Duke Law welcomes second cohort of LLM students for Class of 2021
The pandemic has made it difficult for some international students to travel, so many opted to begin their program in the spring or to study virtually.
Long before he became a commercial litigation attorney, Thomas Li would help his mother with legal disputes she faced managing maintenance for various homeowners’ associations in Australia. While still a teenager, he would help her draft correspondence and research local laws to help her fight the slow expansion of duties HOAs were trying to impose on her, without legal justification.
“The HOAs were relentless, and over the years, those disputes kept escalating to a point where one time they decided to withhold her remuneration unless she agreed to their unlawful conditions,” Li says. “At that point, I decided to prepare my first ever court claim, where we were up against experienced opposing counsel but ultimately prevailed at trial in small claims court. Thankfully by then I was a final year law student and a seasoned competitor in moot court competitions so I knew what I was doing!”
He says that experience sparked his interest in litigation. He once toyed with the idea of becoming an actor but was drawn to the law. “I realized the theatre of litigation provided as much satisfaction as the theatre of film and television.”
Li is one of 51 students from 31 countries who are beginning their studies this semester in Duke Law’s LLM program. Typically, these students would start with a larger group in the fall, but the coronavirus pandemic has made international travel difficult for many students. Some, like Li, had to get special approval to travel outside their home countries, and many had to delay their arrival.
Nevertheless, Associate Dean of International Studies Oleg Kobelev says the school is pleased to welcome the new LLM students, who bring a wealth of knowledge and diverse experiences that will enrich the classroom experience for all students.
“I am thrilled to welcome another incredibly diverse and talented group of LLM students to Duke this January,” Kobelev says. “What is remarkable about this particular group is that they are joining us in the middle of the global pandemic and at a most unusual time of year – in January. This is a testament to their resilience, dedication to learning, and a desire to take advantage of all that Duke Law School offers.”
Li, who has been working for seven years as a commercial litigation attorney, completed his Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce in Finance at the University of Queensland before working at several top firms. Most recently, he worked at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers in Melbourne.
Li decided to take a break from his legal practice and delve deeper into the law through the lens of U.S. legal practice by pursuing his LLM degree at Duke.
“The Australian and U.S. common law both have a common legal ancestor, and when I studied for the New York bar exam two years ago, I was really struck by the similarities between the two systems in some areas of law and the stark differences in others,” Li says. “In particular, I am keen to learn more about the complexities of multi-forum litigation and the theatre of trial practice in the United States, as well as how government departments such as the SEC regulate the corporate landscape and enforce its rules.”
Li says he chose to study at Duke Law because of its top rankings and the reputation of the faculty, as well as the “personalized nature of the classes a small cohort enjoys.” He says he was also struck by the “warmth and friendliness of faculty members.”
“I have also been told that North Carolina barbecue is top-notch,” he adds.
When he graduates, he hopes to stay in the United States and practice as a corporate litigation attorney.
In his free time, Li likes to perform improv (he was in a local troupe in Melbourne) and he is an advanced open water diver who has dived the Great Barrier Reef in both Australia and Honolulu.
Luísa Quintão found her passion for the law early in life also. She says, “I always found it hard to stay quiet in situations that I saw as unjust. I went to law school looking for lenses through which I could see such situations more clearly and for tools that would enable me to solve such cases. Determining what is right and wrong is far from being an easy task, even for lawyers, but law school definitely equips you with the skills and knowledge that are needed to spot injustices and fight them.”
She went on to finish two law degrees – a bachelor’s degree in law and a master’s degree in law and international economic relations, both from Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo in Brazil. She started working at Justen, Pereira, Oliveira & Talamini in São Paulo near the end of her undergraduate program and continued working at the firm as an associate lawyer throughout her master’s studies, becoming the first lawyer in her family. She also worked as a teaching assistant for private international law and international arbitration, and coached students for international arbitration moots in English and Spanish.
Quintão says she decided to pursue her LLM “to get better and truly acquainted with the common law system and thus become better equipped to handle international cases.” In addition, she says she wanted to explore new areas of law. Quintão says she chose Duke because of its more personal focus and intimate atmosphere.
“Every time I talked to someone from Duke’s staff, they knew exactly who I was and at least the basics of my background,” she says. She also attended the Duke-Geneva Institute in Transnational Law in 2016, and that gave her a better sense of the Duke faculty and the educational environment – “which were both fantastic.”
In her spare time, Quintão enjoys music, family, and wine, she says. “I love singing and having people over, especially for wine talks. These are all passions that run in my family. Unfortunately, the pandemic will not allow big gatherings at my place in Durham, but at least I will have music and wine with my roommate, who is an amazing singer.”
Her family also includes two cats – Fidel and Olga – who sadly could not come to Durham with her and await her back home in Brazil.
Hiroshi Nakamura always had big career aspirations. But poor eyesight kept him from pursuing a career as a pilot,
and squeamishness over blood stopped him from becoming a doctor. Instead, he pursued a bachelor of economics from the University of Tokyo in his native Japan, and he became a commercial attorney. He has worked as an associate attorney at TMI Associates in Tokyo, one of the largest law firms in Japan, since 2016.
“My main practical area is corporate law, especially mergers and acquisitions and commercial litigation,” he says. “Supporting emerging companies is also my specialization.”
Most of Nakamura’s cases involved domestic deals, but he wanted to expand into international deals so he decided to pursue his LLM at Duke on the recommendations of alumni at his firm, who specifically cited “so many excellent professors and classes in corporate law.” Nakamura says he also liked Durham as a place to live and study.
“I have a wife and 8-month-old daughter, and Durham is extremely suitable for family life, with a lot of nature and kind people,” he says.
Nakamura is an avid golfer who enjoys the many excellent golf courses near Duke. He says he plans to start weight training so that he can improve his game. He is also looking forward to getting to know his classmates and community.
“I have a lot of things to tell professors and my classmates, but because of my poor English ability and my shyness, it may take a time to tell you what I want to say,” he says. “Please be kind and patient when you talk with me.”
Before she came to Duke Law, Christina Möllnitz worked as a law clerk, a legal scholar, and a teacher in Germany. She says she always wanted to study the law and was fascinated by its power and potential.
“Law has a great impact on the society and the economy,” she says. “It is able to solve, but also establish, social and economic crises, and it gives a great picture of the changing morals of a society.”
After earning her undergraduate degree in law studies, she went on to earn her doctorate, both from the University of Bayreuth in Bavaria. She has worked as a research assistant, completed a legal clerkship at the Higher Regional Court of Bamberg in Bavaria, and worked as a postdoctoral researcher looking into commercial and competition law issues regarding Brexit.
“While teaching lectures in international trade law for international students at the University of Bayreuth, I experienced how interesting and beneficial it is to work and study with law students from different legal systems and with different approaches for comparable legal problems,” she says. That led her to look into completing her LLM degree. “I hope that studying abroad will help me open the mind for new ways of thinking the law, of organizing the law and other methods of legal research.”
Möllnitz chose Duke for her studies after attending a law conference and listening to a former Duke Law professor speak.
“His presentation has been one of the most interesting, open-minded, and innovative research approaches I recently heard, but he also was very passionate about the feeling of community as well as the working environment at Duke Law,” she says.
“Duke Law does not only have an amazing international reputation that attracts the best international lawyers and offers a high-quality studying environment, but what makes Duke Law really stand out for me has been the very personal and supportive approach of faculty, staff, and professors.”
Möllnitz will be studying virtually from Germany this spring, but she plans move to Durham in the fall.
“Not joining Duke in person in spring 2021 was a tough decision but has been related to problems I encountered due to the COVID pandemic,” she says. “Whilst the international studies team at Duke Law has been unbelievably supportive and tried to help us overcome all problems related to the pandemic, there still have been a lot of uncertainties due to lockdowns, closed embassies, and visas, as well as travel restrictions that have been constantly changing.”
In the meantime, she says she will enjoy hiking in the mountains at home in her free time or exploring historic sites like castles and ruins.