Extra Credit: A rare summer break gives LLM students opportunities for learning outside the classroom
In an academic year that went as no one would have predicted just 18 months ago, Duke Law students found a variety of ways to enrich the LLM experience.
While a typical international LLM year goes from August to May, about 50 students chose to start their Duke Law studies in January of this year. This relatively unique experience of a summer break offered three months to fill with internships, additional coursework, and exploration.
“It’s very unusual that LLM students get a chance to work in the summer while they’re in an academic program,” said Anushri Maskara LLM’21, an LLM candidate from India. “I knew that I had to somehow exploit this opportunity.”
Staff from the Law School compiled resources for students to link them with learning opportunities and experiential and professional development activities over the summer.
“Thankfully, Duke has a robust community of partners interested in the unique background and skillsets of LLM students,” said Jabrina Robinson, director of LLM career development and outreach. “Our partners were thankful for help addressing complex legal issues, and our students were grateful to build professional expertise applicable to their law practice.”
Maskara split her time this summer as a research assistant for the Bolch Judicial Institute and for Professor James Cox. She also enrolled in a course through the Duke Graduate Academy on qualitative research methods with students from across the University.
Her work with the Bolch Institute is part of a long-term project that began in February in which she is researching on the prevailing practices associated with securities class action suits and assisting in preparing relevant guidelines. That work aligned well with Cox’s spring course on securities regulations, in which she was enrolled.
“That was a great feeling, I just learned about this and I’m applying it already,” Maskara said. And working as a research assistant for Cox this summer was “a cherry on the cake,” given her somewhat newfound interest in American securities practices. “It’s a really great exposure at the very beginning of my career, so I’m really happy that I got this opportunity.”
Maria Roca ’21 spent the first part of her summer in New York City as an intern with The Romero Firm, which specializes in cases related to immigration.
“Being able to work in a U.S. law firm, you see all these things in real life — memorandum, drafting complaints, drafting motions. That gave me a lot of experience,” said Roca. “Even though I don’t think I will do immigration law work in the future, it was a nice way to help the community, especially the Latino community.”
Roca said all of the firm’s clients were from Latin American countries, with many from her home country of Ecuador.
“It felt good. It was a good atmosphere and a good way to learn and a good way to give back,” she said. “For me, that’s what being a lawyer means. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy being in big cases and doing big law, but this is also part of what we can do.”
Back in Durham, Alejandro Fallas Schosinsky LLM’21 completed an internship with DUMAC, the organization that manages Duke University’s endowment and investments.
“Working at DUMAC has been a unique opportunity to understand better how Duke works and all the activities in which the university is involved,” he said.
At home in Costa Rica, Fallas was an associate in the banking and finance department of a large firm, helping businesses find funding to solve problems or get out of debt. He also worked on a number of projects related to solar energy, wind farms, and other sources of green energy. He hopes to work in the U.S. for a year before returning home and spent time this summer connecting with firms across the country.
“The market is completely different in Costa Rica, so I want to get that experience here,” he said. “I think it will be helpful to me in my career, and to my country. I’ll be better able to service my clients.”
After his internship ended, Fallas’ girlfriend, Raquel, joined him from Costa Rica for a road trip up the east coast. The pair drove from Durham to Boston and made a stop in New York’s Central Park, where they got engaged.
“This summer has been awesome, Fallas said. “Without this time here, I think all these things would be impossible.”
While Sophie Kaffanke LLM’21 spent part of her summer in a virtual classroom, it was sandwiched between two epic road trips spanning 33 states.
“I’ve been having the summer of my life,” Kaffanke said.
Kaffanke and her fiancé, Feyko Conring LLM’21, drove a whirlwind 7,000 miles over three months this summer. They began with a trip to Hawaii before flying to northern California to visit her host family from a high school exchange program. From there, they drove down the coast of California before cutting across to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, Bonneville Salt Flats, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Tetons.
And that’s just what they experienced out west.
After a stop in Durham for a week of summer session classes, the duo headed north to Portland, Maine, to begin their second swing, which hit all the east coast highlights before heading west on I-20, stopping in New Orleans and other cities, and ending in Dallas.
“The first road trip was nature and the vastness of the country, and here you have all the history and get to interact with people a bit more,” Kaffanke said over Zoom from a hotel in Jackson, Miss. “We’ve learned so much about U.S. history, especially here in the South, so that’s been super interesting.”
One of their most memorable experiences along the east coast resulted from a Google search for bed & breakfasts in Pennsylvania.
“We spent one night with an Amish couple in Lancaster,” Kaffanke said. Electricity was not one of the provided amenities, though they did get a firsthand look at a different type of lifestyle.
“Our host really made an effort and showed us around different places, he got his buggy out of the barn and drove us around,” Conring said. “He was very open-minded, telling us all about his way of life, but he also wanted to know about our lives and opinions.”
As the fall semester begins, their travels aren’t quite finished — Kaffanke and Conring plan to take weekend trips to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks.
“Due to COVID, we didn’t get the chance to have the same LLM experience as prior years, but not everything was a downside in the end,” Kaffanke said. “If I look back on it now, I’m glad I postponed until January instead of a whole year, this way giving us the chance to spend and entire summer here and having time to explore different parts of the U.S.”