1. Why did you choose SILS for your undergraduate education?
During my high school years in South Korea, I did not have the opportunity to find what I want to study in college. Back then I believed that any subject I excelled in exams was the field I should major in college. By the same token, I believed that any subject I failed to excel in exams was not the field I should dive into. In high school I did extremely well in legal studies, which was part of my social studies. And of course my high test scores in legal studies formed a strong belief in my mind that I should major in law in college. Despite my strong belief, however, my scores in practice exams for Korean SAT were not good enough to study law in college. I was lost and confused; and then I started to question myself whether I had any interest at all in studying law. Towards the end of my high school years, I realized that I was merely chasing right answers in exams without assessing my interests in subjects I studied. In my last year of high school, one of my teachers suggested Waseda SILS program and gave me a brochure.
As I read the brochure, I was excited and scared at the same time. The study plan offering variety of subjects, which would give me the opportunity to explore my interests, excited me. Furthermore, I liked the idea that I could take intermediate and advanced level classes if I wanted to study a particular subject more in-depth. On the other hand, the thought of completely giving up my belief that I should major in law and taking my first step into an unknown world of liberal arts scared me. After giving great deal of thoughts, I decided to give myself a real chance to search for what I want, even if that meant giving up my belief about studying law. I believed that it would be a worthwhile journey to take. And now I know it was a worthwhile journey.
2. In what country were you born and/or raised, and did you ever live in an English-speaking country before you enrolled at SILS?
I was born in Busan, South Korea. I moved to Manila, the Philippines, with my family when was seven years old. I went to an international school in Manila, where I studied English for the first time. During my stay in Manila, I only used English except when I was at home with my family. I lived in Manila for almost four years until my family moved back to South Korea. I stayed in Busan, South Korea until I finished my high school. Upon acceptance in 2005, I moved to Tokyo, Japan to attend Waseda SILS.
3. When did you first plan to prepare for graduate school?
I applied to about 15 law schools based on my LSAT score, SILS’s GPA, interest of subjects, geographical locations, my research and suggestions from my friends. Among other law schools I applied to University of Florida because my close friend who was from Miami, Florida suggested University of Florida since it was the best law school in state of Florida. In addition to my friend’s suggestion I found out University of Florida offered clinics classes (where law students practice law as legal interns in legal offices) and a few certificate programs including certificate program for intellectual property law, which I am currently enrolled. Among 3 acceptance letters, I decided to attend University of Florida.
4. Did your studies at SILS help you find the specific field of your interest or focus of your post-graduate studies? If so, could you elaborate on that process? Were there any other sources of information that helped you make this decision?
Until the end of my sophomore year, I was interested in studying political science and international politics. They were intellectually fascinating subjects with full of different theories to explain and historical events to analyze. I was almost certain that I wanted to continue studying political science and international politics in a graduate school. Then, I had a chance to study American law in “Introduction to Legal Studies” taught by Professor David Waters. I still remember that many of senior students advised me not to take it since the class was notorious for its difficulty. In spite of my fear I might flunk the class I took the class purely because of my curiosity about American Law. After first few classes, I was glad I took the class. America’s common law system, which differed from civil law system employed by most of the countries around the world, and critical thinking and analytical arguments expressed in legal opinions were intriguing. Above all, the critical thinking skill, which was required and encouraged by Professor Waters, was intellectually stimulating. It was not an easy class. Finding what you want, however, is not about taking easy classes and avoiding difficult classes. Finding what you want is about making a commitment to yourself to follow your instinct, regardless of what others say, and truly seek for knowledge, not for the grades.
After taking the introduction to legal studies, I took all of legal coursework taught by Professor Waters. Until I took Professor Waters’s seminar class, I did not have a specific plan or thought of applying for American law schools. During the seminar class, I extremely enjoyed open debates with the professor and classmates based on actual American legal opinions published by American courts. Professor Waters rarely gave us answers to our questions but answered our questions with questions. This method helped us to develop critical thinking skills and to think even deeper about any legal issues we discussed in class. When Professor Waters told us that this style of studying was what we would encounter if we went to American law schools, I had no doubt that I wanted to go to America to study law.
When I realized I wanted to go to an American law school, I was glad that I knew what I want. Although I was terrified somewhat since I had never been to America, I never thought it would be impossible to attend an American law school. As soon as I was sure that going to an American law school was what I want, I started reading books about American law schools and doing research about Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Most of my classmates in the seminar class were interested in attending American law schools as well. We mostly relied on our own research and Professor Waters’s advices while preparing for law school admissions. We did our individual research through the Internet and books, and exchanged useful information with each other. I utilized Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website (www.lsac.org) to learn about the application process. I used Amazon.co.jp to find books about American Law Schools and LSAT. I also relied on a book titled “The Best Law Schools” published by Princeton Review. This book gives a snapshot of over 150 law schools in America about academics, life style, finance, prospective students and many more. I also relied on US News & World Report (www.usnews.com) website to evaluate each law school’s ranking, characteristic and its specialties. I advise for anyone who are preparing for American law schools to fully utilize LSAC website which has tons of useful information about LSAT and how to prepare for law school admissions. If you are not sure of application process, it is better to visit LSAC website before looking through Google search results.
For personal essays I referred to “Law School Essays that made a difference” published by Princeton Review. I remember constantly revising and proofreading my personal essays, and you should do that as well because personal essays do make a difference in law school admissions.
There are so many bulletin boards in the Internet created by law students that discuss life in law school. To be honest, law school life pictured in those bulletin boards do not look pretty. There is possibility that most of the opinions you encounter in the Internet about law school are depressing and pessimistic. I wasn’t too deterred, however, by those negative opinions floating in the Internet. My thought back then was that if law school life would be as bad as those law students in the Internet complained, then all I needed to do was to be prepared. Take their complaints as advices and prepare yourself rather than being scared away.
Some books suggested that it was best to prepare for law schools in your junior year or even earlier. I was in my senior year when I started preparing for law school admissions, and according to those books I was a late starter. But it is never late when you know what you want to pursue. All you have to do is make a commitment and act.
5. How did you choose the particular graduate school in which you enrolled?
My experience in Professor Waters’s seminar class prepared me to easily adapt to law school classes. In the seminar class, we were reading real American legal cases every week. Those cases we read in the seminar class were exactly what I read in law school classes. I was already familiar with the format and writing style in American legal cases when I started my first year in law school. Of course, it was more challenging than the seminar class, since first year law professors are not as friendly and understanding as professors in college. If you do not want to be intimidated by first year law professors, the only solution is to do your reading and be prepared. It won’t save you from being embarrassed when a professor calls on you during class because most of the times the answer the professor wants won’t be in the book. But that’s okay. Anyone who gets called on during first year classes will be embarrassed, and you won’t be the only one. It’s just a part of law school experiences. You will laugh about it in your second year, believe me. I have been there.
For students who are considering American law schools as your post-graduate path, I want you to ask yourself: “Do I really want to do this and why?” Law school is not a place where you can just apply on a whim or where you go just to get another degree. I have seen a few of those students during my law school life, and they usually struggle more to stay motivated than others who have at least some reason why they are in law school. If you do not want to be those students, you need to find a reason that could motivate you and keep you alive during the three years of law school life before preparing for law school admissions. It could be your interest in studying American Law or it could be your strong desire to be an American lawyer. Whatever reason you find, it should be strong enough to keep you motivated. If you are dreaming about working in America as an attorney, you should also have some idea what your legal status would be when you attend an American law school. Each school has its own international student center and its website is a great source to find out immigration policies and career advices for international students.
For Korean male students who consider American law schools as post-graduate path, I advise you to finish your military service before applying to American law schools. Especially if you are considering getting a job in America following graduation from law school, it will be easier for you to find and keep a job for a longer period.
6. What do you think SILS undergraduate students should know about your program of graduate study? For example, was your program more difficult or easier than you expected before you began your graduate studies? If you made any mistakes or would do anything differently as a graduate student, what recommendations can you make to others to avoid or overcome any problems you encountered in your studies?
If you have absolutely no idea what your law school life would be and what lawyers do, I recommend “Law School Success in a Nutshell; A guide to Studying Law and Taking Law School Exams” published by Thomson West (“In a Nutshell series). This book will give you a brief snapshot of American legal system and your first year law school life.
If you are clueless of what to prepare and how to prepare for law school admissions, I recommend you to visit LSAC website. Another good source is “The Best 167 Law Schools” published by Princeton Review (the number of law schools changes each time when a new edition is published). This book will begin by giving brief preview of how to prepare applications for law school admissions and give you list of over 150 law schools with their strengths and weaknesses. The information in this book is not always accurate but it is a great tool to compare different law schools.
If you want accurate information about a particular law school, it is best to visit the law school’s website or contact the admissions office directly via email or phone call. Every law school’s website is full of useful tips about admissions process and law school life. Do not waste your time looking through page after page in Google search results. The most valuable information is all in law schools’ websites.
If you are studying American Law in an American law school, you should be at least comfortable with speaking and writing in English. I do not see any language other than English that is useful for studying law in an American law school, except if you are studying comparative international law classes or any other type of law, such as immigration law, which has high anticipation of dealing with non-English speaking clients. There are advantages, however, to know other languages besides English when you are seeking for a job. I have seen American law firms looking for associates who are proficient in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese or Korean.
It is never enough to stress the importance of English language skills in American law schools. I encourage all students who are interested in American law schools to practice their writing skills. Unless you are very lucky, almost all of your final exams in a law school will be in essay formats. A typical exam in American law school would give you two to three hypothetical factual situations asking you for solutions. It is similar to writing your writing assignments in college but with two to three hours time constraint. Therefore, you should be ready to clearly express your thoughts and arguments in short period of time. I am still in the process of improving my English writing skills every single day. If you are interested in American law schools, then start mastering your English writing skills right now. If you are not a native English speaker, do not be discouraged. I am not a native English speaker either. If I can do it, then you can do it. All you have to do is try, try and keep trying.
Critical thinking and analytical skills are also important in American law schools. When you are studying, always question yourself “why.” Exams in American law schools are not like typical exams in college where you regurgitate what you have learned or memorized in classes. You have to know the law but you also must know how to analyze the facts and how to apply the law to the facts. Editorial sections in newspapers are great resource to hone your critical thinking skills. After reading an editorial article, try to make your own argument that challenges or concurs with the opinion you have read.
7. If you have secured employment in the same field as your graduate study, can you tell us some interesting things about your job? For example, do you expect that will you get to travel extensively or do other things that would be interesting to current or prospective SILS students?
I am in my final year of law school. I will be graduating on May 2012. I am currently working at law school’s civil clinics office as a certified legal intern and in charge of three clients’ cases. I have spent most of my times in law school studying intellectual property law, such as copyright, trademark, trade secrets and patent law. Although I am practicing family law in civil clinics office, which is not my expertise, I am learning invaluable practical skills that are useful in a civil court. Under the supervision of a supervising attorney a certified legal intern takes charge in real cases ranging from interviewing and counseling of a client, filing lawsuit, to jury or non-jury trials. If anyone has an opportunity to work as a certified legal intern in law school, I highly recommend you to take that opportunity.
I will be taking Florida’s bar exam on July 2012, and then return to South Korea to serve in Korean military for two years. I have not decided yet what I want to do after finishing the military service. It would be another journey for me to find my post-military path which I look forward to it.