"I'm a foreign attorney from an international law school. I passed the California bar exam without sitting for a US degree, and I'm now practicing. I feel the lack of a US law school name on my resume puts me at a disadvantage when applying for Corporate Attorneys in law firms. The only advice recruiters give me is "Get a JD" or be content with smaller firms. What would you recommend? I got admitted to Berkeley for an LLM program. Would you recommend pursuing that route, or I will again face the same challenge a year later?"
Generally, the LLM is not the same as a JD. I'm going to answer this question as we go through it. So the first thing is just you're practicing, and you're having a hard time getting corporate positions at bigger firms. And I would say that's going to continue. The reason is just the law firms like to use the law school name for their clients. When the law firm had put you on a matter, they'll tell the client something along the lines of this person with this background and the school and so forth. If the school on your resume is some foreign law school, the client's going to be like, "What the hell?"
They won't like that. The other thing is the law firm doesn't know anything about the quality of your school, the quality of the school you went to overseas. The other thing is, a Ph.D. Is typically an academic thing. I don't know where you're from, but law firms do not like academics because academics sit around and talk about things. Those are the issues that you have. It may seem like a good thing, but that's a problem with having a degree from a foreign school.
Now, all that seems a little bit problematical, but if you were to get business and become very hardworking and connect and network with the right people, then you still get prudentially hired by a large law firm.
But my advice would be to start using your degree, to build up a book of business. If you just want to stay in the way you are, and the more work you get in, the more business and expertise you get, the more you can move up. And I always encourage people to continually aim high and try to do very well and get different types of jobs in the future. That's what I would do. But the other thing you can do is that the JD is important. If it were me, I would try to get a JD; it's three years. They might give you some credit. The JD is considered just classical legal training. And law firms evaluate people based on the quality of the law school they went to and the JD. I think the LLM program is there, I don't see really anything wrong with that. It's good that schools offer it, and they give people that opportunity. But the problem is most people that come out of LLM programs don't get jobs in the US, and it's just not considered the same. If you get a JD from Berkeley and you're in the top 20% of your class, that actually means something, but for an LLM, when it's a bunch of people that don't even speak English as a first language, they don't know what the grades mean necessarily. I'm not saying that in a negative way, not speaking English as the first language. I'm just saying that people get that degree and believe that the law firms will hire them, and they typically won't. But it's better than not having it, and I'll say that. And I have seen people get LLMs and get into very good firms. But in most cases, they don't believe you're going to stick around if you just get an LLM. They think that you may go back to the country. So taking that investment of a couple more years and getting a JD is very helpful, and then they have the ability to compare you with other firms. If it were me, I would try to get a JD, and if not, get an LLM, and you may still be able to get a job. But with an LLM, I've seen people that went to like horrible law school, just schools that are barely accredited, and then five years later had an LLM from Harvard or something and got hired by a major New York law firm. But those are US-based attorneys with a JD ready. It's up to you, but if you want to practice law in the United States, trying to get a JD, but if not, I would try to get the LLM program, a good LLM program.
You still may be able to get a good job with the LLM program. I'm not saying it's impossible cause I've seen people do it, and I've seen a foreign attorneys do it. But there are just so many issues with having the foreign degree because the law firms are worried you're not going to stick around. They don't know the quality of the work and the quality of your training. People can be coached to pass the bar because it's not necessarily a smarts test, but in California it is a very difficult test. You can be coached to pass it if you study enough. But that's what I would recommend if it were me.
The only way to really show your commitment, I think, is with the JD, otherwise bringing in a lot of clients. You could spend the next three years learning business development and get very good at that. And if you're able to do that could help you quite a bit as well. I hope that helps.