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LL.M. students bring broad range of legal experiences to Penn State

Penn State Law trains international lawyers for the global marketplace. For forty-two years, LL.M students from around the world have come to the Law School to advance their careers by studying with our distinguished faculty. What was first called a master’s of comparative law degree, the master of laws program is a 24-credit, one academic year open to individuals who hold a degree in law from an accredited institution outside of the United States. This year’s LL.M. class has students from Asia, Europe, and South America with a broad range of legal and life experiences. Here are profiles of five of them:  

Rodrigo AlasRodrigo Alas
Rodrigo Alas was working as in-house counsel for AES Corporation in El Salvador when he wanted to further his career and stand out from other lawyers. A graduate of Escuela Superior de Economia y Negocios (i.e. the School of Business and Economics) in El Salvador, Alas completed his legal training in 2007 and worked as a law clerk for the First Penitentiary Court of San Salvador.

He then joined AES Corporation as corporate counsel and assistant ethics compliance officer where he handled an array of contracting matters including power purchase agreements, engineering procurement and construction contracts, and sales of goods. He also obtained experience in civil and administrative litigation and regulatory matters. Alas also met Alberto Imberton, who encouraged him to consider Penn State’s LL.M. program. Imberton earned an LL.M. from Penn State Law in 2001.
“An LL.M. will open doors to me regionally and worldwide,” he said. “It will give me an edge over people who don’t have this degree.” Alas is enthusiastic to build his awareness as a global citizen. “At Penn State I will have classmates from all around the world.”
Alas plans to take the bar exam in the United States. Licensure in the United States would be desirable because the United States is El Salvador’s number one trading partner. He looks forward to taking international law classes and basic U.S. law courses. His dream job would be to work in an international position where he would help improve El Salvador. He hopes his education and professional skills help make El Salvador a better society.
Allan BinnsAllan Binns
For five years, Allan Binns has been working in the Securities and Mergers and Acquisitions areas of two internationally-oriented law firms in the Republic of Panama, first as a paralegal and then as a lawyer. When he was looking for a specialty program that would meet his goals, he decided on Penn State. “First the Penn State name is well-known, but also I can get what I want--an LL.M. focused in M&A—because I am able to tailor the program to my exact needs and will do research within the Center for the Study of Mergers and Acquisitions,” Binns said.
Since he began working in the capital markets, Binns said that he has never wanted to do anything else. “I see myself as a businessman and an adviser. Mergers are like marriages which can be successful or disastrous. Most corporations will go through some sort of merger or acquisition process within their life cycle so I see lots of opportunity,” he said. He plans one day to start his own consulting firm.

Binns considered many options when he looked for an LL.M. program. His criteria included a university with a known name, in the Eastern U.S., affordable, and with a strong focus on M&As. Though he envisions his next year as being very demanding, especially because he is planning to take the New York bar exam next summer, he also believes he can find balance at Penn State with sports and extracurricular activities like taekwondo and mountain biking.

He said he was impressed with the infrastructure at the brand-new law school building. “In fact I called my parents to tell them about it—five high definition screens in a typical classroom. This is probably the most technologically advanced law school in the country.” An additional benefit he mentioned is the vast alumni network, “No matter where you are in the world, you don’t have to go far to find a proud Penn State graduate.”    

Menghan Hu
Menghan Hu
Menghan Hu joined the LL.M. program from Soochow University in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China where she graduated with a degree in law. After passing the bar exam in China, she journeyed to State College where she completed the Summer Institute in Legal English Communication which began in July. “In a short period of time, we gained lots of knowledge of the U.S. legal system,” she said of the program.
Hu explained how she ultimately decided to join the LL.M. Program. “Penn State is a very famous University in the U.S.,” she said. She added that she compared a number of programs through their websites and very much likes the facilities and surrounding area as well as the professors and academics.
Hu said her parents have been very supportive of her decision to become a lawyer, “they are very proud of me.” She has an uncle that is a lawyer and has already had two internships in China, including one in Shanghai, where she has been able to get a taste of practicing law. “Law is logical,” she said. “I like logical things.” She plans to take the New York Bar Exam next summer.

Marina VolkovaMarina Volkova  
Being one of fourteen applicants selected from a pool of more than 650, Marina Volkova considers herself very lucky to be one of three lawyers studying law in the United States as a Muskie Fellow. After graduating with a law degree from Mari State University in Yoshkar-Ola, Russia, Volkova spent four years working as a judge’s assistant in the Federal Commercial Court in Russia.
Unlike the American common law system where court decisions are based on the concept of precedence, Russia’s judicial system is based on the Roman, civil law tradition. However, in recent years many changes have occurred and now many lower courts are now taking into consideration the opinions of the higher courts. As the Russian legal system adopts some features of the American legal system, Volkova said that her studies at Penn State Law will help her contribute to the development of commercial litigation in her native country.

Volkova is especially interested in alternative dispute resolution. “Nowadays, the feature of economically and politically developed country is availability of a wide range of alternative dispute resolution options. In the United States, the alternative justice has been available since mid 60s, while in Russia it is an innovation. New knowledge will let me search for the best ways of the effective implementation of ADR advantages in my country and region,” Volkova said.

Volkova described Penn State Law as “the perfect placement because it corresponds to my interests and it’s a highly reputable university. I know that you have many distinguished professors in many legal fields. I am going to take U.S. Law of Arbitration with Professor Carbonneau and a course on International Law with Russian legal expert Professor William Butler,” she said.

When she returns to Russia, Volkova plans to work at a law firm in the field of dispute resolution. “Intensive economic development and increasing number of interstate commercial relations require effective legal regulation of possible misunderstanding between partners. Therefore, the main goal of Russian lawyers is creating well-functioning and available system of conflict management. Alternative dispute resolution models that are widely used in the United States can be an excellent example for Russian practitioners. I will do my best to extract all useful outputs that can be beneficial to the development of my country, community, and region.”
Baobin WeiBaobin Wei
After earning his LL.M. degree from Hebei University in China and passing the Chinese bar exam, Baobin Wei worked in a Chinese investment company as in-house counsel. He then became a practice lawyer and joined Mornfield Law Firm in Beijing where he has remained for the past five year handling corporate law and commercial arbitration cases.

“In representing my clients, I often times need to know something about the American legal system, so I joined the LL.M. program at Penn State Law in order to gain more knowledge in special fields like American corporations and international business transactions,” Wei said. “I will use what I learn in America in my legal practice in China. For example, I handled a commercial arbitration between a Chinese company and an American company last year. I represented the Chinese company and finally won the arbitration. By this experience, I realized that it is undoubtedly necessary to study the American laws systematically and know the difference between Chinese laws and American laws.”

After deferring admission for a year, Wei decided to pursue his master’s of law degree at Penn State noting three factors that were instrumental in his decision – the faculty, the location, and the course arrangement. “I learned about the safe, livable environment of the Penn State community from my best friend, Chen Yang Xie, who graduated from the LL.M. program in 2009. The faculty is very impressive. Everyone was very nice in reaching out to me, so I thought it was my best choice.”

While Wei said he plans to visit Philadelphia, New York, and DC during his time in the U.S., he has been busy getting a jump on his studies by participating in the Summer Institute in Legal English Communication. “The English communications course is very helpful especially to Asian students who don’t usually have as good as English skills as European students,” Wei said.

“After earning my LL.M. degree from Penn State law, I’d like to go back to China to my legal practice. With the increasingly fast development of economy in China, I am sure there will be a large legal service market there. More and more business transactions and related disputes will arise. China needs the experienced practitioner who knows both Chinese and American laws.” 
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