PUBLISHED:October 26, 2020

International Studies: Kobelev becomes associate dean, Maher ’83 remains engaged as emerita


Jennifer Maher and Oleg Kobelev are working closely together as the Office of International Studies that oversees the LLM, SJD, and visiting scholars programs, among others, transitions to its third leader in almost 40 years.

Jennifer Maher '83 Jennifer Maher '83

Duke Law School’s Office of International Studies has entered a year of transition in leadership with Jennifer Maher ’83 becoming associate dean emerita in September and Oleg Kobelev becoming associate dean.

Maher, who has been a principal architect and steward of the Law School’s international programs for more than three decades, remains engaged with international students currently at Duke Law and, in particular, with the Law School’s dedicated global alumni community, but is stepping back from some of her duties in the department that she has led for 10 years.

Kobelev, who has served as assistant dean since 2015, joined the Office of International Studies in 2010. He has since held positions of progressive responsibility with a focus on advising students and alumni on career and professional development opportunities in the United States and abroad. 

The Office of International Studies administers the LLM, SJD, visiting scholars, and overseas exchange programs, which attract top lawyers and students from around the world to Duke Law. The office also manages the Summer Institute on Law, Language, and Culture (SILLC), a preparatory course for foreign students, attorneys, and scholars seeking an introduction to U.S. law and legal education.

In addition to overseeing recruiting, admission, and academic and career counseling for students pursuing the one-year LLM in American law, the International Studies staff works closely with faculty, alumni, and employers to facilitate overseas summer placements and professional development opportunities for students pursuing an LLM in international and comparative law concurrently with their JD degree.

“I never imagined when I graduated from Duke Law School in 1983, with the six LLM students in the class as some of my closest friends, that I would then spend more than 30 years teaching in and administering Duke Law’s international programs,” said Maher. “I could not have had a more satisfying career, nor could I be more delighted in the appointment of Oleg Kobelev as associate dean. I look forward to assisting him in this year of transition and also remaining engaged with the Law School’s global alumni for years to come.”

In August, Maher and Kobelev joined Kerry Abrams, the James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean and professor of law, in virtually welcoming a cohort of 23 internationally trained attorneys to the LLM Class of 2021. Many more plan to start the yearlong LLM program in January, an accommodation necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. They were selected for admission from the largest and most diverse pool of applicants in the history of the program in terms of geography and professional expertise.

“This is a testament to the way Jennifer and Oleg approach every aspect of the program,” said Abrams, praising the personal interaction they facilitate for students with faculty and staff. LLM students’ full integration into courses and student organizations allows them build close relationships with JD students as well as with one another, she said.

Oleg Kobelev

Abrams praised both Maher and Kobelev, who are working together to ensure a seamless transition in leadership. “Jennifer has helped build the LLM program into the leading program it is today,” she said, acknowledging the wide range of responsibilities Maher has executed over her long tenure at Duke Law, the trust she and her team have forged with faculty and departments across the Law School, and the close relationships she maintains with graduates around the world. “And Oleg has distinguished himself as an outstanding mentor, career counselor, and team member.”

She also noted the continuity of leadership within International Studies, which is transitioning to only its third leader in almost 40 years.

The department was effectively launched when Judy Horowitz joined the Duke Law staff in 1981 to assist the few foreign students that were then being admitted to the Law School. Horowitz retired in 2013 after building one of the strongest set of international programs and global relationships at any U.S. law school, including Duke’s summer institutes in transnational law. She and her husband, James B. Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Emeritus Donald Horowitz, long served as administrator and faculty director, respectively, of Duke’s Asia-America Institute in Transnational Law. On her retirement, international alumni established an LLM scholarship fund in her name.

Two exceptional leaders
Maher first started working with Duke Law’s international students in 1987, after practicing at Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell, and Jernigan in Raleigh, teaching U.S. Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing (LARWINT) to LLM candidates. She taught the course for more than 20 years while also working closely with Horowitz to expand such international programs as the summer institutes, the visiting scholars program, and the SJD. Maher also taught the Law School’s summer legal language program, SILLC, and Introduction to American Law and lectured on U.S. legal education to international visitors and prospective international law students. At various times, she served as the on-site administrator of the Duke-Geneva Institute of Transnational Law, the Asia-America Institute in Hong Kong, and the Duke-Leiden Institute in Transnational Law.

Maher has traveled extensively throughout her tenure in International Studies to recruit students and build ties with alumni around the globe.

“Throughout the years Jennifer has been instrumental in having one of the most engaged and enthusiastic international alumni groups, who remain grateful and excited about Duke Law and are the best ‘ambassadors’ for potential new candidates,” said Alfonso de Orbegoso LLM ’89, a lawyer in Lima, Peru, who recalled Maher’s commitment from her earliest days teaching LARWINT to making international students’ Duke experience “the best,” both academically and personally. He called it his pleasure to regularly partner with her and a group of Peruvian LLM alumni in recruiting and meeting with attorneys admitted to Duke’s LLM program.

“Jennifer’s consistent support and personalized care have made the difference on more occasions that I can count, de Orbegoso said. “It always amazes me how over the year and in many reunions in Durham or in Lima, my LLM colleagues and I have been able to meet Jennifer and resume conversations as if time has not passed. This is due to Jennifer’s empathy and sincere care, which are clearly perceived and gratefully reciprocated by all.”

David F. Levi, the Levi Family Professor of Law and Judicial Studies and director of the Bolch Judicial Institute, said he saw Maher’s skill, kindness, and understanding in her leadership of the international LLM program throughout his tenure as dean from 2007 to 2018.

“Generations of foreign students, from all over the world — 42 countries she would often say — were inspired by her dedication and her eagerness that each of them have the ‘best year of their life’ at Duke,” he said. “The students saw her both as a warm and helpful personal coach and as a demanding professional mentor and instructor who knew that they could succeed in this rigorous academic environment if they applied themselves.

“Jennifer and I traveled together to Chile, Argentina, Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Jordan, and China. I imagine that this is what it is like to travel with the Rolling Stones or Bono. She was a rock star. How fun to see the excitement on the alumni faces as Jennifer came into view. She leaves the program in great shape and in good hands just as Judy Horowitz did before her. How lucky we have been to have Judy, then Jennifer, and now Oleg to lead this important international program for Duke Law.”

Maher has served as chair of the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Graduate Programs for Foreign Lawyers and of the North Carolina Bar Association’s International Law and Practice Section, as well as on scholarship selection committees for the Fulbright program and Open Society Foundation. Her strong relationships with international alumni and these philanthropic foundations have facilitated the matriculation of lawyers from some previously underrepresented countries and populations in Duke’s LLM program in recent years.

“We have always welcomed students from all over the world to our programs and are especially pleased to be adding individuals from ever more diverse backgrounds each year,” said Maher. “The generous support of our alumni for the Judy Horowitz Scholarship and for the International LLM Annual Scholarship Fund allows us to offer more substantial financial aid to students from underrepresented regions and build strong relationships with grant-making agencies that supply these students’ living expenses in return for tuition support from the Law School.”

Kobelev joined the Law School staff as director of international career development and special projects. He also served, from 2010 until 2015, as the administrative director of the Duke-Geneva Institute, the precursor to the current Duke-Leiden Institute.

Before coming to Duke, Kobelev worked as tobacco counsel at the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington, D.C., where he supported 52 attorneys general in enforcement and implementation of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. He earlier served as a staff attorney in the Legal Division of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and as a litigation associate with Sidley Austin in New York.

“Oleg has an extraordinary background across different legal practices that he has used to expand and develop the network of possibilities for LLM and JD students alike,” said Maher.

A native of Ukraine who is fluent in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish and proficient in French, he is adept at building cross-cultural bridges with students, alumni, and prospective employers.

“I have always enjoyed career counseling and the relationship-building that it entails,” said Kobelev, who credits Maher and Horowitz with cultivating a rich worldwide network of career contacts for Duke Law students. “It’s very much a close, personal relationship that you build with a student, because you really need to understand where they are coming from, what their needs are, and what their goals are.”

As associate dean, Kobelev has turned over primary career advising duties to Jabrina Robinson, director of LLM career development and outreach, who also assists JD/LLM candidates, but is remaining engaged in helping dual-degree students to secure internships abroad.

“Oleg is the consummate professional,” said Rachel Brewster, the Jeffrey and Bettysue Hughes Professor of Law who co-directs the JD/LLM program and directs the Duke-Leiden Institute. “He builds relationships which allowed him to provide in-depth and personalized career advice and to help students prepare for their interviews, summer positions, and their first legal jobs. He remains an invaluable resource for graduates who are planning the trajectory of their legal career across fields and countries. Oleg also has the vision and drive to move Duke’s international program forward. He will continue to improve the tradition of excellence in international studies for which Jennifer has made Duke Law well known.” 

Maintaining excellence of international programs in challenging year
The fall cohort of international LLM students, which is taking a mix of in-person and online classes, is receiving the same level of personal attention and support that is a hallmark of the program when classes are all on campus, Kobelev said. “We are very pleased that we’ve had the number of people who have chosen to join us despite the challenges that virtual learning can entail. And while we’re adjusting to digitizing the things we used to do in person, we are determined not to lose track of this personal, one-on-one approach that has always been so important.”

Apart from two required courses — Distinctive Aspects of U.S. Law and LARWINT, a curricular addition that Maher developed to ensure LLM candidates receive the rigorous research and writing instruction that is a Duke hallmark — LLM students continue to be self-directed in their studies and enjoy access to all courses and clinics offered at the Law School. A growing number are maximizing their exposure to fields in which Duke faculty have special expertise by pursuing certificates in business, intellectual property, or environmental law. Kobelev anticipates expanding the certificate program and opportunities for specialization in such other areas of interdisciplinary curricular strength as law and technology and entrepreneurship and innovation.

“My view of the future is what I call ‘plug and play,’ where students can take advantage of the rigorous doctrinal training and all the experiential opportunities we offer through clinics, externships, and post-graduate experience,” he said. “The goal is to create a sort of holistic experience for students with traditional learning supplemented and enhanced by experiential learning to give them a cutting-edge legal education.”

In the fall semester’s online courses and all of the Law School’s virtual extracurricular programming, LLM students are fully integrated with JD candidates — another defining characteristic of the Duke Law program.

“LLMs add comparative law insights and cross-cultural understanding to class discussions that help prepare JD graduates to enter a global profession,” said Maher. “Their contributions are appreciated by the faculty, who in turn offer them the same mentoring and support extended to JDs. The resulting intellectual stimulation and feeling of close community are among the many reasons LLM graduates love their year at Duke.”

Added Kobelev: “As a whole, ours is an operation that engages U.S.-trained lawyers and internationally trained lawyers in a way that they interconnect and learn from one another. And we do that in different modalities.” Candidates for the SJD degree, who conduct intensive research and complete a dissertation, are often graduates of the LLM program, and alumni of both are often among the visiting scholars that return to Duke to conduct research and engage with the intellectual life of the Law School.

“All of these programs are interconnected,” Kobelev said, noting that the keys to the success of all are the support of Duke Law faculty and administrators and the deep connections the International Studies staff have with all other departments in the Law School.

Bradley Zimmer ’03 said that taking classes with and meeting practitioners from other countries while pursuing his JD at Duke Law laid a solid foundation upon which to build a multinational legal practice. “Once I became general counsel of an international media company, having this great network of Duke Law LLM graduates across the globe to rely upon was invaluable,” said Zimmer, a member of the Law School’s Board of Visitors (BOV). He noted forging a key international connection after reading a profile of Xiaoming Li ’90, then the managing partner of White & Case in Beijing, in a 2006 issue of Duke Law Magazine, just as his employer was acquiring a NASDAQ-listed company in Asia. “We met on my first trip to Beijing and worked together for the next decade,” said Zimmer. “Xiaoming was the best counsel I could have hoped for, instrumental in that first complex acquisition and the continuing business in China.” Li is now a partner at Han Kun Law Office in Beijing.

Maintaining lifelong, global connections
Wherever they live, international Duke Law alumni remain connected to each other — often crossing the globe to attend weddings and other celebrations — and to the Law School. Regular alumni gatherings in Geneva and London frequently attract more than 30 alumni, Kobelev said. International alumni across Europe, South America, and Asia avidly recruit prospective students to the LLM program through calls, lunches, recruitment fairs, and other meetings.

“LLM alumni are extraordinarily loyal,” he said. “It is indicative of how much they appreciated the program that they want to give more students that opportunity.”

That dedication is replicated across the world, said Maher, recalling a gathering of more than 70 alumni in Tokyo when Levi visited early in his tenure as dean. On a trip to the Middle East Maher took with Levi and members of the BOV, Israeli alumni facilitated presentations by top scholars and government officials. In Ramallah on the first day of Ramadan, all of the Law School’s Palestinian graduates met the group over breakfast (while fasting themselves) to express their heartfelt thanks for “what Duke had done for their lives,” she said.

Zimmer, who was on that trip, said it and others to Cuba and across Latin America helped to further the reputation and brand of Duke Law abroad. He also saw firsthand the high level of affection and appreciation alumni hold for the Law School — and for Maher.

“Jennifer is beloved by everybody,” he said. “She somehow manages to know every single international student and graduate of Duke Law. We couldn't have asked for a more tireless, dedicated, compassionate, and successful leader of the international studies program over these many years.”

Maher put it simply: “I could travel to almost any country in the world and be able to call on a former student who has become a lifelong friend.”