LLM Interview: Harvard Law Grad Explains Why He Chose An American LL.M.

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FindyourLLM would like to thank Mr. Lim for his time and the insights he shared with us.

Name: Jonathan Lim

Nationality: Singaporean

LL.M. Alma Mater: Harvard Law School

Current law firm:  Associate at Wilmer Hale in London

: International arbitration and litigation

Why did you decide on an LL.M.?

I did an undergraduate law degree and qualified in Singapore after doing my bar course and training contract. I really wanted to work in an international context, and on a whim I decided to apply for an LL.M. in the middle of my bar course exams:  I took a bit of a gamble and only applied to two schools – one in the US and one in the UK.

I applied for my LLM pretty early on compared with the majority of my classmates. I’m glad I did that. It internationalized my CV and opened doors to positions at inter-governmental organizations and/or international firms which I would not otherwise have had.

Why did you decide to come to the United States for your LLM?

Before making my decision on where to do my LLM. I must have talked to 20 to 30 people, including people who studied at both Harvard and Oxford – the two schools which I applied and got admitted into. In the end, I was persuaded by one of my professors, who framed the choice as being between going deeper within a system I was already used to (Singapore’s education system is similar to the UK) or trying something completely new, which, although might be a bracing or abrasive experience, had a more transformative potential. Ultimately, the value of my American education was not American law, which is not very transferable on a day to day basis here in London.  For me,  the value of having had an American legal education is more subtle and pervasive.  For instance, the language of American legal discussion is more concrete and less abstract, and I have learnt to explain complex concepts more simply and concretely, usually by using analogies or examples.  This actually comes in handy in actual legal practice with client communication.  There is also a more active networking culture in the US and I have found the exposure to that system very useful even today as I try to build a practice and reputation in my chosen field.

How did your LLM develop your legal skills?

I treated the LLM as an exploration, and so I took the chance to specialize in something I had was not specialized in: international finance. I had realized in the course of my practical legal experience that the business and financial context or may complex commercial transactions were simply a black box to me.  I found this troubling, because if at some point I had to manage the client relationship as the lead lawyer I would not have a good understanding what the client’s needs are.  One of the great things about the Harvard Law School (“HLS”) is that we could take courses at the Business School, the College or the Kennedy School, and this really allowed me to explore both the business- and policy aspects of my chosen international finance specialization.

How did you find your current job at Wilmer Hale?

I received job offers from both the World Bank and several U.S. and U.K. law firms after graduating.  I decided to do 6 months out of the 1-year contract I was offered with the World Bank, and take the job at Wilmer Hale after a 6-month deferral.  I got the World Bank offer as HLS nominates one or two candidates each year (out of a pool of thirty or so) through a special tie-up.  I got the job with Wilmer Hale  through the New York job fair.

In truth, both opportunities were made possible through the phenomenal advice and mentorship provided by the HLS Office of Career Services, which assigned me a personal advisor who not only went through and marked up every resume and cover letter I sent out, but also met with me multiple times to practice phone and in-person interview skills, or to rehearse post-interview follow-up conversations.  The Office of Public-Interest Advising also provided similar advice and support in relation to my public sector and inter-governmental organization job search.  They even helped me with making a decision after the offers came in!

Do you have any advice for recent law graduates?

Think very hard about what would make you stand out. If you’re just doing an LL.M. for the paper qualification, then it may not really be worth the money. But if you take it in the right spirit and take that time to learn something new and make new connections then it can be extremely enriching. Another important takeaway from the LLM for me was the experience of learning from the intelligent and highly motivated people I studied with. I believe I made a lot of genuine and lasting connections: now I have a place to stay anywhere from Sao Paolo to Tokyo!