A Badger on (Almost) Every Continent

An illustrative image of a world map in a rainbow watercolor style.

UW Law’s graduate programs are a destination for students from a growing number of countries.

Roberto Cordova ’20 worked as a litigator in Monterrey, Mexico, before he landed a job with the Consulate of Mexico’s Milwaukee office. He spent the next few years advocating for the rights of Mexican nationals in the Wisconsin prison system, but he missed practicing law.

Then he heard about the Master of Laws (LL.M.) program at University of Wisconsin Law School. Soon after, he moved to Madison for a year to learn about how the American legal system differs from his native Mexico.

“It felt really inclusive that as a foreign attorney I would be exposed to that experience of sitting in the classic American classroom, studying with the J.D.s who grew up in the U.S. and are immersed in the system already,” said Cordova, who now works for a Milwaukee firm focused on immigration law. “It was a great experience to have multicultural discussions about laws and principles of law and how they’re different from country to country.”

A headshot photo of Rebecca Scheller. She smiles while looking at the camera, wearing a gold necklace, black blazer over a light blue top, against a stone background.
Rebecca Scheller

Cordova is one of hundreds of international students, from Australia to Zimbabwe, who have come to the Law School for graduate studies over the decades. UW Law’s graduate programs typically draw between 25-50 students a year.

“Given our increasingly globalized society and world, particularly in law, it’s critical that we have these diverse perspectives in the classroom,” said Rebecca Scheller ’07, associate dean for admissions and financial aid. “These different perspectives further enrich the overall experience for all students, as well as our faculty and staff.”

The course-based LL.M. program, which is UW Law’s largest graduate program, is a 24-credit program for graduates of international law schools. It gives students an overview of the American legal system and may help them meet the requirements to take the bar exam in several states, including Wisconsin. The Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) prepares law school graduates — from the U.S. or other countries — for a career as a legal scholar.

“It was a great experience to have multicultural discussions about laws and principles of law and how they’re different from country to country.” — Roberto Cordova, ’20

For some like Cordova, a graduate degree from UW Law is an essential ticket to practicing law in the U.S. But most take their American legal training back to their home countries, either to practice international law or to become law school faculty themselves.

“The main drivers of enrollment early on were more focused on people in academia,” said Jason Smith, the Law School’s assistant dean of graduate programs. “We still have that as a subset of the program, but over the last 25 years or so, it has become much more focused on people who are planning to be practitioners. They’re planning to work at internation­al law firms doing corporate work, such as mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property compliance, international trade and other areas.”

Headshot photo of Joseph Thome wearing sunglasses and a white shirt while smiling at the camera. He is standing in front of a tree with draped leaves.
Joseph Thome

Taking the Wisconsin Idea Global

LL.M. programs have proliferated over the past 10 to 15 years, but UW Law has a long and rich history of offering graduate degrees since 1934. While the LL.M. program’s name changed a few times over the years and the program shifted its administrative home from the UW Graduate School to the Law School in 2008, one thing remained the same: an international appetite for a UW legal education.

The graduate programs have also been shaped by UW Law faculty over the decades.

“Wisconsin has a long history of law and devel­opment scholars and faculty who are particularly internationally focused,” Smith noted.

Professor Emeritus Joseph Thome specialized in legal issues in Latin America and Africa, and during his tenure, the program educated judges and attorneys from Chile, Peru and other South American countries. Then in 1990, Charles Irish, Volkman-Bascom Professor of Law (emeritus) and an expert in international trade policies and tax reform, founded the East Asian Legal Studies Center. As Irish forged new partnerships and raised UW Law’s profile in that region, the graduate programs grew from a handful of students to 30-35 students a year, primarily from East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Charles Irish sits at a table on a stage. The table has flowers on top, and he speaks into a microphone. He is bald with white hair and a white beard, wearing glasses.
Charles Irish

“Professor Irish’s insight strengthened and expanded the graduate programs at the Law School, building on the foundation that Professor Thome had established earlier,” said Susan (Schulak) Katcher ’90, who was then associate director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center. “The Law School was fortunate to have Professor Irish, not only as a formidable tax professor but also for the multitude of positive contributions he made to the Law School, in support of its graduate programs, students and faculty and staff, as well as contributing to the Law School’s growing reputation in international legal education.”

In 2010, UW Law launched the Executive Master’s Program with partner universities in China, Thailand and Japan. That program brings University of Wiscon­sin faculty to partner universities to teach accelerated courses, and participating students do the rest of their coursework in Madison.

“UW–Madison is well known and highly regarded throughout the world,” Irish noted. “Many people in Wisconsin were surprised to learn that the Financial Times’ annual publication of the best universities in the world put Wisconsin in the top 20, and that reputation made persuading parents to send their children to Wisconsin or encouraging foreign institu­tions to partner with us an easy sell.”

Headshot photo of John Ohnesorge, smiling at the camera and wearing a dark charcoal suit jacket over a plum shirt with a patterned dark tie.
John Ohnesorge

Carrying on the Legacy

John Ohnesorge, George Young-Bascom Professor of Law and director for the East Asian Legal Studies Center, continues to build on that proud tradition. Ohnesorge is the senior advisor to the graduate programs, a position he’s particularly well-suited for because he has LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees himself.

“Part of my mission is to have a globally relevant law school where J.D.s can come and learn about the rest of the world and make connections,” said Ohnesorge, who previously practiced corporate law in Korea. “And without the graduate programs, it’d be impossible to do that.”

Last year, Ohnesorge returned to South Korea as a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar. In addition to teach­ing in the spring and fall semesters, he researched Korea as a case study of democratization and the role of law in the region. He also presented his research at several institutions in Taiwan and Hong Kong and visited Vietnam and Japan for relationship-building with Law School contacts.

For UW Law, those types of faculty connections have always been the most powerful recruiting tool, and it’s a more personalized approach than the aggressive marketing campaigns some other law schools use to promote their graduate programs.

“Professor Ohnesorge has many strong and valuable connections across Asia, which are instru­mental in encouraging collaboration and student and scholar mobility between UW Law School and schools in Korea, for example,” explained Scheller.

S.J.D. alumni help with recruitment, too.

“They’re very important for feeding the pipeline of LL.M. students because we have this network of professors at universities throughout the world, especially in Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and China,” Ohnesorge said.

Ohnesorge is just one of the stellar faculty at UW Law with an international focus. The list includes Heinz Klug, the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and an expert on South Africa; Asifa Quraishi-Landes, a professor of law who specializes in comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law; Alexandra Huneeus, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law and director of the Center for Law, Society and Justice who focuses on international law and human rights in Latin America; Sumudu Atapattu, a teaching professor and director of the Global Legal Studies Center; Mitra Sharafi, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law and a legal historian of modern South Asia; Jason Yackee, Foley & Lardner-Bascom Professor of Law, whose research includes international investment law and interna­tional economic relations; Mark Sidel, Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs, whose research and writing focus on the nonprofit sector and philanthropy (with a focus on Asia and the United States), modern secessionary movements, and constitutional law in China and Vietnam; and Kathryn Hendley, Theodore W. Brazeau Professor of Law, whose research focuses on legal and economic reform in the former Soviet Union.


Charles Irish and John Ohnesorge sit at a table in front of a bookshelf. Charles is bald with white hair and white beard and wears a black sweater, while John wears an olive colored suit jacket over a white shirt with yellow tie.
Charles Irish (left) and John Ohnesorge in 2006.

Expanding the Map

Over the past decade, the geographic diversity of UW Law’s graduate programs has grown even more. While LL.M. admissions nationwide dipped in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as international students chose to stay closer to home, interest is beginning to tick up again. In 2023, UW Law’s admissions team visited 15 countries to recruit new students and connect with alumni. Dean Dan Tokaji, the Fred W. & Vi Miller Dean and professor of law, joined Ohnesorge, Smith and Scheller on a trip to South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

Scheller, who is used to working primarily with students from the U.S., was delighted to discover the robust and tightly linked alumni networks abroad.

“When I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, I was blown away at the enthusiasm and the loyalty and the love that many of these alumni have for the Law School and the university and Bucky Badger more broadly,” she said. “The power of the University of Wisconsin brand is quite remarkable. It goes beyond Madison, beyond the Midwest, beyond the U.S. From Seoul to Taipei to Bangkok, the sense of family that I feel with our J.D. alumni felt just as strong among our international students who completed the LL.M. and S.J.D. programs.”

On recent trips abroad, the admissions team highlighted UW’s Visiting International Student Program (VISP) Law thematic track.

“We now have an option for undergraduates at foreign universities to come in as undergrads to take courses that they can then transfer to their bachelor’s degree back home, and then receive credit for those courses toward their LL.M. if they decide to come back later for our LL.M. degree,” Smith explained.

UW Law is one of only a handful of law schools in the nation to offer an option like VISP. The Law School is also working on new agreements with partner universi­ties and institutions in Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uzbekistan.

Jason Smith and Monique Lu stand together, smiling, both wearing a shade of blue.
Jason Smith (left) and Monique Lu.

Growing Careers and Connections

The LL.M. curriculum is flexible. In addition to two required courses, Introduction to American Law and Legal Sources, students choose courses from the regular J.D. curriculum to explore their interests. It’s a marked contrast from some other law schools, where LL.M. students might take all of their classes with only fellow LL.M. classmates. Graduate students also meet for weekly discussion groups to explore American law concepts more in depth.

The program was a transformative experience for Daniela Fachiano Nakano ’20, who began her law career in her native Brazil.

While in Madison, she studied international and human rights law, participated in the Immigrant Justice Clinic and made lasting friends in the Indige­nous Law Students Association.

“The LL.M. supported me to build abilities in many aspects of life — not only academically, but as a human being. And that meant the most,” she said. “When you’re outside your comfort zone, everything is put into perspective.”

UW Law’s approach was different from her educa­tion in Brazil, and she learned how to communicate in a simple and effective way instead of relying on overly complicated terms. Today, she puts those lessons to use as an environmental and Indigenous rights lawyer working with the Yanomami people in the Brazilian Amazon. She eventually hopes to become a law professor after gaining more experience in the field.

“The LL.M. has just opened a whirlwind of opportunities here in the United States.” — Roberto Cordova ’20

For Cordova, the LL.M. degree led to new oppor­tunities in Wisconsin. After passing the Wisconsin Bar, he worked in eviction defense for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee before moving to Oasis Legal Group, where he defends immigrants who are facing deportation and seeking asylum.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to do what I love, helping people,” he said. “The LL.M. has just opened a whirlwind of opportunities here in the United States. I’ve been able to learn a lot and advance my career, and it comes with a lot of satisfaction to be able to say that now I can defend people in the country where I live and help people to try to make their lives a little bit better.”

Even after graduation, Cordova stayed in touch with the Graduate Programs Office, which Smith runs alongside Monique Lu, assistant director of graduate programs. The office helped him navigate various aspects of his time on campus.

“They were really instrumental,” he said.

And just as valuable as the degree he earned were the friendships he made. He recently traveled to Chile for the wedding of a UW Law friend.

“It changes your life,” he said.

A view of multiple country flags from below.

UW Law’s graduate students hail from 50 countries: Albania, Algeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.


By Nicole Sweeney Etter