Karen Werner ’17 LL.M.
After seven years working for two law firms with many international clients in her native Chile, Karen Werner ’17 LL.M. decided to pursue a master of laws degree in the United States. She wanted to hone her arbitration and dispute resolution skills, and, at the urging of one of her bosses, Cristóbal Jimeno ’98 LL.M., she applied to Columbia Law School.
Initially, Werner found the American pedagogical approach, specifically the Socratic method, a bit “intimidating,” but she quickly adapted and found she relished her immersion into the U.S. legal system. Like many LL.M. students, she took a course in U.S. constitutional law. “It was an amazing experience to have while the presidential election process was happening,” says Werner, who invited classmates to a party at her apartment to watch the returns.
Learning about the differences between the U.S. and Chilean legal systems was eye-opening—Werner was surprised by the leeway courts have in the U.S. “Judges here have to take into account precedents,” she observes. “It’s not about learning codes, but learning how to interpret them. As a civil systems lawyer, I am looking for certainty, and there is no certainty here.”
One of the highlights of her Law School experience was attending the Covington Academy on International Arbitration, co-hosted by Columbia Law School’s Center for International Commercial and Investment Arbitration. “We spent three days with partners at Covington & Burling who taught us about interviewing clients, managing witnesses, cross examinations, and closing statements,” she says. “And we had a moot arbitration with the partners as members of the tribunal.”
Werner was never homesick, because her husband, Nicolás Cañas ’17 LL.M., came with her to Columbia. An in-house counsel for an international construction company based in Chile, Cañas’s specialty is infrastructure and public law. He pursued the Law School’s LL.M. degree to develop his expertise in transactional law. “This was our joint dream,” Werner says.
Werner, who plans to stay in New York for at least six months after graduation to work as an associate at Covington, credits Columbia with teaching her to think “more analytically and rigorously,” and she is grateful that the LL.M. Program gave her the freedom to individualize her course of study. “It’s a chance to follow your own path,” she says.
She has such deep affection for the Law School that she served as a Class Gift co-chair. “I get to reach out to classmates and convince them to give something back,” Werner says. “It’s a nice way to be part of the community.”