LL.M. Student Reflects on Exchange Program

The following story originally appeared on the International Jurist website.

As the 2023-24 academic year ends, LL.M. students across the United States are concluding their programs with graduation ceremonies, celebrating their achievements with friends and family, preparing for state bar exams, and gearing up for post-LL.M. positions in the U.S. and around the world. Each year, some LL.M. graduates can trace their inspiration for their LL.M. studies to participating in exchange programs.

portrait of Jack Hennessy
Jack Hennessy LL.M. ’24

At Texas Law, 20% of the 2024 graduating LL.M. class were former exchange students, according to Professor Carly Toepke, assistant director of Graduate and International Programs. Included in that group is Jack Hennessy ’24, who first attended Texas Law in spring 2022 as an exchange student from the University of Limerick in Ireland. He decided to return to the U.S. and join Texas Law for a full degree, specializing in the Business Law Concentration.

The Exchange Semester

Immediately before Hennessy’s exchange semester at Texas Law, he interned at A&L Goodbody, a law firm in Ireland. His plan was to become a qualified solicitor in Ireland, a position he was well-qualified for based on his experience with the law firm’s corporate law group. However, Hennessy also wanted to become a qualified lawyer in the United States. Hennessy considers being an exchange student at Texas Law “an unparalleled opportunity to study law in the United States at one of its finest institutions.”

Hennessy looks back fondly on his exchange program. The highlight of his academic experience was “exploring a fascinating aspect of American law, capital punishment, and participating in the Capital Punishment Clinic at Texas Law,” he says. As part of that experience, Hennessy visited death row in East Texas and assisted in post-conviction juror interviews in West Texas.

Hennessy’s academic experience was one part of a larger commitment to exchange program students at Texas Law. Toepke explains that the law school’s goal is to “create a welcoming experience that enables international students to take part in all the experiences Texas Law and Austin have to offer,” she says.

With exchange students joining from 30-plus law schools each year, Toepke and her colleagues focus a lot of attention on the community between J.D., LL.M., and exchange students. Toepke says that “the exchange experience is a glimpse into what an LL.M. would be—and that glimpse is something that seems very exciting.”

The LL.M. Return

Hennessy knew he wanted to return to the U.S. for an LL.M. degree. He also knew exactly where he wanted to study.

“Texas Law was the only LL.M. program I applied to,” he notes, highlighting his focus on working in Texas after graduation and his positive experience in Texas Law’s “tight-knit community” during his exchange program.

Returning to your exchange school for an LL.M. degree has considerable advantages.

“Returning after my previous exchange, I felt at home because of all the connections I had made,” notes Hennessy.

Returning after my previous exchange, I felt at home because of all the connections I had made.”

Jack Hennessy LL.M. ’24

Rather than starting from scratch, Hennessy had a built-in network of former professors and old colleagues from his exchange program. His familiarity with the U.S. legal education system meant that the Socratic method’s “growing pains were minimized” on his return.

Returning exchange students have a comfort and familiarity with their law school that benefits the wider LL.M. class. This also helps turbocharge connections and opportunities for others.

Toepke says Hennessy “was elected as the LL.M. Student Bar Association representative, where he continued to make a positive impact for LL.M. students and across the student body.” His familiarity with professors, students, and the culture at Texas Law also played a positive role in helping “create a spirit of inclusivity,” including by “building bridges between the LL.M. and J.D. classes that will outlast his year as a student and will open doors of opportunity to all future LL.M. cohorts.”

LL.B. Student Advice

Toepke offers three pieces of advice for LL.B. students thinking about following in Hennessy’s footsteps:

  1. Take the exchange experience seriously and balance the academic side with the fun side.
  2. Prepare for the transition to the U.S. in the months before you arrive.
  3. Get involved in networking and participate in activities.

Given Texas Law’s successful global exchange programs and track record for exchange participants in both its LL.M. program and at other law schools, that is great advice.

At LL.M. Admitted Students Day, Hennessy recalls Dean Fielder, the assistant dean for Graduate and International Programs, telling the group, “Texas Law changed my life.”

Hennessy concludes by noting that being an exchange student in the U.S. dramatically changed his own life for the better. His advice for others looking to follow in his footsteps “would be to act on an opportunity to study law in the U.S. if it is feasible because it might just change yours, too.”

Speaking of changes, Hennessy’s exchange experience opened a new world of opportunities that far outlasted his spring 2022 semester at Texas Law. In December 2023, he accepted an associate position with the corporate team at the Baker Botts office in Houston beginning in the fall of 2024. He’s currently studying for the July 2024 Texas Bar exam in Houston.

LLM Class of 2024
L.LM. Class of 2024
Category: Alumni News, Student Life