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7 Reasons Why Lawyers Do An LL.M.

Some of the most common reasons why some lawyers go back to law school - and some of the reasons they might think twice.

By V. Wish, Jul 22, 2011

Lawyers go back to get an LL.M. degree for many reasons. Here are some of the most common ones.

01. Upgrade your Alma mater

For better or worse, brand names still get people's attention. Hiring partners and HR directors are no different. If your first law school isn't making your resume jump out at potential employers, adding a second (more well-known) one might help. Although it probably shouldn't be your sole reason for doing an LL.M., upgrading does show ambition and an upward career trajectory.

But getting that elite school on your resume won't be cheap. Pretty much anywhere you do an LL.M., tuition and living costs will probably reach well into the five-digit range. For full-time programs, there are also the “opportunity costs” to consider – that is, all the money you aren't earning during the academic year.

So, while there may be scholarships available, getting an LL.M. will be a significant investment. Think about whether that extra name will deliver on your expectations, and whether your expectations are realistic.

02. Sit a US Bar exam

Passing a US state bar exam has long been a hard-fought honor for many foreign lawyers who get their LL.M. in the United States, regardless of whether they intend to stay or return home. This is especially true for students interested in international business law or similar subjects.

“To go back home and say they've passed the bar in New York shows that they have a deep understanding of the US system,” says Bill Churma, assistant director of admissions of the International Legal Studies program at American University's Washington College of Law.

“For employers back home – especially in a civil law society – this can only help when dealing with international and US-based clients,” adds Churma. “It also signifies a level of English that you not only passed the LL.M., but you are able to pass a state exam that is not an easy thing to do for Americans.”

Not easy, indeed. Of the 5,700 foreign lawyers who sat a US bar exam in 2010, only 31 percent passed.

03. Develop a specialization

In some fields of law, like tax, getting an LL.M. is common part of a lawyer's training. Lawyers also often use the LL.M. to deepen an existing specialization or develop a new one, particularly when their first law school didn't offer that concentration.

“Lawyers are seeking out specializations that go beyond tax law – things like labor and employment law, immigration law, intellectual property, business and financial regulation,” says Hilary T. Lappin, assistant director of admissions for Washington College of Law's Law and Government program.

“These are really specific topics they can't focus on in their J.D. program because they're basically studying for the bar,” adds Lappin.

But in the US, at least, it may soon get harder to specialize. New standards for LL.M. programs – like those recently introduced for programs that qualify foreign lawyers for the New York State Bar – would force LL.M. students to do more of their program units on bar-oriented courses rather than working toward a chosen concentration, like corporate finance or intellectual property.

This would affect one of the main reasons for doing an LL.M.. Therefore, it's worth asking the law schools you are interested what the implications of these new standards might be on their program structures and course offerings.

04. Improve your English

To improve foreign language skills, obviously there's nothing like spending a year in a country where that language is spoken. Hiring law firms know this. International firms like to see that you've gotten through a year of law school in an English-speaking country (or at least an English-speaking program). It means you'll be more confident with “Legal English,” as well as the everyday "soft" English you will need just to survive and develop friendships.

05. Get a job

Sadly, some hiring law firms still don't care much about the LL.M. But others have begun to see the degree as an asset for new hires. It's just another way for job-seeking lawyers to stand out, particularly in a competitive job market.

But doing an LL.M. can also open doors to new job prospects in other ways. Exclusive job fairs, like NYU's International Student Interview Program or UCLA's West Coast International LL.M. Job Fair, are possible avenues for contact with potential employers, and they are only open to LL.M. students. The same goes with internships that are a key component of some LL.M. programs.

Then there's networking. Access to a new group of professors, fellow students, and alumni certainly won't hurt your chances of landing a job. Many law schools encourage LL.M. students to be proactive in building this network during the academic year.

“Networking is one of the most underrated reasons why the LL.M. degree is so useful in today’s global legal environment,” says Sandra Buteau, director of Graduate Career Services and Professional Development at Georgetown Law. “It is not the primary reason to get an LL.M., but it is a significant benefit when attending a large international law school.”

Meanwhile the recession that began in 2008 hit the law profession hard. Many firms laid off lawyers, merged with other firms, or shut down completely. This has contributed to a situation where, at least in the United States, law schools are graduating twice as many lawyers as there are legal positions. That makes for a tough market, especially for foreign lawyers who want to compete with domestic lawyers for jobs.

06. Get some international experience

It almost seems like a truism now, but international experience is more valuable for lawyers than ever, particularly those working in international firms or organizations. With an LL.M., you can choose Washington DC to get a taste of the policymaking action. You can go for New York, London, or Singapore to be in an international business hub. Or you can pick Leiden or Amsterdam for their proximity to The Hague. We could go on and on, but you get the idea.

“One of the effects of globalization has been that for many legal jobs, they require an understanding of legal relationships an international level,” says Lawrence McNamara, head of postgraduate research at Reading University School of Law. “It's increasingly valuable in the overall private sector, commercial sector, government sector, and NGO sector.”

07. Research and publish

Several LL.M. programs are research-oriented, which gives students a chance to dive deep into topics, and – with faculty guidance – come out with a publishable piece of research. Of course, publishing articles is good for a lawyer's resume. A research-focused LL.M. is also a gateway into Ph.D. work, which can open up career doors whether you want to teach or not.

“A Ph.D. is superb qualification, and it's not just about academia anymore,” says McNamara. “I was looking at a hedge fund website the other day, and all of the researchers and analysts had PhDs.”

“The doctorate really does open up some great career paths,” adds McNamara. “And a well-thought-out LL.M. can be a really good path into that.”

Photo of University of Michigan Law School: istockphoto

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  • monika, Sat Jan 25, 2014 08:29 AM

    want to knw how can admit in us college of LLM

  • Leonardo Oktavianus, Fri Aug 30, 2013 05:41 PM

    Very helpful informations!
    I got some questions though, I hope I can find the answers here...

    I currently taking law diploma in Indonesia, and was planning to take LLM in Melbourne university, Australia. However, I'm looking for career development in USA, is it possible? should I be taking US bar exam just as those who seek LLM in the US?

  • Oseni Toheeb, Tue Jun 25, 2013 06:07 PM

    I love LLM

  • Khalid Pervaiz, Fri Jun 21, 2013 09:57 AM

    Dear Sir / Madam

    Plz let me know the admission requirements and procedure.

    Thanks n regards,


  • Khem, Tue May 08, 2012 02:00 PM

    Thank you so much for such an wonderful site where we can find A to Z information for LLM.

    As I am searching for Scholarships for LLM in the area related to Justice or ADR or Human Rights, I found the site very useful and also recommend others too.
    Thank you all who have contributed.

    Appreciating you
    Khem Raj Sedhai
    Nepal Law Campus
    Kathmandu, Nepal

  • maher faris, Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:52 PM

    Hi,im honored that i apply to OSI for having LLM aschoolarship ,im work as chief of prosecutors at the west bank ,i think to study LLm very intristing for me for better future ,thank you for all the good information you provide us with ,all the best.all my respect.
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  • iventura, Fri Dec 02, 2011 12:42 PM

    Can a LLM replace a Master in Law? Does it give the access to the bar in the country you take the LLM if you own a European Bachelor in Law?
    thank you for helping

  • An observation, Sat Jul 23, 2011 04:16 AM

    “A Ph.D. is superb qualification, and it\'s not just about academia anymore,” says McNamara. “I was looking at a hedge fund website the other day, and all of the researchers and analysts had PhDs.”

    This is a misleading comment in the context of \'why lawyers do an LLM\'. Hedge funds hire PhDs in quantitative fields (econ/stats/finance). A legal PhD is highly unlikely to offer a path into such careers.

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