The Internationals: Students from Around the Globe at Stanford Law School

The global perspective is a constant theme at Stanford Law School. In just the past five years, students have benefited from an explosion of opportunities in all sorts of areas, particularly the expanded joint degree and clinical 
programs. And while the bulk of Stanford Law’s students are studying for a JD, those 180 students are joined each year by another 85 international students enrolled in the advanced degree programs. And these students, who come from all parts of the globe, are helping to expand not only the horizon of the American JDs but also their outlook.

Stanford Law’s advanced degrees are graduate-level programs for 
students who earned their law degrees outside of the United States. Today, Stanford Law offers programs for a Master of the Science of Law (JSM), Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD), and Master of Laws (LLM)—with specialties in Corporate Governance & Practice, Law Science & 
Technology, and starting next year Environmental Law & Policy.

“These students arrive at Stanford with a wealth of experience, 
having practiced law in their home countries before applying to Stanford—many already accomplished in their fields, having been judges, managing 
partners, executive directors, and other high-level attorneys,” says M. Elizabeth Magill, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “Most will return to their home countries after graduation to practice or teach, but while they are here they are valued members of our community.”

As the number of advanced degree students at Stanford Law has increased, attention has turned to ways in which to bring international and domestic students together. And while the law school has focused on integrating the academic programs—one alum drew attention to the importance of social and extracurricular interaction between the JD and international students.

Photo of Russo and Hensler with with nine students
Thomas Russo, JD/MBA ’84 (second from left), and Deborah Hensler, Judge John W. Ford 
Professor of Dispute Resolution and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies 
(fourth from left), with a group of advanced degree students

“Five years ago, my wife and I attended the annual board of visitors dinner and were seated with a group of six Stanford LLMs,” says international investor Thomas Russo, JD/MBA ’84. “One of them was the head of the largest Chinese corporate law practice, and the group of them could not have been more deeply imbued with interesting perspectives, histories, and backgrounds.” Russo asked the students how they were enjoying sharing their experience studying with the JDs and there was a collective embarrassment. “The final observation was ‘Well, we don’t much because we don’t really see any of them.’ ” The Russos left the dinner wondering how they could help foster more than classroom interaction among the international and American students.

“The view was and still is in most law schools that these are two very separate groups of students and so require different classes and a separate program,” explains Deborah R. Hensler, Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution and associate dean for graduate studies.

At Stanford Law School, that’s all changed.

“We have said that everyone is part of one law school. Our advanced degree students take the same classes as our JD students, and they are taking advantage of courses throughout Stanford’s campus,” says Hensler. “They take 2L and 3L classes with the JDs—and we don’t distinguish among them in terms of course requirements.”

And now, thanks to a student-led 
initiative that is being underwritten by Russo and his wife, Georgina, Stanford Law students in the JD and advanced degree programs are getting to know each other outside of school too.

Launched in 2008 as the International Student Initiative Fund and this year endowed to ensure it lasts and renamed the Russo International Law Student Fund, it supports social gatherings such as the SLS International Film Festival and a JD-LLM Fall Mixer, as well as programs such as the American Society of International Law Annual Conference and a lunchtime series that included “Brazil: Why Silicon Valley is Investing” and “Careers in the Middle East.”

“I operate professionally within the sphere of global affairs,” says Russo. “I felt that encouraging interaction with the international students was an opportunity to enrich the JDs’ experience too.”

“We’re proud to offer a world-class legal education to international students—and we’re equally or perhaps more pleased that we can provide for our American JD students opportunities to learn from the international lawyers on campus and to develop networks with them,” says Hensler.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” says Ranjini Acharya, LLM ’12. “This initiative is fantastic. We’ve heard from other universities that international students tend to be visible but not necessarily integrated.”

For Russo, a partner and portfolio manager at Gardner Russo & Gardner, it made sense that exposure to international perspectives would help JDs in their careers too—and vice versa.

JD students say that the benefit of meeting their international peers goes well beyond forming friendships. More interaction in recent years has led to numerous professional opportunities abroad such as international internships, shared research agendas, and a first-ever SLS trip to an international moot court arbitration competition in Vienna.

“I have two friends who found jobs through contacts they made at our conference,” says Loïc Coutelier, an LLM ’11 who is from Paris but has stayed in the United States to work at a startup in Silicon Valley. Coutelier also served as a coach for the SLS moot court team.

Dimitri Phillips, JD ’13, participated in several Russo-fund sponsored events last year, including a memorable ski trip to Tahoe. “I forged friendships with enough of the international students to be welcomed into their own coteries, cliques, camps,” he says. “And here’s the gist of it: close friendships and meaningful acquaintances. I wasn’t surprised to find I forged fast friendships and the very least of the ones I made was as rewarding as many I’ve made with domestic students I’ve been around more or less every day for the last two years.”

Russo points to another initiative to come out of the fund: the buddy system that pairs international students with JD students. The buddy system not only assists LLMs in their transition, it also helps JDs understand their own country’s legal codes and bureaucracies through the eyes of a recent arrival: what it really takes to get a driver’s license, for example, a credit card, a lease, or a visa. “I think it’s an example of how associations with the LLMs in a very real practical way gave JDs lessons about their own country,” says Russo.

And with these efforts, Stanford Law School is enhancing its reputation globally, with applications at an all-time high for the advanced degree programs.

“The school is much more welcoming to these students, having adopted a strategy that says, ‘You are full citizens of the school,’ ” says Hensler. “Integration of our international students matters. We want all of our students to fully benefit from all that Stanford Law School has to offer.” SL