Polish LL.M. Alum Wins Graduation Award

Krzysztof Kolakowski

A native of Poland, LL.M. graduate Krzysztof Kolakowski enjoyed his UVA Law experience so much, he has applied for a transfer to the J.D. program, he said. Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Kolakowski

June 9, 2020

Krzysztof Kolakowski received the University of Virginia School of Law’s 2020 LL.M. Graduation Award, which has recognized an outstanding LL.M. student each year since 2017.

A faculty committee selects the recipient of the honor, which comes with recognition at graduation as well as a monetary award.

Virginia’s Graduate Studies Program provides an American legal education to lawyers who have obtained their first law degree in their home countries. By maintaining a small and highly selective program of about 50 students, the Law School ensures a supportive atmosphere. LL.M. candidates take classes alongside J.D. students, allowing participants to fully engage in the community and plan their own coursework.

UVA Law talked to Kolakowski recently about why he pursued an LL.M. degree and the benefits of studying in Charlottesville.

Where did you study law previously?

I studied law in the capital of Poland at the University of Warsaw. Similar to the University of Virginia, my first alma mater is a school with strong traditions and a great intellectual background, and both universities are almost the same age. The University of Warsaw was founded only three years earlier than UVA, in 1816.

What kinds of professional legal experiences did you have before coming to work on your LL.M.?

Before coming to the U.S., I worked for several years in law firms in Warsaw and, later, as an in-house lawyer for an international logistics company. I passed my bar exam in 2011, and since then, I’ve specialized mostly in business-oriented areas of law, such as transactions, corporations, and mergers and acquisitions. Besides that, I provided pro bono legal services for Amnesty International Poland, and I supported the Polish Association of Anti-Discriminatory Law.

Why did you decide to pursue an LL.M. degree?

I was considering pursuing an LL.M. degree for several years, but I was always either too busy or the timing was just not right. In 2018, I participated in a summer program in Boston for foreign lawyers, and after that I finally decided to take the plunge. I think the LL.M. is an excellent program for foreign-educated lawyers because it gives an intensive and comprehensive introduction to the American legal system. It is also a great way to develop your legal career and take it to the next level. In the end, I was fortunate to receive an offer to pursue my LL.M. here, at UVA Law — not only one of the top law schools in the U.S. but also a unique community of intelligent and compassionate people. 

What was your focus while at UVA?

I was quite active during this year. On the academic side, I focused mainly on the intersection of law and business, taking courses like Contracts and Bankruptcy, as well a seminar, Advanced Topics in Law and Business. On the other hand, as an advocate in Poland and a fan of procedure, I could not resist taking Civil Procedure.

But UVA Law is not only about law classes. UVA Law is also a diverse and accepting community, and I really wanted to be an active member of this community. I had the honor to serve as vice president of the Graduate Law Students Association and to serve as a board member and LL.M. representative in the Lambda Law Alliance. Finally, together with a group of great people, I also worked on the organization of the ELE(Q)T conference — dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ political candidates — held just before spring break.

Now that you’ve graduated, what’s next?

This year was definitely very inspirational for me. I decided to continue studying law in the United States. In practical terms, I have chosen to apply for a transfer to the J.D. program. Together with my husband, who is originally from Virginia, and our lovely/crazy dog, Kaiser, we decided to shift our lives from Europe to the U.S.

It may sound like the Oscars ceremony, but I really would like to say a big thank you to all the professors, school officials and the entire administration of the Law School, in particular our office of Graduate Studies, for all their support and hard work. Also, congratulations and big hugs to all of the Class of 2020 graduates as well as to all continuing students. I feel very proud that I am a part of this family! I also would like to say thank you to the most important person in my life and my biggest support, Michael, my husband.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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