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UC Law’s LLM Program Gives Students Training, Experience and Inspiration

Like other legal professionals from around the world, three new UC College of Law students came to the United States for advanced training and, just as importantly, inspiration.

“Studying law in the U.S. is like magic. It’s so difficult,” states Frinwi Gwenelyne Achu, an LL.M. student from Cameroon.

In addition to Achu, this year’s LL.M. class features two other students from Africa: Arnold Agaba and Amanda Arigaba, both from Uganda. The LL.M. program provides students who have studied law in a foreign country the opportunity to receive up to two years of exposure to the U.S. legal system. Each student has, at minimum, a bachelor’s in law and earns a masters in law for foreign-trained lawyers. The program is currently in its fourth year, and has so far graduated 30 students from 18 different countries. This year’s class features 18 students from 10 countries.

Achu attended University of Buea Cameroon, the first Anglo-Saxon University in that nation. Agaba studied at Uganda Christian University, which he describes as young and vibrant. Arigaba attended two schools in Kampala, the capital of Uganda; she earned her undergraduate Bachelor of Laws degree at Makerere University and her diploma in Human Rights at the Law Development Centre.

While the students have adjusted their lives, time zones and learning methods, all three say their experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive. However, each student was motivated to study law in America for different reasons, and each has different end goals upon returning to their home countries.

Arigaba has wanted to be a lawyer since she can remember. With parents who were lawyers, she was “always in awe of my father’s choice of syntax and vast knowledge of everything...something I attributed to his profession,” she said.

She would watch or read the news, hoping to understand conversations he had with other adults. Her mother she viewed as a superwoman who juggled being a mother and a lawyer “flawlessly.”

Achu and Agaba both looked to law because of its integral role in society and job opportunities available after legal training. Agaba was driven by his desire to influence rule-change and thinking in his community in Uganda; Achu wants to combat disparities.

To fulfill their career wishes, though, they knew they needed to look to the West, specifically, to America.

Universities across the globe look to the U.S. as the ideal for building legal expertise. Studying in any foreign country gives students chances to understand their subjects on larger scales, something particularly valuable to employers. Studying in the country that sets standards, however, is even more enticing.

“Why did I choose the greatest country in the world?” Agaba asked. After a pause, he explained that America is viewed as the leader, a place where “development is real and the lives of the people in that country are bettered by its government on a daily basis.”

Arigaba agreed, saying that she chose to study here because of the America’s “admirable“ legal evolution.

Teaching methods have been one of the toughest things to adjust to, the students said. Precedent cases differ from country to country, meaning that even if concepts are the same, applicability is not. Students in America are highly encouraged to have a robust understanding of cases, to push boundaries and to engage in conversations and establish relationships with professors and other faculty members, which is not the case in every country.

“You may go through law school without ever having a personal relationship with an instructor,” said Agaba of legal education in Uganda, “which, I think, is terrible because you can’t better someone’s life at a distance. It has to be personal.”

Networking with faculty, area professionals and other students has been a priority for the LL.M. students. Arigaba has enjoyed conferences featuring renowned or acclaimed individuals who share their knowledge with students. “They put into context a lot of what is delivered in the classroom walls and are very inspiring considering their accolades, a reminder of how much work there is to be done and how much I can achieve.”

Achu experienced the same kind of awe when visiting a local law firm that employs 200 lawyers. The largest firm in Cameroon has 10.

Networking helps keep career goals at the front of the students’ minds, and upon completion of the LL.M. program, each has distinct plans.

Achu wants to work toward creating her own company encouraging foreign investments in Cameroon, where eight of 10 regions speak French, while the other two speak English. Because business laws conflict between the two types, many companies do not expand, which leads to disparities between communities.

Foreign investments, Achu said, will impact citizens’ lives by expanding opportunities in the country rich in natural resources. “I know if I create good contacts and connections with people, we’ll be able to get a forum where we work out a partnership,” she said. “We [Cameroon] have the materials, we send it to you, and it’s going to help you.”

Agaba would rather teach than practice law. “Teaching offers me the opportunity to change mindsets, to show people different experiences, rather than simply solving one problem of theirs. I could change the mindset of various people, and lawyers are a big part of social change. So, if you influence a lawyer, you can influence a greater part of the society.”

Arigaba is particularly interested in human rights and foreign affairs. She describes herself as appreciating hard work and service, and wants to see and impact change among the entire nation. “I have the mind and attitude of service, and I will go wherever I am needed,” she said. Studying in a foreign nation with other international students has also provided opportunities to understand other cultures and ways of doing things. Students leave with new skills and knowledge that they can integrate in their home country.

“You don’t just walk away with a masters degree,” Agaba said. “You walk away with a new lifestyle, a new mindset, with actual change. The person who came here in August is not the same person who is leaving. He is better in various ways. But in meaningful ways.”