On behalf of all my fellow LLMs, I would like to tell you how excited we are to be here! It feels great to finally be able to roam the halls of Vanderbilt and Furman, to meet the professors we wrote about in our personal statements, and to experience the spirit of NYU Law firsthand.
Let me briefly introduce you to the LLM Class of 2016: We come from very different backgrounds, but we all came here to live, learn, and marvel. Out of the roughly 3,000 full-time applications, we are the lucky 16 percent representing over 50 nationalities spread across five continents. I am blessed to share my classroom with Chinese, Brazilian, Japanese, French, British, Mexican, Australian, Indian, Chilean, Singaporean, Nigerian, and many more students of diverse origins, more than half of them female. Most of us already have considerable work experience in private law firms and/or government organizations. All of us are very keen on meeting JD students, so don’t hesitate to say hi if you spot one of us on campus.
Having provided the “cold” statistics, I will also summarize for you our first few weeks at NYU Law. Our year commenced with an Introduction to US Law course on August 10. While some of us have had training in American law before, others came to the school as raw recruits. The course provided us with an overview of the US Constitution; elementary features of the legal system; and a focus on different legal topics such as punitive damages, private arbitration, and human rights in the second week. So far, so good for the “learn” part that we will continue (or attempt to continue) throughout the academic year.
As for the “live” part, we’ve definitely had no trouble living it up here in New York City so far. It is futile to try to describe the marvels of this city, and I will wisely refrain from it since it would take up all of the rest of this post. Let me just say that it already feels like we have been friends for a long time—owing largely to the fact that we have managed to find peers among the LLM crowd who share the same exotic hobby/food craving/adventuresome mindset. (Anyone in for some touchdown rugby? Baseball? A Brooklyn backyard party? An air show? Chinese dumplings?)
Last but not least, I will share some of my views on the American legal system (although my knowledge and experience might be somewhat limited so far). I should emphasize that the following statements come from my personal perspective; I do not claim to speak for all of my LLM classmates, even though I have tried to incorporate some of their opinions to the best of my abilities.
After having completed two weeks of the intensive introduction course, there is one question for which I have found no satisfying answer and that keeps bugging me: How on earth do you justify the existence of punitive damages?
Yes, I admit, there are elements of my legal system that I would have a hard time explaining to you. (German property law can drive you nuts. We have an abstraction principle where there are two legally independent contracts for the sale of goods and the transfer of property, one of which can be null and void with the other one still being valid—creating a whole new level of complicated….) Nonetheless, it is easier to come up with a justification for most legal instruments in my jurisdiction than to find the answer to the aforementioned question. Of course I am very open to arguments of reason, logic, and moral concerns, but most of my classmates and I struggled to understand the underlying dogmatic foundation of punitive damages.
Maybe we do not respond well to a “mixed” system of compensation and punishment, since most of us hail from a civil law background. Maybe I will be better able to understand the reasons behind the expression of public condemnation in a civil trial rather than through criminal proceedings when I get to the end of my year.
I guess what threw me off the most was the fact that the prevailing plaintiff gets all (or at least some) of the punitive damages award. This point probably serves perfectly to illustrate the fundamental differences in the way we approach legal theory and concepts such as justice, fairness, and the purpose of the law.
Despite our differences, if there is one thing I learned during our first weeks at NYU Law it is to never doubt the power of respect and genuine interest in one another. We can all contribute wonderful things to this school if we manage to continue to marvel at legal, cultural. and mundane phenomena, and accept them as imperfect or strive to change them if we deem them to be outdated.
And I am just beyond happy and proud to have the privilege of embarking on this journey at NYU Law with a fantastic group of people like the LLM Class of 2016 and the amazing faculty, student body, and other members of the NYU community!