By Andrew Cohen
When COVID-19 forced Berkeley Law to end in-person classes and transition to online instruction on March 10, Ishan Shivakumar was back home in India for a wedding. Like other LL.M. traditional track students—who saw their onsite program abruptly cut short with all academic, professional, and social events transferred to the virtual space—he had concerns about the impact on his educational experience.
But after spending 6½ months in Berkeley, he also had cause for optimism.
“I discovered very quickly that Berkeley Law’s institutional reputation has been built on the impeccable standing of faculty members and the high quality of academic instruction,” says Shivakumar, who spent three years litigating at a top firm in New Delhi before enrolling. “The administration and faculty have done a remarkable job to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
Last week, the summer LL.M. term began for 86 students in Berkeley Law’s LL.M. professional track and hybrid option. Elected president of the school’s Student Organization for Advanced Legal Studies, Shivakumar expects the experience to surpass their expectations.
“Both inside and outside the classroom, faculty members generously have offered academic and professional guidance,” he says. “Remote learning has not diminished the accessibility or availability of professors. They continue to be equally encouraging, supportive, and helpful, and it’s very easy and convenient to schedule office hours and correspond with faculty members via email.”
Zooming into action
Students weren’t the only ones concerned about the sudden transition. Faculty members with varying levels of tech savvy had to immediately begin teaching their classes on Zoom, the now ubiquitous web conferencing tool. Among them was Kristen Holmquist, who will again teach Constitutional Law for LL.M. students this summer.
“I was very skeptical it would be successful,” she says. “I’m tech-phobic and what I love about teaching is the human interaction—those moments of connection where one or the other of us can say, ‘a-ha!’ But I was surprised by how well it went. Classroom discussion still felt lively and engaged.”
Berkeley Law’s director of experiential education, Holmquist took advantage of certain Zoom functions to increase student interaction more than usually happens in a standard class.
Numerous prominent faculty members teach Berkeley Law’s LL.M. classes and appreciate the many ways in which the school’s accomplished and diverse international students enrich its overall learning environment. Holmquist—whose first LL.M. cohort last summer included a judge, a European privacy law expert, and a high-level staffer to a prime minister—calls it “one of the highlights of my professional career.”
Class discussions were “sophisticated and comparative and they made me see American law in new ways,” she says. “There were whole doctrines that I took for granted that I now question. And I think they walked away with similar new insights. It was an amazing experience.”
Eager to start
This year’s incoming LL.M. professional track students are another impressive group. They include a Pakistani CEO of two companies who ran the 400 meters in the Olympics, a United Nations Development Programme human rights expert who has advised the Armenian government and created legal technology tools, and the head of legal at a Brazilian chatbot social media platform. And that’s just a sampling.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to connect with and learn from world-class faculty and students,” says new student Jayde Wood, who specializes in patent and trademark work at a firm in Vancouver.
Her practice focuses on the strategic creation of IP assets for companies that work in the life sciences, biotechnology, food processing, clean energy, and consumer products. She expects Berkeley’s LL.M. program to help her better engage with clients who want to protect their IP assets in the U.S.
“The primary reason why I chose Berkeley is its IP program, which has consistently been recognized as No. 1 in the U.S,” Wood says. “I think an LL.M. from Berkeley will enhance my IP practice in several ways … There are many similarities between U.S. and Canadian IP law, but there are also significant differences.”
Fellow new professional track student Angelina Sgier often handles international cases with U.S. lawyers, foreign clients, or clients with subsidiaries or assets in the U.S. A litigator in Switzerland who speaks five languages and teaches ballroom and Latin dance, Sgier applied to Berkeley to bolster her practice in both civil and criminal matters.
“Berkeley Law’s program offers a perfectly balanced variety of both classes in general areas of law (such as Fundamentals of U.S. law), as well as particular fields of U.S. law (such as IP Law),” she says. “I think that combination will help me get a better understanding of the foundation of U.S. law and maybe the U.S. culture and way of thinking.”
Returning professional track student Kweku Egyin, global lead for HSBC Global Banking and Markets Regulatory Compliance in the United Kingdom, affirms that hope.
“You take a lot back to work from the program,” he says, noting the academic excellence and chances to meet and network with school alumni. “Berkeley’s Law and Technology Program and its strong reputation in intellectual property law were of great appeal. The opportunity to develop hands-on knowledge from field practitioners using real-life case studies offered invaluable insight and experience into the future of my field of work.”
Specifically, Egyin cited reviewing cryptocurrency white papers in Blockchain for Lawyers, transaction advisory in Business Associations, and U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission requirements in Anti-Corruption Compliance, as well as modeling term sheets in Venture Capital and valuing a company in Corporate Finance.
For the summer term, staff members in the school’s Advanced Degree Programs office developed a robust set of programming and special events to ensure that LL.M. students can maximize what makes Berkeley Law special—even from a physical distance.
The May 18 orientation “was an example of where the school uses technology to create a sense of culture and community,” Wood says. “I particularly enjoyed the use of breakout rooms where I was able to engage in some personal interactions with my peers.”
The school’s LL.M. professional development includes programs on U.S. business and networking etiquette (now with a focus on virtual networking), building strong LinkedIn profiles, qualifying to take the California Bar Exam, available U.S. job fairs for LL.M. students, outlining and exam preparation, and English writing mechanics.
Students are offered virtual networking events with Berkeley Law LL.M. alumni around the globe. They also have access to weekly faculty talks on legal issues in the era of COVID-19 and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s U.S. Supreme Court update (he will also teach Public Law in Crisis this fall, a 1-unit course designed for LL.M. students).
In addition, students can participate in programming from the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and the Berkeley Center for Law and Business, including the Asia IP & Technology lecture series and Fraud Fest conference. The Student Organization for Advanced Legal Studies is also planning social events, including some by region.
Students finishing remotely this summer or in the fall who cannot participate in a live graduation ceremony will be invited back for the summer 2021 graduation, and may also take a free Executive Education course.
“There’s also a lineup of several pipeline activities to consolidate the friendship and community spirit, which have become a core part of the program,” Egyin says. “Remote karaoke nights, country cooking competitions, wine quizzes, country or continent get-togethers are some of the proposed ideas. The maiden network event already took place … we all raised a glass and toasted to a successful summer of remote studying and friendship.”
American lawyers can also expand into new practice areas or build upon their legal expertise through the LL.M. program. The admissions period for U.S. applicants has been re-opened and all Berkeley Law alumni who are admitted to the 2020-21 term will receive a $5,000 scholarship.