Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bradley B. Letts recently completed an article called, “The Cherokee Tribal Court: Its Origins and its Place in the American Judicial System.” It was a dissertation at the core of an LLM he earned through a collaboration between Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law and Nottingham Law School in the United Kingdom.
The LLM in legal practice gives Campbell Law students as well as judges and potentially attorneys a chance to focus heavily on one legal issue. Eighteen law students and eight judges have started the program in its first year and the first four – three students and one judge – are set to graduate with their LLMs on May 10. Nottingham Law Dean Janine Griffiths-Baker will hood the LLM graduates at the ceremony at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, according to Campbell Law Dean J. Rich Leonard. “The first results have been spectacular,” said Leonard. “All of our students have earned high marks and praise from the Nottingham faculty.”
“They’ve all written on pressing issues related to the North Carolina judiciary on subjects such as the appointment of judges versus the election of judges, how we deal with special needs like drug rehabilitation, special needs courts, mental health courts and defining how the term ‘parent’ under the new federal same-sex laws applies in North Carolina,” said Professor Elizabeth Berenguer, director of Campbell Law’s Upper Level Legal Writing Program.
“They get to define the scope of their specialty, so they are not getting a generalized LLM in say, tax law, but they are focusing on something that is relevant to them personally as a judge and the judiciary as a whole.”
THINK ABOUT LEGAL ISSUES
Nottingham Law offers enrolled students the ability to utilize Nottingham’s robust online resources and travel abroad to meet face-to-face with faculty and fellow students.
Students make a two-day trip to Nottingham Law School to meet with their mentors and present their dissertation topics. They then work remotely with their mentors during the two years it takes to complete the dissertation and earn their LLM degree.
“This program gives them the incentive to really carve out some time to think about legal issues and then write an article that will hopefully guide the courts and the legislature and other entities in how to most effectively resolve current problems,” said Berenguer.
“The benefit to our judges is that the LLM can be tailored to a topic of their choice and interest, an option not readily available in other U.S. LL.M programs. They work individually on their dissertations under the guidance of a mentor, so they each move at their own pace.”
THE MENTOR OF NOTTINGHAM
“For somebody who has never written a work like this, simply not knowing how even to begin the process, the program was very beneficial for me,” said Judge Letts. “My mentor at Nottingham was extremely helpful and important as my editor; having a person to review what I did critically, ask questions, help organize, cut areas that needed to be cut and flesh out areas that needed to be fleshed out.”
“There had been a law review article done about the Cherokee legal history in the early 1980’s, and I had always wanted to update that. When the LLM opportunity came along I immediately knew what my topic was going to be,” said the judge.
Letts serves in the 30B Judicial District of the Eighth Division of the Superior Court, serving Haywood and Jackson counties in North Carolina.
“We spent the past 25 years involved in working with legal issues that involved the tribes, jurisdictional issues, etc. so I had a lot of information and was able to jump right in.”
Judge Letts, who is retiring from the bench, would like to use his LLM dissertation on Cherokee tribal law as the springboard for a book. “I hope it will be a source for folks to use in the future but also identify some issues that have not been discussed in a lot of detail in the past,” said Judge Letts.