The Road to Academia

GW LLMs Flock to the Ivory Tower

As a child, Wendy Greene, LLM ’09, was inspired by her parents, both of whom were public school teachers and student activists in Columbia, S.C., during the civil rights movement. “I knew going into law school that I would one day become a law professor,” says the award-winning teacher at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. 

According to Professor Greene, earning an LLM from GW paved the way for her pedagogical journey. In fact, it was after reading GW Law Professor Robert J. Cottrol’s Tulane Law Review article “The Long Lingering Shadow: Law, Liberalism, and Cultures of Racial Hierarchy and Identity in the Americas” that she decided to pursue an LLM to examine the present-day implications of slavery on race relations.

“It was fascinating to see that a law professor was investigating these questions and looking into these issues. It showed me that I could have the opportunity to do the same,” she recalls. She contacted Professor Cottrol directly, and that conversation, coupled with the prospect of working with him, inspired her to enroll at GW.

Professor Cottrol became her thesis adviser, and they continue to remain in touch, particularly since Professor Greene is now an emerging voice on the intersection of race, gender, and the law, as well as a strong advocate for taking a broader view of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “He serves as an adviser and a great mentor,” she says.

Like Professor Greene’s pull toward Professor Cottrol, University of Lucerne Professor Alexander Morawa, LLM ’95, SJD ’99, an Austrian-trained lawyer, wanted to study international human rights under GW Law Professor Thomas Buergenthal, and chose GW over a variety of other schools with that goal in mind. “I never really envisioned myself as a corporate lawyer and always wanted to pursue human right issues academically,” he says. In fact, after Professor Morawa earned his LLM, Professor Buergenthal invited him to serve as a fellow at the International Rule of Law Center while earning an SJD at GW Law.

Now, in addition to teaching, Professor Morawa works with various European and U.N.-related human rights agencies while living in Switzerland with his family during the fall and spring semesters. “GW was great because it always linked students either to a government or an international organization,” he recalls. “You literally had the best practitioners teaching you.” 

That network is another key component of the student experience. “It is the epitome of a well-connected urban university,” he says. “We are able to draw from an incredible group of attorneys as adjunct professors,” adds Professor Robert Brauneis, co-director of GW’s Intellectual Property Law LLM Program. “I don’t know of any school that has anything like our roster. We have judges, attorneys in private practice, and attorneys who work in the highest level of government teaching,” he says.

When Estelle Derclaye, LLM ’98, was looking for an LLM program, the Fulbright Scholar trained in Belgium knew she wanted to specialize in intellectual property, and those connections appealed to her. With its proximity to the key institutions associated with intellectual property, GW was an easy decision. “Overall, the experience was great both as a student learning the law and as an individual living in Washington; I would do it again and would never regret it,” says the current University of Nottingham School of Law professor.

She initially had planned to return to Belgium to practice after earning her LLM but opted for academia instead, accepting a position at her alma mater—the University of Liège in Belgium—as a research assistant for two years. A PhD in London followed, and she ultimately settled in northern England.

Professor Derclaye has remained connected to the law school and returned to campus in 2008 to speak about her book on the protection of legal databases to the students in Professor Brauneis’s class. In particular, she has remained in touch with John (Jay) Thomas, LLM ’94, of Georgetown University Law Center, who was her professor at GW.

Interested in improving his doctrinal knowledge, Professor Thomas enrolled in GW’s evening LLM program while pursuing a full-time clerkship with a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. After graduation, he completed further studies at the Institute of Intellectual Property in Tokyo and at the Max Planck Institute in Munich. In 1997, after 16 months abroad, he returned to Washington to work as a large firm associate and started teaching patent law at GW as an adjunct. 

“I decided I liked teaching because it is the only time you can get anyone to listen to you,” Professor Thomas jokes. “I’ve done it all at GW: I was a student, an adjunct, and a full-time member of the faculty,” he recalls, noting that his experience at GW influenced his work and teaching style. “My hero and model in the classroom is [GW Law Professor] Roger Schechter,” with whom he has co-authored various books. “He is the most fabulous classroom facilitator I have ever known.” 

It is that level of inspiration that draws students with various backgrounds from across the world to Foggy Bottom. “I have formed lifelong friendships with LLM grads in Brazil, China, Germany, and Japan, among other countries,” notes Professor Brauneis. “It gives us an international reach, and for me, an absolutely huge enrichment of my intellectual life.” 

That enrichment is what attracted Southwestern Law School Professor Robert Lind, JD ’79, LLM ’83, to GW. While pursuing an LLM at GW Law, the late Professor David E. Seidelson offered him a position as a teaching fellow in a legal research and writing class, which also required teaching professional responsibility. “It was an eye-opening experience, and led me to go into a tenure-track position immediately after graduating,” he recalls. Inspired by the late Professor C. Thomas Dienes, his thesis adviser and future co-author of the treatise Newsgathering and the Law, he pursued coursework in the First Amendment, with a focus on media and entertainment.

He arrived at Southwestern directly after completing his LLM coursework and took the California bar to begin establishing a reputation in the entertainment industry. Since then, he has been involved in a variety of high-profile cases, including as a copyright expert for Mattel in the Bratz case, an expert witness for the Black Eyed Peas in a copyright infringement case, and an expert witness for Turner Entertainment in a case associated with home video rights for Citizen Kane.

Opportunities to experience Washington from the inside are a draw for many prospective students, but the school’s reputation is a critical attraction. Katherine White, LLM ’96, now professor of law at Wayne State University, recalls wanting to get an LLM at the top-ranked program in the country so she decided on GW. “Back then, I was in my last year of active duty for the U.S. Army working as the intellectual property counsel for the Corps of Engineers. I decided to go back to school in the evening and get a master of laws in intellectual property law.

“Getting my LLM completely changed my career path,” she says. “Unlike when I was getting my JD, I was more comfortable talking with professors about fascinating legal issues that I had never before reflected upon and began to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in academia,” she recalls, highlighting that she took copyright law with the nation’s register of copyrights and also started clerking for the Hon. Randall R. Rader, JD ’78, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in her second year. “What I learned at GW in my courses complemented my work as a judicial law clerk. There was synergy there,” says the lieutenant colonel, who teaches in the summers as an instructor of law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Like Professor White, Pacific McGeorge School of Law Professor Michael Mireles, LLM ’04, opted for a GW LLM in search of a great educational experience and to learn more about intellectual property law. “I wanted to develop a practice at a law firm. It was not until I taught IP classes as an adjunct at Pacific McGeorge School of Law that I seriously considered academia,” he says. 

In fact, Professor Mireles was so impressed by his experience at GW that three of his former students at the University of Denver enrolled in the LLM program based on his recommendation. “One is a judge in the patent office, another is counsel at the Network Advertising Initiative, and the third is senior counsel with the Entertainment Software Association,” he reports.

At GW, he focused his research on biotechnology and patents. “I met a lot of really interesting fellow LLM students, including international students, some of whom are still good friends,” he says. “There are not a lot of places that are better than D.C. to study IP, and I received very helpful advice from Professors Adelman, Brauneis, Nunziato, Schechter, and Thomas, among others.” 

Professor White echoes that sentiment with respect to the bridge between the law school and the city. “[GW Law adjunct faculty member] Harold Wegner was extremely generous in introducing me to all of the local authorities instrumental in shaping U.S. patent law at that time. Professor Tom Morgan, my thesis adviser, was a great mentor as well.”

That theme of gratitude resonates throughout the population of LLM alumni who are now teaching. “I owe a lot to GW. All of the real IP courses I took were at GW, and the school gave me a chance in my profession,” says Professor Thomas. “I would not be a law professor today had it not been for my professor at Tulane, Raymond Diamond, introducing me to Professor Cottrol’s work and for what I received at GW,” Professor Greene says. And, Professor Lind notes, “What sealed the deal with my being hired by Southwestern was a personal phone call from then GW Law Dean Jerry Barron [himself the recipient of a GW LLM] to the dean at Southwestern.”

The law school takes pride in maintaining that personal touch. In addition to managing a variety of social media groups, including an IP law-focused LinkedIn group with more than 1,200 members, individual faculty members travel to different parts of the world and often meet with alumni. The school also hosts receptions at the annual meetings of professional associations such as the American Intellectual Property Law Association, International Trademark Association, and National Bar Association, among others. “The network is huge and broad,” Professor Greene says. “I always run across a GW alum in some capacity, which has been extremely helpful in terms of maintaining connections.”

— by Ari Kaplan