Benefits of Penn State Law’s J.D./LL.M mentoring program form a two-way street
May 17, 2011
While graduation for Penn State Law LL.M. candidates Chenyang Xie ’10 and Caroline Sheldon ’10 officially marks the end to their partnerships with J.D. mentors Zachary Grey ’11 and Sam Wiest ’11, the relationships will likely last a lifetime.
One of the first things Xie mentions about his mentor Zachary Grey, a juris doctorate (J.D.) student class of 2011, is that Grey gave Xie his bike. “I ride it everywhere. State College is not as cold as Beijing,” says Xie. Though Xie has practiced law in China for ten years, coming to the United States to study law presented some daunting hurdles. “It is very different here—the lifestyle, academics, and culture are all very different from China. For me, and I speak for all five Chinese students who are studying law here, we are very pleased with the mentorship program.”
Connecting foreign LL.M. students with American J.D. students is one of the defining elements of the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law LL.M. program. “It is one of the reasons why I chose Penn State,” says Xie. He runs down a long list of areas in which he has been helped by his relationship with Grey including moving out of his apartment, getting advice on how best to ask questions in class, and better understanding class notes. “One problem we Chinese students have is that we are too silent.” Xie stressed that law students in China rarely disagree with a professor in class. In U.S. law schools open debate is expected.
Grey says he jumped at the chance to be a mentor to Xie after seeing LL.M. students who were taking a law school legal English course last summer make their final presentations. “I was so fascinated I wanted to learn more. Our legal systems are very different—theirs is based on civil law and ours is common-law based,” says Grey. “I really appreciate hearing Chenyang’s ‘war stories’ from his extensive experience as a business lawyer in China.”
Sam Wiest, who will receive a joint J.D. and master’s degree in international affairs in 2011, agrees. For the past several months, he has been a mentor to Caroline Sheldon, an LL.M. student from Germany. “Caroline has been a corporate compliance attorney with a major multinational corporation. International law and foreign service are areas I’m very much interested in, so I really enjoy just talking with Caroline about her past experiences,” Wiest says.
Sheldon especially appreciates being able to tap into Wiest’s network of friends and fellow students for course outlines, notes, and advice on which classes to take and how best to prepare for the bar exam. At the same time, she says they often just talk about world events. “The program is very casual, no one feels obligated. But through this process we have become friends, and I imagine we will stay friends,” says Sheldon.
“We spend a lot of time just prior to the beginning of classes considering who from our J.D. volunteer pool to match up with our incoming LL.M. students,” says Professor Karen Bysiewicz, director of the LL.M. program. “The mentor program expands the networks of LL.M. and J.D. students, which, in many cases can lead to a lifelong professional connection.”
This year, the highlight of the mentoring program was a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments. The students also get a private audience with one of the justices—this year it was Chief Justice John Roberts.
“We have been doing this now for more than twenty years,” says Professor Lou Del Duca. “The students review the case to be heard and the international students discuss constitutional approaches in their home countries. It’s really not possible to overestimate the impact these relationships—from student to student and from professors to students--have on the success of our graduates. A great many have gone on to become leaders of corporations, law firms, and governments,” Del Duca says.
“In a private audience,” Grey added, “I can’t believe we got to do this.”