In a parking lot near the Fisher College of Business on The Ohio State University campus, Thompson Buck is giving his former boss, Ruijin “Reking” Chen, a driving lesson.
Chen spent the last six years as an intellectual property lawyer in China, including two years with the IP group of Jones Day’s Beijing office. He has handled trademark enforcement and prosecution, IP licensing and transfer, IP due diligence, and other IP commercial matters. More recently, he supervised Buck during a nine-week summer internship in Beijing.
Now, the two are classmates at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where Chen is a student in the Master of Laws (LL.M.) Program. The one-year program is designed for foreign-trained lawyers to learn about the U.S. legal system, improve their professional language skills, and strengthen their global network. This year’s group of students herald from 14 countries, from Lithuania to Japan to Saudi Arabia, where women are just beginning to join the legal profession.
“Jones Day is an international firm, and many of our clients are U.S. companies. Studying for a year in the U.S. will help me communicate better with them and advise them better,” Chen said of his reasons for coming to Ohio State. “I managed trademark portfolios for clients in 45 countries, so I really need to know people from all over the world. I think this program will help me greatly.”
Buck believes the same holds true for his career aspirations, too.
The American 2L has a strong desire to practice international law after graduating in 2015. It’s what compelled him last year to connect with the LL.M. staff, who introduced him to Chen, a prospective student. The two exchanged emails and chatted over Skype. Their exchanges were meaningful enough for Chen to feel comfortable recommending to superiors that they bring on Buck for a summer internship in Beijing.
In mere months, they have built a strong relationship professionally and as friends. They are a realization of the hopes faculty members had when launching the program seven years ago.
Ellen E. Deason, the Joanne Wharton Murphy/Classes of 1965 and 1973 Professor in Law, was the faculty director of the Moritz LL.M. Program from 2006-2010 and helped lead the creation of the program. At the time, the college was seeking to internationalize as a means of enhancing the educational experience for J.D. students and creating a global network of Moritz alumni.
“All of the other top-ranked law schools had LL.M. programs. Our philosophy was that the world is becoming much more internationalized and transnational, and we owed it to our J.D. students to give them exposure to that,” Deason said. “Our graduates may never go work in another country, but they increasingly are going to have practices that involve international transactions or include considerations about how other countries think about the law.”
Learning about other countries’ approaches to law often begins with classroom discussions, Deason and other Moritz professors explained. Many of the foreign lawyers are accustomed to practicing in civil law systems, and there can be robust conversations about the differences between those systems and the U.S. common law system. Just getting an LL.M. student’s reaction to the question, “Is this how it would work in your country?” elicits a response that heightens classroom discussion, Deason said.
“We are just being trained to be attorneys, and these are full-fledged attorneys in their home countries,” Buck said. “So their contributions augment the classroom experience and have only deepened my J.D. experience.”
Daniel C.K. Chow, associate dean for international and graduate programs, recalled an LL.M. student he had during the 2012-13 academic year who was quite successful in his home country. That student offered reasoned opinions about how business is conducted in Europe and why some approaches were more ideal than the American way.
“Best practices in comparative law have led to great solutions for problems that are really multilateral,” said Laura Fernandez, who joined the college this fall as the new assistant dean for international and graduate affairs.
Before she came to lead the Moritz LL.M. Program, Fernandez made a career of looking at the best practices of foreign legal systems and applying them to issues faced by post-Communist countries trying to join the European Union. Over the last eight years, she monitored war crimes cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, Netherlands and later led the Rule of Law Unit for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Zagreb, Croatia.
“We would take ideas that worked in one country with a similar background – post-Communist, post-war – and use it to develop a system in another country. For example, I would develop a system for victims and witnesses and how they should be dealt with in court in Croatia,” she said, “and the same system would be implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Any lawyer today who does not have that kind of global perspective is at a disadvantage,” Fernandez said. “Looking from the outside and seeing how legal issues are interconnected will make any lawyer a better lawyer.”
Program benefits profession
While the Moritz LL.M. Program directly benefits J.D. students and the foreign lawyers who come to Columbus to study, it also is affecting the greater legal profession in positive ways. Approximately 60 foreign lawyers have graduated from the program, and some have acted as in transcontinental business exchanges.
The Moritz LL.M. Program also has created a pool of international lawyers seeking to gain experience with American firms and other employers through Optional Practical Training (OPT). The program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, allows international students to remain in the U.S. up to one year after finishing their degree programs in positions that are relevant to their major area of study.
Zhide “Derek” Li, LL.M. ’13 is working as a legal intern in the Cleveland office of Ulmer & Berne LLP under OPT. He assists with domestic and international clients in mergers and acquisitions, trademark, employment, corporate finance, securities, corporate governance, and international trade matters.
While his year in the Moritz LL.M. Program gave him a greater understanding of the legal system, the practical experience he is gaining at Ulmer & Berne brings it into greater focus. It also will make him more marketable when he returns to China to resume his legal career there.
“I compare it to the effect on J.D. students of working during the summer in law school and the way they return in the fall with a better understanding of the law after seeing it in action,” Deason said. “It’s not a difficult process to hire a student through OPT, and I hope more of our alumni consider sponsoring people this way.”
Chow recalled how one U.S. firm benefited from hiring another program graduate.
Yali “Celia” Li, LL.M. ’11 spent a year working under OPT for Porter Wright before returning to China. She is now a managing partner at a firm there, and she often exchanges clients with her colleagues from the U.S. office where she worked.
“This is a quality business relationship that has developed,” Chow said. “It allows law firms to expand their influence. It never hurts to have a contact in a foreign country – whether it’s China or Brazil or South Africa – who you trust because they spent three months or a year at your firm. Relationship-building is key to doing
business anywhere in the world.”
Chen, who is studying at Moritz on a scholarship from Jones Day, appreciated how supportive his former employer was of the decision to come study intensively at Ohio State this year. In addition to making contacts with classmates from other countries, he is gaining a better understanding of how American lawyers think.
“I can get a sense of how (the J.D. students) will practice in the real world, which will help my clients when I return to China,” he said. “There are so many great resources here, and I want to fully utilize my one year here as much as possible.”
Looking toward the future
This year’s group of 33 LL.M. students is the largest and most experienced the college has hosted yet. While the program has quadrupled in size since it started in 2007, Fernandez said the intent will be to keep LL.M. class sizes small so the college can continue to provide individualized attention to students. Some peer schools have LL.M. programs of 100 or more students.
Instead, her goal is to enhance the program’s global profile by recruiting even more qualified students and to more fully integrate them with the college’s J.D. students.
“I would like to see them participate in the
Mediation Clinic, join student groups, or even serve as an associate editor on a journal,” Fernandez said. “The people you meet in law school will be your legal network for years to come. The world is so globalized that you really don’t have a choice anymore to stay in your own
For Chen and Buck, life outside of the bubble already is more interesting.
In addition to the driving lessons, Buck was helping Chen and his wife, Maggie, buy a dependable used car for their time here. He’s also returning a favor Chen provided in Beijing last summer: a referral to a good barber.
“I receive a lot of help from Thompson,” Chen said. “From discussing class work to getting my hair cut.”
“Reking really welcomed me into his family and culture when I was in Beijing, and as much as possible, I hope to do the same this year,” he said. Then, looking toward his boss-turned-classmate, he added, “I think we’re going to be good friends for a long time.”