In what ways studying an LL.M in San Francisco could help you specialize in the Startup law practice?
Lara Garrido is a French law student who is currently enrolled at UC Hastings in the General LL.M program, with a focus on International business and trade. She opens up on her professional and personal Californian experience within the startup ecosystem.
Why did you choose to undertake an LL.M. at UC Hastings?
I decided to obtain an LL.M degree while being part of my french academic program called La Grande Ecole du Droit. In addition to the stimulating academic environment of the cutting-edge classes provided by Paris-Sud University, this innovative program adds a comparative approach to law to our curriculum in French law. In four years’ time, this program will allow me to hold not only an LL.B in Business & Tax Law, but also a certificate of proficiency (Diplôme Universitaire) in Comparative law and, an LL.M degree, which will definitely validate a Master 1 degree. In fact, the genuine significance of an LL.M degree for an international career has been brought to our attention by Stephane Baller, Co-director of the program and Tax partner at EY, Société d’Avocats.
Year after year, I specifically develop a desire to work at an International scale. After being a summer intern in a Startup incubator, the desire to work with startups, tech companies and entrepreneurs became very clear. Thus, the choice of UC Hastings became self-evident. Not only being in San Francisco is ideal for its technology environment, but being part of UC Hastings was also a possibility to be formed on Startup law. UC Hastings has a unique year-long program usually reserved to J.D students called the « Startup Legal Garage » which enables students to follow seminars on early stage incorporation, financing (Business angels and Venture Capitalists) and Intellectual Property protection. In addition, students work closely with renowned law firms and are expected to lead clients work and communication in early stage tech startups. As I have been able to join this program, I chose to pursue my LL.M at UC Hastings.
This choice was relevant for my future career as this diploma will enable me to take a bar, either New York or California, and try to join a Law firm specialized in startups and international practice. My aim is to be able to support among others, successful french entrepreneurs.
What is life like in San Francisco?
At UC Hastings, we are lucky to have access to housing on campus and live in the center of one of the most dynamic cities in the US. We are 10 to 20 min away by walk from either the Embarcadero, the European neighborhood Hayes Valley and most importantly for me, the entrepreneur’s suburb, SoMA. The weather in California is obviously another strong argument for living here, even though as often described, San Francisco is much cooler than the rest of the state. What really makes San Francisco different is its culture, its diversity and the great tolerance, acceptance and, liberal state of mind that everyone proudly shows. Even though, San Francisco is exceptional, I strongly recommend to go south and take the highway one, especially on a Harley Davidson, I can assure that this is a once in a lifetime experience.
Besides the sweet life of San Francisco, you can also take advantage of the many meet ups and networking events. Even though, most of them are reserved for and targeted at entrepreneurs, as a prospective startup lawyer it is genuinely important to understand the very core of their businesses, their potential fears and the way they interact and expect others to work with them.
Another way to meet peers is to mingle with your community. The French community for instance, is very active. I am an active member of La French Tech San Francisco, French Alumni Association and The French-American Chamber of Commerce. This community is always willing to let passionate people help organize networking events. I undertook this opportunity and I am currently organizing an event on the relationship between lawyers and entrepreneurs, sponsored by one of the best law firm in this field, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LL.P on February.
In what ways, studying Business Law in the US, is different than it is in Europe?
Generally speaking studying in an American Law school is a very different experience. First and foremost the course load is overall lighter in an American Law school compared to a European university. However, the preparation for each class is much longer. Indeed, classes are not meant to be a statement of the relevant rules and principles, it is a time for debating, understanding in depth more complex issues that appeared in front of jurisdictions.
Then, regarding Business Law more specifically, the principles are most of the time aligned with European law as a matter of commercial transactions facilitations. The different challenges often stem from the federal structure of US law. For instance, the Federal Contract law or Mergers & Acquisitions substantial rules are very similar to French laws, but a lot of variations in its interpretation and applications will appear from one state jurisdiction to another. Some subjects are however very specific such as business associations and legal structures that are very different from the european legal structures.
The other benefit is being able to practice. I am able in my clinical work as well as in Mergers & Acquisitions to study on actual contracts. I have learned which clauses are standard, how to modify them to make them more favorable to my client or to negotiate them with an other party. This is something that I have not been able to do within my French Law school. Likewise, I have a lot of financial classes that are usually provided by business schools. An American lawyer is expected be able to counsel its clients on legal as well as basic financial statements. I am for instance currently taking part of a class of Deals, which goes through the economic issues that we could face and should solve in business transactions.
Finally, if you wish to specialized in the Startup practice, there is currently no law school subject that will teach you this specialty in Europe. These companies have a very peculiar environment that lawyers should understand thoroughly to be able to advice them. Furthermore, the core of the startup industry is in the US and more specifically in California, thus their applicable rules are most of the time Federal or State regulations, rather than European regulations.
What did you get from studying an LL.M. and what advice would you give to prospective students?
I gained a lot of confidence in being a law student in the US. I have been able to be in a dynamic academic environment, surrounded by many different nationalities and cultures. This is challenging as well as very inspiring, even more in the current political scheme. My LL.M program is fairly small, with a capacity limited to 50 students. This obviously enabled me to have a more family-like atmosphere with more personal advice from the staff. They often organize professional workshops and try to have a family-like relationship. The other advantage is that we take our classes with J.D students and have the chance to meet them and have different perspective on Law studies and the American culture overall. In addition to the students, the staff is always very welcoming, willing to help and happy to meet you. This is very motivating and helps you go through your first weeks without additional stress.
In my situation, I gained a wonderful academic as well as personal experience that will determine my career. I have made great connections, but most of all great friendships. Often times European students overall are afraid of the word “networking”. However, it is not as it sounds, such as meeting someone in an unnatural way. You should perceive it as a process in which you can talk and meet interesting people, some as passionate as you in the same field of Law, some who could help you achieve your goals, and others who will become great friends. This is of course mandatory if you wish to find a job in the US as you will often find a job thanks to those connections. It is true that there is no market for LL.M students in the US and unless someone recommends them it is very rare for a firm to hire LL.M graduates right after graduating from their degrees. Even if you will come back to your home country after graduating, being curious about the cultural and professional codes is important as it will change your ideas, vision and assertions.
My strongest advice will be to live your dreams. This is the only thing that will matter at the end of the day when you will decide if and where to enroll in your LL.M program. An LL.M experience is something bigger than being a Law student in a foreign country. Living an LL.M experience will help you grow as a person outside of your comfort zone and will motivate you to have the courage the achieve the things you have always dreamt of.
LL.M candidate, University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
LL.B/Master 1 in Business & Taw Law, La Grande Ecole du Droit.
Futurs Articles envisagés :
Interview of a Law firm partner in SF (Orrick or Fenwick) : Why would you hire an LL.M student ?
How should you prepare academically for an LL.M degree ?
Interview of Erika Linden or June Sakamoto, What qualities are you looking for, for an LL.M candidate ?
Law societies : a great opportunity to thrive during the LL.M experience
Interview Pr., How do LL.M students can bring something to the classroom ?
Clinical opportunities : a reason to join an LL.M program
Feedback on my Conference in the relationship between entrepreneurs and lawyers
Working on your soft skills during an LL.M degree