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Alumni Spotlight

Moscow attorney Nikitina '18 gains expertise in American health law and earns LL.M. at UH Law Center  

Katya Nikitina, a 2018 LL.M. graduate of the University of Houston Law Center.

Katya Nikitina, a 2018 LL.M. graduate of the University of Houston Law Center.

Dec. 14, 2018 - Just 23 percent of foreign educated LL.M. students passed the Texas bar exam in July. Katya Nikitina, a 2018 University of Houston Law Center Health Law LL.M. graduate from Russia can count herself among the successful test takers.

"My passing is, perhaps, 20 percent attributable to me personally, while 80 percent happened only because of the guidance from the Law Center's amazing Bar Prep Professor Lisa Tilton-McCarthy," Nikitina said. "Professor McCarthy has a lot of experience teaching foreign lawyers and non-native speakers, and she helped us tailor our study to our circumstances."

Before relocating to Houston with her husband, Nikitina practiced law for more than 13 years in her native Moscow. Despite her experience, she could not practice law in the U.S. without obtaining a law license as foreign educated attorneys must graduate from an ABA-accredited LL.M. program before they are eligible to take the bar exam.

"When I found out that the Law Center offered a Health Law LL.M. program ranked No. 2 in the country, I knew my search was over," Nikitina said. "Even though a specialty LL.M. program requires more study than a general one, I could not be happier that I chose this program. Not only did it allow me to sit for the Texas bar exam, but it gave me an amazing opportunity to get exposed to so many aspects of health law over a short period of time."

Nikitina is currently wrapping up an internship that began in September with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in Austin, and is pursuing a health law associate position.

In January, Nikitina's paper, "Nutrigenomics: Are We There Yet?" will be published in the Journal of Health & Biomedical Law of Suffolk University Law School in Boston

"Nutrigenomics is an emerging new science studying how what humans eat and drink influences our genes' behavior based on the fact that our genes respond differently to certain nutrients," she explained. "It explores the interaction between the nutrients as well as dietary compounds and the human genome, all the way down to the molecular level.

"There is significant proof that genes affect how nutrients are metabolized, and conjointly, nutrients affect how genes are expressed and regulated. Understanding those connections and being able to predict our body's reaction to food without actually having to try it may lead to a great breakthrough in the areas of personalized nutrition and in treating several diseases like cancer."

Nikitina expressed gratitude to Professor Barbara Evans, the Mary Ann & Lawrence E. Faust Professor of Law, for challenging her to select a topical theme to her paper and inspiring her to look into difficult questions, policy issues and other new concepts and ideas.

"Professor Evans helped me find my area of interest and really shaped the main idea of the article" Nikitina said. "She is a remarkable instructor with so much respect for her students, offering novel and innovative materials at her classes for students to read and discuss."

Nikitina also referenced two courses taught by Professor Jessica Mantel, co-director of the Health Law & Policy Institute, for providing her with practical knowledge on the healthcare system, and credited Nathan Neely, director of Global and Graduate Programs, for his support as well.

"My Health Law LL.M. journey would not be the same without the support and guidance from Professor Mantel," she said. "I am also very thankful to the HLPI in general, the professors and administrative staff, for being always so passionate and helpful, for always having my back and teaching me to become a better attorney and a better person.

"Dealing with foreign attorneys who have so many things on their plate as they try to balance families and studying in a new setting is not an easy task," she added. "Nathan Neely oversaw all the 52 foreign lawyers, and he always had a joke to cheer us up. Seeing his smiling face made everything so much more pleasant, and he was always there to help us.

"I would like to thank the Law Center for the opportunity to become part of the Houston legal community," Nikitina continued. "The Law Center is a great place to learn, no matter where you come from, how old you are or what languages you speak."