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What is an LLM?
Attorney Blogs | 2007/03/13 21:59

The LL.M. (Master of Laws) is an internationally recognized postgraduate law degree. It is usually obtained by completing a one-year full-time program. The LL.M. is a higher academic degree, comparable to an MBA in business and management. Law students and professionals frequently pursue the LL.M. to gain expertise in a specialized field of law, for example in the area of tax law or international law. Many law firms prefer job candidates with an LL.M. degree because it indicates that a lawyer has acquired advanced, specialized legal training, and is qualified to work in a multinational legal environment.

In most countries, lawyers are not required to hold an LL.M. degree, and many do not choose to obtain one. An LL.M. degree by itself generally does not qualify graduates to practice law. In most cases, LL.M. students must first obtain a professional degree in law, e.g. the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in the United Kingdom or the Juris Doctor (J.D.) in the United States, and pass a bar exam or the equivalent exam in other countries, such as the Zweites Staatsexamen in Germany. While the general curriculum of the LL.B. and J.D. is designed to give students the basic skills and knowledge to become lawyers, law students wishing to specialize in a particular area can continue their studies with an LL.M. program. Some universities also consider students for their LL.M. program who hold degrees in other related areas, or have expertise in a specific area of law.

Graduation requirements for an LL.M. program vary depending on the respective university guidelines. Some programs are research-oriented and require students to write a thesis, while others only offer a number of classes that students must take to complete the course of study. Many LL.M. programs combine both coursework and research. Part-time programs are also available for professionals wishing to complete their LL.M. while working full-time.

Prospective students should be aware that there is no universal definition for the term LL.M. It is used in different ways by institutions around the world. Particularly in the United States and Germany, LL.M. programs are often designed to teach foreign lawyers the basic legal principles of the host country. In this regard, the LL.M. can help lawyers seeking to relocate and practice in another country, or expand their area of practice to multinational issues. The completion of an LL.M. program, however, does not automatically qualify foreign students to take the bar exam in their host country. In the U.S., for example, some states allow foreign lawyers to seek admission to the bar upon completion of an LL.M., while in other states, a J.D. is required.

LL.M. is an abbreviation of the Latin Legum Magister, which means Master of Laws. In Latin, the plural form of a word is abbreviated by repeating the letter. Hence, "LL." is short for "laws." Legum is the possessive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "specific laws", as opposed to the more general concept embodied in the word jus, from which the word juris and the modern English word "justice" are derived.



Lawmakers Call for Gonzales to Resign
Legal Career News | 2007/03/12 16:59

Several high-ranking Democratic senators have called for the resignation of US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the wake of revelations in an official audit that the FBI broke and misused laws in the process of obtaining personal information from telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, and credit bureaus under the terms of the Patriot Act. Prior to Friday's release of the Department of Justice Inspector General's report Gonzales was already under pressure in connection with publicized dismissals of several US Attorneys that may have been politically motivated.

In an interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday:

the Justice Department is different than any other department. In every other department, the Cabinet--chief Cabinet officer is supposed to follow the president's orders, requests without exception. But the Justice Department has a higher responsibility, rule of law and the Constitution. And Attorney General Gonzalez, in his department, has been even more political than his predecessor, Attorney General Ashcroft. Attorney General Gonzalez is a nice man, but he either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution even when the president should not want it to be so. And so this department has been so political that I think, for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzalez should step down....

What we found in--in the Justice Department over and over again is a lack of respect for the rule of law, a lack of respect for balance of powers. There's a view that the executives should be almost without check. And that is so wrong, and that's one of the reasons I think we need at change at the top in the Justice Department.
Speaking on the same program, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and former GOP chairman, acknowledged that "there have been lots of problems," but said that the question of Gonzales' resignation was one "for the president and the attorney general." During a judiciary committee meeting last week, Specter suggested that there could be a new attorney general "sooner rather than later."

Appearing on CNN's Late Edition, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said:
I think Gonzales has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the American people. I think it goes all the way back to the torture memos, when we gave him the benefit of the doubt, straight through to the firing of these U.S. attorneys and until recently insisting that they could, in fact, under a law -- a little-known provision in the law -- allow them to replace attorneys general.

I think it's an abuse of power. And I think he's lost the confidence of the American people. I think he's lost the confidence of many in the United States Congress. And, obviously, it it's president's judgment to say whether he should stay or not, but I think he's lost the confidence of the Congress.

Also speaking on Late Edition, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the Justice Department's handling of the US Attorneys firings was "clumsy," but said that he didn't believe Gonzales would resign over the matter.



China to decrease number of executions
Legal World News | 2007/03/12 14:52

China plans to gradually lessen the number of executions it carries out while still keeping the death penalty, according to a statement released Sunday by China's Supreme People's Court, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Security, and China's lead prosecutor. The statement indicated that China cannot entirely abolish the death penalty, but noted that if the possibility exists that a convicted individual did not commit the crime, then that person should not be executed. The legal groups also condemned confessions through torture and said police must instead gather evidence according to the law.

China, which executes more prisoners than any other country in the world, revised its death penalty laws last year, mandating the Supreme People's Court to review any death sentences handed down. The country has been under pressure to take a closer look at its policies after China's deputy chief prosecutor revealed that almost every wrongful conviction in recent years has been the result of torture and intensive interrogation techniques.



Law firm looting brings prison term
Headline News | 2007/03/12 08:51

A 60-year-old bookkeeper who embezzled more than $1 million from a small, family-owned law firm in downtown Cincinnati will spend the next six years in prison.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Charles J. Kubicki Jr. ordered the sentence this morning for Candace Vail, who pleaded guilty last month to a charge of theft. Kubicki also ordered Vail to re-pay the $1,038,499 she stole from from Goodman & Goodman between Jan. 1, 2001, and Feb. 16, 2006.

Vail’s excuse in a letter to the court? She wasn’t paid enough and often did errands for the attorneys she worked for without extra compensation.

Vail used the money to bankroll her son's landscaping business, according to Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Andy Berghausen.

Court records show Vail filed for bankruptcy last October.

Vail took client checks to Goodman & Goodman from the mail, deposited them into little-used firm accounts and then wrote 1,325 checks to herself and her family. She forged attorney names on another 91 checks she wrote to herself, according to court records.

She even duped the Ohio Supreme Court, which began investigating shortly before she was caught. When the firm's trust account, which by law must be kept by law firms, was overdrawn, the bank alerted the Ohio Supreme Court.

Vail intercepted letters notifying the attorneys about the investigation, forged attorney signatures on documents and told Ohio Supreme Court officials they should deal with her. That investigation has been resolved since the theft was discovered, Goodman said.

The firm realized money was missing on March 8 when one of the firm's attorneys went to the bank himself and discovered several bounced checks. Vail was immediately fired, Goodman said.



Mexico president plans criminal justice overhaul
Legal World News | 2007/03/12 04:16

Mexican President Felipe Calderon proposed changes to the country's constitution Friday in an effort to reform its criminal justice system. Earlier this month, Amnesty International accused Mexico in a report of having a "gravely flawed" criminal justice system in which human rights abuses are perpetuated and criminals are rarely punished. The report cited evidence of arbitrary detentions, torture, fabrication of evidence and unfair trials and claims that the victims are often indigenous Mexicans, the poor, women and children. The latest US Department of State human rights report on Mexico released Monday reported:

Although the government generally respected and promoted human rights at the national level by investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing public officials and members of the security forces, a deeply entrenched culture of impunity and corruption persisted, particularly at the state and local level. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by security forces; kidnappings, including by police; torture; poor and overcrowded prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency in the judicial system; statements coerced through torture permitted as evidence in trials; criminal intimidation of journalists, leading to self-censorship; corruption at all levels of government; domestic violence against women often perpetrated with impunity; criminal violence, including killings against women; trafficking in persons, sometimes allegedly with official involvement; social and economic discrimination against indigenous people; and child labor.

On Friday, Calderon said he plans to replace each state's individual criminal code with a single, nationwide code. He also wants to make it easier to fire corrupt police officers and to transition to trials similar to those in the US. Trials are currently held behind closed doors.



Italians rally for rights for unmarried couples
Legal World News | 2007/03/12 04:14

Thousands of Italians rallied in Rome on Saturday in support of a bill that would give legal status to unmarried gay and heterosexual couples couples. The proposal, which has been harshly criticized by the Italian justice minister and the top Italian bishop, would give unmarried couples combined medical insurance, the right to visit their partner in prisons or hospitals, inheritance rights, and decision-making authority should one partner become sick. Couples would have to live together for nine years before they would be entitled to property rights, but if the legislation is passed, couples would be able to take advantage of the other legal protections immediately.

The Vatican has said that giving unmarried couples rights would threaten traditional families. A "traditional" family is held by the Vatican to be a marital union between a man and a woman.



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