Integration of practical skills & academics is our core educational philosophy – Maura Kelly, Northeastern University School of Law

Maura Kelly is the Assistant Director for LLM and JD Advising at the Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL).
Maura Kelly
Maura KellyNortheastern University School of Law

Maura Kelly is the Assistant Director for LLM and JD Advising at the Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL). A NUSL graduate and former assistant dean, Maura recently returned to NUSL’s Center for Co-op and Career Development to advise LLM and JD students. Working with students is a longstanding passion for Maura.

Advising students is a perfect way to “pay it forward” in gratitude for the incredible mentors who opened doors and supported her throughout her career. In this interview, she discusses NUSL’s Co-Op programme, the ways in which foreign trained lawyers can find employment in the US, and a lot more.

It has been four years since you were last at NUSL. What got you to come back, and what are the future projects that excite you the most at NUSL?

Returning to NUSL is coming home. I have spent the bulk of my life in higher education, as a student and as an employee. Most of those years have been in legal education, spread among five law schools.

True to the definition of the word “unique,” NUSL is unlike any other law school. How?

• NUSL’s Co-op Program offers students unparalleled experiential learning opportunities. Our Center for Co-op and Career Development supports students every step of the way to get their co-ops. We start with a robust roster of more than 1,000 employers who partner with us to hire our students. We prepare students to best present themselves by individual advising, resume and cover reviews, and professional development trainings on such topics as interviewing and succeeding in their co-ops and throughout their legal careers. At the end of their co-ops, our Co-op Program employers provide students with highly instructive written evaluations.

• NUSL’s faculty bring top-notch scholarship, teaching, and practical experience to the classroom. The faculty truly stand out for their dedication to helping students to achieve their academic and professional goals. From the time I was a student here to now, faculty welcome students into the legal community, confident in their abilities and eager to mentor them.

• NUSL is dynamic, diverse, and committed to excellence and social justice. Never have I been part of any other institution or organization that consistently pushes itself to grow with changes in the profession as well as challenges in the world. NUSL embodies this mantra: Be the change you want to see in the world.

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Previously, you have worked to shape and mould the co-op program at NUSL – what are the things that make this particular program unique?

A global leader in experiential learning for 50+ years, NUSL integrates practical skills with academics as its core educational philosophy. As a result, NUSL students gain incomparable legal experience through our one-of-a-kind, year-round co-op program. The Center for Co-op and Career Development builds relationships with legal employers in every sector who then hire our students for co-op and post-graduate positions.

The Center manages this extensive professional network and connects students with employers through a highly organized application process.

We work closely with students to prepare for their co-ops, beginning with introducing students to the spectrum of law practice areas and work settings. Then, together we craft application materials tailored to the positions students seek and the strengths students will bring to the employers. Once resumes, cover letters, and other application materials are completed, students apply for desired co-op positions.

We don’t stop there.

Students may participate in mock interviews with Center staff – we are all attorneys. The Center also offers many educational programs on such topics as professionalism and networking as well as presentations about legal practice areas and settings. At the end of each co-op, employers write detailed evaluations about student performance during the co-op. This evaluation is part of each student’s transcript.

In sum, what makes our co-op program unique is our commitment to students securing and succeeding in a required, practical experience that is integrated into our curriculum.

In your experience, what are some of the misconceptions that foreign trained lawyers have with respect to post-LLM employment opportunities?

Without a doubt, an LLM from NUSL introduces students to outstanding faculty who support and challenge them in their quest to learn U.S. law. On top of that, students in the Experiential LLM program work in a legal setting where they apply their growing knowledge and skills.

That said, post-LLM employment opportunities in the U.S. vary greatly depending on the types of law and settings in which graduates seek to practice. While most large law firms in the U.S. hire entry-level attorneys through their summer programs for JD students, firms and companies will also seek attorneys from around the world with relevant experience and specialized skills.

LLM graduates with limited prior legal experience may be ideal candidates for NGOs or intergovernmental organizations that seek excellent legal skills along with a demonstrated commitment to their missions and relevant language skills.

Finally, most often, U.S. legal employers will require admission to a state bar for attorney positions.

How do you think foreign trained lawyers can make the most of their LLM experience in the U.S.?

Many foreign trained lawyers pursue LLM degrees to expand their professional opportunities. To achieve that goal, LLM students may want to seek credentials to practice in the U.S. The first step in that process is deciding where they would like to live and practice.

With that as a primary goal, before registering for classes, I suggest that students research the requirements for the state bar in the desired jurisdiction.

If the students learn that their desired state bar organizations require specific U.S. law school classes, then review the law school’s course offerings for the semesters they will be in the LLM program and plan their schedules accordingly.

Some state bar organizations may require additional credentials. For example, New York state requires all applicants to the bar complete a specified number of pro bono legal work hours, as defined by the state bar. Therefore, students may need to volunteer their legal skills while enrolled in their LLM programs.

Beyond seeking bar admission, I encourage students pursue their intellectual interests while honing their writing and communication skills. They can meet these goals through classes, co-op, competitions, pro bono legal work, professional networking and student organizations.

NUSL is a dynamic institution.

Take full advantage of every opportunity to meet attorneys who are engaged in the areas of law and in the practice settings that interest them. In addition to events at the law school, students will find opportunities through bar associations.

Lastly, any piece of advice for foreign trained lawyers who are looking to find employment in the US?

In a nutshell, these are my top 3 recommendations:

• Identify the skills you will bring to employers: legal skills, relevant professional experiences, language skills, work ethic, and multicultural perspectives and life experiences. From there, work with an advisor or mentor to figure out how to best showcase your talents.

• Join bar associations and other professional groups where you will meet the attorneys doing the work you want to do.

• Introduce yourself to those attorneys and ask how you can help them. Yes, really. For example, attorneys may need help with presentations for bar associations or other professional organizations. Attorneys also may be working on an article and would welcome your assistance.

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