those issues in France, Lebanon, and Tunisia.
Khadhraoui was born in Tunisia and grew up in France, where she focused her legal studies on public international law and human rights. After receiving her degree, she moved to Beirut to study public policy and international cooperation in the Arab world. As she was completing her studies in Lebanon, the Arab Spring was sparking massive changes in Tunisia, moving her to take a job with Oxfam in Tunis.
“My father is Tunisian, my mother is Algerian, and while I lived in France we kept a strong link with North Africa,” she said. “I felt like I needed to go there to witness what was happening. I did advocacy, policy work, and communications work on women’s rights issues, political participation, citizen mobilization, political accountability, a number of things that addressed the changes happening at that time.”
Being in Tunis as the country adopted a new constitution was remarkable, Khadraoui said.
“It was a moment when you saw civil society being really engaged and involved. People who grew up in a situation where participation didn’t mean much were able to create a situation where their voices mattered. New subjects were on the table that would never have been before. People, especially young people, were able to force discussions and make change.”
Khadraoui said she chose Duke for the opportunity to study international human rights and related issues in a setting where participation is encouraged and where LLM students study alongside JD candidates.
“I’d been told that Duke really values international students,” she said. “I’m also very interested in the sociological implications of law, especially racial and gender issues, and you don’t find discussions about that in every country’s legal education. But you find it in the U.S., and you find it at Duke in courses like Race and the Law and Gender and the Law.”
Bowen Wang, the 2016 Global Leaders Scholar, looks forward to learning about U.S. constitutional law at Duke. Wang, who attended high school in Shanghai and studied law in Beijing, says that volunteer work training rural legal advocates helped him decide on that course of study.
“As we talked to them about how the law really operates in rural areas of China, I realized that I knew nothing about China,” he said. “I knew about business law in the big cities, but like the U.S., China has a lot of territory, most of it rural. After talking to these rural advocates, I thought that I needed to do something to work on the basic understanding of law.
“In my law school, studying constitutional law meant learning the basic governmental structure,” he said. "In order to protect the people’s basic interests, the first step is to make the government’s structure clear and understandable.”
Wang said the strength of the constitutional law faculty factored into his decision to apply to Duke. “Reading papers from Young, Siegel, and Benjamin before I came influenced my decision a lot,” he said. “And because of the size of the school, the LLM program, and the classes, I knew I could have conversations with some of these professors.”
His interest in southern culture also factored into his attraction to Duke, he said.
Wang called it “a great honor” to receive the Law School’s Global Leaders Scholarship. “I feel very lucky and I would love to give back something to Duke,” he said. “I plan to enroll in some kind of pro bono program so that I can do that.”
Wela Mlokoti, the 2016 Judy Horowitz LLM Scholar, hopes to gain expertise in commercial and constitutional law to bring back to her home country of South Africa after graduating from Duke.
“I had an internship at the Constitutional Court, and I realized in my time there that the Court's recent general jurisdiction created an intersection at constitutional and commercial law,” she said. “I thought that developing that expertise in both fields and bringing it to the profession in South Africa was something I would like to do.”
Mlokoti was familiar with the South African high court system before her internship — her mother, Mandisa Maya, who received her LLM at Duke Law in 1990, is a judge on South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal.
“Some of my earliest memories are of being in her office after school, hearing some of the ways that lawyers speak and think,” Mlokoti said. “That got me interested in law.”
She said the personal attention she received from the Law School’s Office of International Studies was as key to her decision to attend Duke Law as her family connection and the academic reputation of the School.
“The staff is clearly dedicated to the people that they choose to come here,” she said. “From the beginning, they made themselves available for communication at a level that I really appreciated. They helped me source funding and get in touch with alumni, so I felt like I knew the place before I came here. Dean Jennifer Maher showed real interest in my personal statement and gave excellent advice about my possible studies. And I was honored to receive the Horowitz Scholarship.”
Geneva native Alexander Sorton, who holds degrees in law, international relations, and business law, became interested in the LLM program at Duke during his classroom experience at the Duke-Geneva Institute in Transnational Law in 2015.
“Professors Miller, Purdy, Demott, and Schmalbeck were teaching, and I was very impressed by their accessibility and the quality of their teaching,” he said. “I was also really impressed by the quality of the Duke students who attended. They were very focused and that really sparked my interest.”
Sorton is primarily interested in legal issues surrounding economics and finance. An internship in a Geneva arbitration firm also sparked his interest in art law as a possible sideline to more business-based legal matters.
“Switzerland in general is big for arbitration — that’s the legal field we export,” Sorton said. “And being trilingual in French, German and English, arbitration would probably be a good fit for me.”
Serguei Chevtchenko practiced law in Luxembourg for four years before deciding to pursue his LLM. A Moscow native who grew up in Strasbourg and attended school in Paris and London, Chevtchenko aims to work more directly with clients on banking and finance matters than he has to date.
“Luxembourg is a center of banking and finance, and I was able to participate in huge transactions, often led by a U.S. or U.K. firm,” he said. “However, you’re one of many jurisdictions involved, and you are following the orders of the lead counsel. You’re rarely directly in contact with the client. After graduating from the LLM program I hope to work more closely with clients, possibly at a U.S. or U.K firm.”
Chevtchenko learned of Duke Law’s faculty strength in banking and finance law the quality of the LLM program from alumni who worked at his firm.
“In my firm there were several people who came here, and everybody without exception said it was a fantastic experience,” he said.
Maria Rita Bastos-Tigre works with foreign clients establishing businesses in Brazil, and after eight years of practice in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, she decided that an LLM from an American law school would help her better serve them.
“Many of my clients are American, and I think I can understand their perspective and serve them better with a strong understanding of U.S. law,” she said. “Brazilian law is very complicated. Our bureaucracy is very hard for foreign investors to understand, so softening the process of establishing a company in Brazil, making it easy to understand, that’s what I like to do.” Attending the Duke-Geneva Institute in Transnational Law helped her understand why her clients are worried or confused about some aspects of the Brazilian process, she added.
Bastos-Tigre's decision to attend Duke Law was, in part, because of her family—her husband is a student at the neighboring Fuqua School of Business, she said.
“My husband wanted to attend an excellent business school, and I wanted the same for law. Duke was a perfect fit.”