Duke Law's Summer Institute on Law, Language, & Culture

The Summer Institute on Law, Language, & Culture (SILLC) is an intensive 4-week preparatory course for students interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the study and practice of law in the U.S. For many students, this means getting a “preview” of the LLM experience in the United States. Other students enroll in SILLC as a standalone course to boost their legal and language skills. The program provides participants with an overview of common law doctrines, U.S. legal research and writing, legal vocabulary, and U.S. legal system fundamentals.

Through lectures, visits to local courts, and large- as well as small-group practice, students learn important skills such as briefing a case, structuring a legal argument, and using proper citation. Participants put their newfound knowledge of the U.S. legal system to use by arguing in a formal moot court exercise and by creating and delivering a final presentation comparing U.S. law to the law of the student’s home country.

Because of its small size (approximately 30 students), SILLC also provides an excellent opportunity for students to get to know each other well, create lifelong friendships, and expand their professional network.

SILLC teaching team and participants in summer 2023

Feedback from participants confirms the educational and inspirational value of SILLC. Asked to evaluate the program, one student wrote. “SILLC was a really valuable experience which I could not get through articles and videos.” Another wrote that “the interaction among participants is unbelievable. I didn’t expect this part but it indeed made the SILLC program unique and special.” Many students expressed appreciation for the collegial and supportive environment that is a hallmark of the Institute. One student’s words captured the feel of the Institute perfectly: “It’s hard to find an environment where you’re not afraid of making a mistake, and I think Duke’s SILLC program did an exceptional job at it. From the professors, to the administrators, to the TAs, you couldn’t pick a better team.”

SILLC generally takes place from the third week of July through the first week of August on Duke University’s campus. Specific dates for the coming program are published on the SILLC website in the fall.

What can you do in SILLC?

  • Gain confidence with English
  • Learn the secrets of U.S. business and law school culture
  • Learn how U.S. law classes operate and how to succeed
  • Understand the foundational areas of U.S. law
  • Develop U.S.-specific legal skills
  • Get up to speed on current U.S. legal issues
  • Form a supportive learning cohort to carry through the year
  • Experience a “soft landing” at Duke and in Durham

What do we do every day?

  • Small group discussions
  • Large group sessions: Lectures and discussion; Activities – mock trial, negotiation, appellate argument; Presentations
  • Writing skills: Writing workshops and written assignments
  • Individual meetings with instructors and teaching assistants: Field trips; Courts in session; Social outings
  • Lunch as a group

Meet the Faculty

Marily Nixon

Senior Lecturing Fellow Marily Nixon directs the Summer Institute on Law, Language & Culture. Prior to joining the Institute faculty, Professor Nixon practiced law for more than 20 years with large corporate law firms, local government, and environmental NGOs, and spent a short time working in the foundation field. She is also a Professor of Practice at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she teaches a variety of courses and developed and directs the online Master of Studies in Law program.

Professor Nixon is a graduate of Duke University and received her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she was on the Virginia Law Review. She speaks Italian and French.

Melissa Hanson

Melissa Hanson teaches first-year Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing, as well as an upper-level writing course on Electronic Discovery. Prior to joining the Duke Law faculty, Hanson taught Legal Writing, Federal Courts, Employment Law, and Employment Discrimination at Florida State University’s College of Law. In 2017, Hanson was the first Legal Writing professor at FSU to be awarded the university-wide Graduate Teaching Award.

Prior to teaching, Hanson spent 11 years as a career law clerk to two federal judges, Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson and Judge Brian J. Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Hanson began her career in private practice at Foley & Lardner, where she specialized in labor and employment litigation for seven years.

Hanson graduated second in her class from the University of Florida College of Law, where she served on the Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Student Testimonials

The Summer Institute on Law, Language, and Culture at Duke University School of Law had a significant impact on my professional development. I strongly suggest this program to any lawyer in the world who aspires to pursue an L.L.M. at Duke or any other university in the United States, since it is an eye-opening experience that prepares you for your road ahead, especially if you come from a nation with a civil law system. — Gilberto Ortega, Panama
The course is not just a warm-up for an LLM, it is more than that. It's a unique opportunity to hear and learn about topics you probably won't have time to study about during your LLM, to learn more about the cultures and differences that exist between the United States and other countries around the world, to make new friends and meeting people you might never have the opportunity to meet and above all to remember how little we know in the face of how much we can still learn. — Veronica A. Bylund, Brazil
SILLC was a good starting point for my research. It was the first time for me to read legal literature in English including judgements, treatises, and news articles. I became familiar with legal words, idioms, and sentences. In addition, I had many opportunities to discuss the legal system in the participant’s respective countries in English in small group seminars, lectures, and group activities. I was able to improve my English skill in both listening and speaking. — Takeru Ono, Japan
One of the most amazing experiences of my whole life is being part of the great Duke family. SILLC was a terrific experience where I had the opportunity to interact with people of different nationalities, discuss everything topics, learn a lot about how to write and speak in the legal English. The knowledge that I have acquired at Duke has been useful in my professional career and I have had the opportunity to interact proficiently with people and authorities from my role as Consul General of Colombia in Chicago. — Diego Angulo Marinez, Colombia

Considering an LLM Degree?

The Master of Laws (LLM) program at Duke Law School introduces graduates of non-U.S. law schools to the legal system of the United States and deepens their legal knowledge and skills through advanced courses in specialized areas of law.

Welcome to Durham!

If you are looking for an eclectic, comfortable welcoming American city with great restaurants, abundant entertainment, and easy access to the beach, mountains, and parks, Durham is the place for you! Also known as the Bull City, Durham is consistently ranked one of the top places to live in the U.S. It also is among the 50 U.S. cities with the highest percentage of doctoral degree holders per capita. With a rich history and a progressive future, the city places an emphasis on high technology, education, and medicine. In addition to Duke University, Durham is also home to Research Triangle Park, the leading high technology research and science park in North America, and North Carolina Central University, the top historically black college in the South, as well as historic homes, tree-lined streets, parks, museums, and a number of famous golf courses.

SILLC students and their families


There is a wide range of cultural activities and resources in Durham. The city hosts numerous jazz festivals, blues festivals, symphony concerts, and art exhibitions. The Nasher Museum of Art, which is the art museum of Duke University, has been recognized as a place that "raises the cultural bar" on college campuses. The American Dance Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival happen in Durham every year. The Carolina Theatre resides at the center of Durham’s cultural scene, with live performances and films from around the world. The city is host to an annual Gay and Lesbian film festival, drawing people from across the country. The culinary offerings of the city are plentiful and delicious, including restaurants in the Ninth Street, Brightleaf, and Main Street areas of town.


Thanks to its mild climate, Durham is an ideal location for many outdoor activities year round. In the heart of the Duke University campus, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens offers a tranquil break from the ordinary in a welcoming and beautiful setting with its miles-long pathways, impressive variety of flowering plants, and scenic ponds. The American Tobacco Trail offers 12 miles of trails from downtown to the county line that are ideal for biking, hiking, walking, or jogging. At Eno River State Park, visitors can enjoy bird-watching, canoeing, rafting, fishing, and hiking. Boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, and rock hounding can be enjoyed at the Flat River.


Only a few hours’ drive west of Durham are historic sites such as Old Salem and Biltmore, natural wonders such as Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, or Pilot Mountain, and scenic mountain towns like Blowing Rock, Boone, and Asheville.

Pristine beaches by the Atlantic Ocean and lively seaside towns such as those on the Outer Banks, Beaufort, Wilmington, and Carolina Beach lie just a couple hours’ drive east of Durham.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about SILLC, please visit our website, or contact Isik Cotten at isik.cotten@law.duke.edu.