Fluent in English, French and Arabic, Rony Yaacoub hopes to return to his native Lebanon to practice international transactional law after earning his LL.M. at Vanderbilt in May 2014. Fellow LL.M. student Maximillian Zahn also speaks three languages—English, French and German—and plans to pursue a career in international transactional practice in his home country, Germany. Yaacoub graduated first in his law class at Lebanese University, and Zahn in the top 10 percent of his law class at Würzburg University.
During 2013–14, Yaacoub and Zahn are studying law at Vanderbilt as Fulbright Scholars. After winning the Fulbright competition in their native countries, both chose Vanderbilt’s LL.M. program because of its top ranking, its small size (approximately 50 students each year), the strength of its corporate law faculty, and the fact that LL.M. students are integrated into J.D. classes. The LL.M. program allows foreign attorneys to earn a master’s degree in one year.
The idea of taking classes with American J.D. students was particularly attractive to Yaacoub. “You get to meet all of the cultures of the world in one place here, which is much better than taking law classes only with other internationals,” he said. Yaacoub had traveled to other Middle Eastern countries, but his 24-hour-long trip to Nashville was his first overseas. He is Vanderbilt’s first LL.M. student from Lebanon. “I would never have been able to come without the Fulbright program,” he said. “It enables students like me to study here.” Yaacoub’s fall courses included Contracts, Corporations, Corporate Governance and Control, and Accounting, and he is relishing the opportunity to learn about corporate transactions from a common law perspective. “Lebanon was under the French mandate, so our legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code,” he explained. “But multinational corporations work in English, and most international contracts are written in English.”
Yaacoub is eager to return to Lebanon and engage in a legal practice that facilitates the entry of new businesses and employers. “If I help big corporations expand into Lebanon, where they will be employing people, I play a role in helping our society,” he said. “I believe corporations can play a great role here and have a positive impact through their activities in the community.”
Zahn, a member of the German American Lawyer Association, is interested in practicing mergers and acquisitions and bankruptcy law. His first law classes at Vanderbilt were a culture shock, he admitted. “You have to go to class! You have to read your assignments! And you are called on—you can’t avoid it! But the classes are incredibly good,” he added. “I’ve never had a class like my Contracts class with Professor [Tracey] George—she is incredibly good at conveying concepts and information. Professor [Randall] Thomas’s class offers a great overview of Corporations Law. And Professor [Bob] Reder’s class in public negotiated M&A transactions is the perfect practical approach.”
In addition to earning his LL.M., Zahn is pursuing a Ph.D. in law at Würzburg University. He hopes to spend next summer completing research for his dissertation before returning to Germany, where he will pursue a legal clerkship before practicing law. Outside of class, he and fellow German LL.M. student Aurel Hille are enjoying Nashville’s wide variety of music venues, cruising to clubs and concerts and exploring what Zahn describes as “Nashville’s distinct culinary scene” in a big, green 1998 Buick LeSabre they purchased after scouting several used car lots. “It looks like a gangster car,” Zahn grinned.