Welcome to the LLM Class of 2022
After months of pandemic isolation, the fall LLM class is eager to begin their studies and have the full campus experience at Duke Law
Maliha Abu-Nowar was working as a banking solicitor in London, advising banks and financial institutions, when the pandemic began in spring 2020. Originally from Jordan, Abu-Nowar moved to London to study law, and also worked in Dubai and Qatar as part of her legal training.
“After a few years working at a commercial firm, I had a moment of self-reflection and thought, ‘Do I want to invest more time in this career path or pivot and focus on what I really want to do in human rights and social justice,’” she said.
With full-time human rights jobs already scarce, and becoming even more so due to the pandemic, Abu-Nowar took a different approach and started interning. After just three months working with clients who had been victims of domestic abuse and human rights violations, she knew she had made the right decision. She started working full-time at a boutique immigration and human rights firm in London before starting her studies at Duke.
Compared to her previous work in the financial sector, “it’s more people-focused, you can actually see the effects of what you’re doing on the ground,” she said.
Abu-Nowar is among 63 internationally trained lawyers from 34 countries who are beginning their LLM studies this fall as the class of 2022. They join 51 LLM students who began in the spring semester and will graduate this December.
Abu-Nowar said she was drawn to Duke Law for the courses available in international human rights law, gender and the law, and immigration, as well as the small class sizes and opportunities in externships and clinics for LLM students. This fall, she will complete an integrated externship through Movement Lawyering Lab, a course that pairs students with lawyers and community organizations with emphasis on racial and LGBTQ+ justice.
“My dream was to move back home and try to be part of the movement for change, but then you realize that there are issues you can advocate for anywhere you are,” she said. “Since I’m in the U.S., I want to be involved in movement lawyering and focus more on racial and gender issues.”
Enes Sevencan begins his LLM studies after spending four years as an associate in M&A and private equity in Baker McKenzie’s Istanbul office.
“I was in quite a good place,” he said, “but I stepped outside my comfort zone and here I am.”
Pursuing an LLM in the United States has long been part of the plan for Sevencan. While a student at Ozyegin University in Istanbul, he did a semester abroad in Germany to get a taste of the international experience, which solidified his decision.
“It was beyond my expectations and made me more enthusiastic to come here,” Sevencan said.
Sevencan said aside from Duke’s reputation in academics, he finds the growth in the Durham area exciting.
“The Triangle could be a very good rival” to places like Austin or the Silicon Valley, he said, with the influx of major tech companies such as Apple to the area. “You can still find space for yourself. The area is still very promising and open to development.”
Sevencan said he hopes to use his time at Duke Law to improve himself “academically, intellectually, and socially as well,” he said. “I would like to be a better lawyer than the one who started here.”
Sachiko “Sandy” Matsuda comes to Duke Law from Japan, where she studied law at Osaka University and received a master’s in public policy from the University of Tokyo. Following graduation, she worked in the Ministry of the Environment for the Japanese government, focusing on countermeasures to climate change.
Her emphasis on environmental issues is what brought her to Duke.
“Duke Law is one of the strongest law schools in the environmental law area,” Matsuda said, noting the LLM certificate in Environmental and Energy Law and the school’s Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, as well as the school’s partnerships with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy.
Matsuda plans to stay in the U.S. for two years under a sponsorship from the Japanese government and will pursue a Master of Public Administration following her LLM.
She’s also looking forward to getting to know the rest of the LLM class.
“I’m very surprised that in the international LLM program there are people who have very varied backgrounds, so I’m really excited to talk with them,” Matsuda said.
Barbara Meier has spent her career as a lawyer in Switzerland working in an area of law that is very much part of recent current events: health care.
“It’s been an interesting two years,” she said, noting that new cases from her clients — mostly hospitals — briefly stalled in early 2020 as healthcare providers were overwhelmed by the pandemic. “After that, we had a lot of unknown questions to deal with.”
Meier is on the regulatory practice team at Vischer in Zurich, representing healthcare providers in front of government agencies and courts. She plans to return to the law firm after graduation. With a focus on public law and regulatory issues, she said Duke Law’s LLM program stood out when she was considering where to study.
“Not all top-tier law schools offer such a variety and interdisciplinary approaches to public law and regulatory law,” she said. “That’s what really drove me to Duke. I want to get insight into how American law tackles some issues I have confronted back home.”
Outside the classroom, Meier is looking forward to having what she called “the whole American university experience,” and has already attended her first Durham Bulls game — a win for the home team.
“I just want to explore Durham and the area,” she said. “That’s another point why I picked Duke — I’m not a big city girl. It’s really, really nice to be here and have nature around.”
Thibaut de Brouwer, who studied law at the Free University of Brussels, is eager to put his legal education to use — so much so that in 2019 while pursuing his law degree, he and three classmates established the Brussels Law School Consultancy, a nonprofit organization offering free legal services.
“In Belgium, law school is very theoretical — you don’t really learn how to become a good practitioner,” he said. The consultancy gave them the opportunity to assist classmates and others across Belgium, with the help of attorney supervisors.
“We made it before COVID, but with COVID we were getting tons of requests from people getting evicted, having trouble with rent, or if they had fines,” he said. “Many of our clients were students, so it was from students, for students.”
The group also worked with small businesses on legal matters, so it stands to reason that he’s most interested in the Start-Up Ventures clinic for the spring semester. De Brouwer is also looking forward to Professor James Cox’s course on securities regulation.
“That’s one of my favorites — I mentioned him in my personal statement,” de Brouwer said. “It’s a really interesting class, and he’s one of the best professors in the whole country in his field. I’ve heard very good things.”
Santiago Paz said he was looking for a more traditional campus experience for his LLM degree, after beginning his undergraduate studies in Pamplona, Spain, and graduating from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in his home country of Ecuador.
As he was deciding where to attend, Paz found a common thread in the conversations he had with Duke Law’s LLM graduates.
“Every time I talked to somebody about Duke, the experience they had was about the university and not the city,” he said. “They said it’s the university that makes the program special and you’re going to feel a part of something. That’s the kind of feeling I wanted.”
The individualized attention Paz said he received during the application process illustrated what he’d been hearing from the alumni he spoke with.
“They grabbed me without them even knowing,” he said. “That personalized experience is an invaluable thing that you cannot find anywhere else.”
After spending four years in litigation and dispute resolution with Dentons Paz Horowitz in Quito, Paz plans to use his LLM year to try something new. He hopes to take business law courses including Structuring Venture Capital and Private Equity Transactions during his year at Duke Law.
“I love my area of specialty and how dynamic it is, but I want to do something completely different,” he said.