A tale of two cities: Joint LLM in International Criminal Law
Columbia Law School and Amsterdam Law School offer a joint LLM in International Criminal Law, combining the study of theoretical aspects and foundations of international criminal law with its practical application by offering moot courts, organising meetings with top-practitioners (including ICC judges) and providing opportunities to engage in internships.
The first semester of the joint LLM program begins in September at Amsterdam Law School, providing students with opportunities to meet and interact with internationally renowned practitioners in the field, including prosecutors and judges of the International Criminal Court. Students then spend the second semester of the joint program at Columbia Law School, completing the program as a group in June.
Application requirements for the joint LLM program
The joint LLM is a selective, specialized program with only 8 places on offer for the academic year. Applicants are required to demonstrate an educational background in law, proficiency in English, and are also required to submit a letter of motivation and CV as part of their application.
Aside from academic background and English language proficiency, the following criteria are used by the selection committee board in assessing applications:
A motivation for the programme with demonstrable affinity with research and with the subject matter of the programme
Demonstrable experience in the field of the subject matter
Level of analytic and writing skills
Curiosity, creativity, and an independent mindset
According to Anivesh Bharadwaj, a 2021 graduate of the joint program, research papers, articles, moots, internships, and other forms of experience can be used to demonstrate experience in international criminal law, especially if one is applying to the program straight out of law school.
Should one gain work experience before applying for the joint LLM?
As Anivesh puts it, if one wishes to apply for the joint program, it's important that they have domestic criminal law experience since that's “the only way in which you will be able to get a good grasp of what international criminal law is”. Such experience ensures that students are not left grappling with basic questions about how trials and criminal law operate, which will in turn allow them to effectively participate in the lectures delivered in the course. However, the amount of experience one should gain is subjective and might differ from one individual to the next – for instance Anivesh got around 3 years of experience before applying for the program.
In addition, work experience enables candidates to demonstrate “experience in the field of the subject matter”, one of the selection criteria applied by the selection committee board. Separately, work experience in criminal law in a candidate’s home country might be helpful in compensating for average grades in one’s undergraduate studies.
On the flip side, applying for the program immediately after law school allows one to get early specialization in the field of international criminal law, after which one always has the option to gain relevant domestic criminal law experience.
Pros and cons of choosing the joint program over a regular LLM
A joint program has certain inherent advantages, as it allows one to gain experience, and make use of opportunities from two separate countries with different legal systems. After completing the program, students also have the benefit of a tag from both Amsterdam Law School and Columbia Law School, which has the effect of adding considerable value to one’s profile. In addition, the program offers students the chance to network and interact with students, professors, and practitioners of two different jurisdictions.
However, according to Anivesh, if a student has already decided on a country which they wish to reside or work in, in the future, participating in a joint program and travelling to two different countries may not be the best option.