Guide to getting a master of laws (LLM) degree
An LLM provides advanced training in a specific legal area. Some professionals take an LLM to specialize in a certain field of law. Often the aim is to earn a higher salary or accelerate their career. The program focuses heavily on legal theory, as opposed to the more practical training provided by a J.D.
What is an LLM?
An LLM is a master’s degree in the field of law. What most people refer to as a law degree or law school is the professional doctorate degree formally known as a juris doctor or J.D. Somewhat counterintuitively, the LLM is usually completed after a J.D., if at all. It is not a requirement for being a lawyer. Instead, it provides advanced legal training and knowledge in a particular field.
What can you do with an LLM?
An LLM is the degree of choice for those interested in teaching, corporate law, consulting, and international law. In highly regulated and complex areas such as environmental, health, or tax law, the LLM is the preferred qualification. It is also popular with international students with non-U.S. law degrees as it qualifies them for licensure in most states.
Should you get an LLM?
An LLM can make you more competitive on the job market thanks to advanced legal training in a specialized field. LLM holders are also qualified to work internationally, a key factor at multinational corporations.
Another important consideration is the economic performance of the LLM. We compare earnings 2 years after graduation and the median debt accrued to arrive at a debt to earnings ratio.
How to pick an LLM program
Finding an LLM program offering the particular specialization you are seeking is a crucial first step in your search.
Common LLM focus areas include:
Students learn to handle complicated transnational transactions and the laws related to this. The program may also include courses such as European Union law, international law, and international trade regulation.
In this program, students learn about concepts such as the general principles of international human rights, the intersection between humanitarian law and human rights law, and the future of human rights.
Students develop their understanding of government regulations and legal precedents. Courses often cover topics like administrative law remedies, examining modern legal issues, and theoretical perspectives on public law and administration.
The legal policy that surrounds these vital areas is both interesting and complex. Courses available on such programs include coastal and ocean law, hazardous waste law, clean air act, and corporate compliance.
It is advisable to enroll in a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). This is especially true for international students wishing to sit for the bar after earning the LLM in the U.S. – they may not be eligible with a degree from a non-accredited school.
Can you get an LLM online?
LLM programs are available online, but the ABA does not accredit fully online law degrees. They occasionally issue waivers to hybrid programs, which blend in-person and remote learning.
Best LLM programs
- Find below our ratings of the comparative earnings, debt, and debt to earnings ratio by LLM program.
- Please review our methodology for more information on what metrics we look at, and how to determine comparative value between institutions.
- Note that missing information is usually due to insufficient data for reporting.
How much does an LLM cost?
We are limited to measuring the median debt graduates in LLM programs incur upon graduation. See below how the debt and repayment rates for LLM programs differ based on institution type.
While earning are lower for graduates from public colleges and universities, the costs of public programs are also lower. This adds up to a more favorable debt to earnings ratio.
Financial aid and scholarships LLM students
Begin your search for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA form on the Federal Student Aid website. Master’s students are not usually eligible for direct subsidized loans or Pell grants, but many other types of loans, grants, and work-study programs are available. Be sure to meet with the student financial aid service at your chosen school to uncover other aid options you may be eligible for.
What to expect from an LLM
LLM students spend a significant portion of their studies outside the classroom in experiential learning. These opportunities provide academic credits and hands-on experience.
Examples of such activities include:
- clinics – students work with real clients and cases, under the supervision of faculty member
- externships – students work voluntarily for a company in the legal sector
- skills-based courses – these are designed to improve students’ skills in a specific area
- workshops – students develop their skills in a more interactive setting
- roundtable discussions – led by a professor, students discuss legal topics and raise any questions they may have
- conferences – guest speakers are invited to talk on a given topic, providing students with first-hand expert knowledge
Students are also encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities to build their skillsets.
- collaborating with and assisting faculty
- contributing to the school law journal
- participating in pro-bono projects
- serving as a research fellow
What are the admission requirements for an LLM?
Admission requirements vary significantly by program, but the most common are:
- J.D. degree or first law degree (for international students)
- English proficiency test results (international students)
Some schools conduct a short interview to assess an applicant’s communication skills and suitability. Others require previous work experience.
How long does it take to get an LLM?
A full-time LLM program typically takes 1 year.
What type of courses are there in an LLM?
Although students can customize their degree by choosing coursework related to their specialization, programs usually include at least 1 required course.
Examples of required courses include:
Fundamentals of U.S. law
This course is often designed for international students. Topics covered include an overview of the American legal system, its basic principles, and an introduction to common-law methodologies.
Legal research and writing
Students practice identifying and locating law resources for use in legal analysis, research, and case briefs.
Constitutional law, regulations, and public policy
Students explore sensitive subjects brought to American courts and how these are interpreted by the constitution.
Draws on philosophy, economic theory, psychology, and political theory, allowing students to engage in law from an interdisciplinary perspective.
What types of LLM degrees are there?
Other than the traditional LLM, there are master’s programs in law designed for professionals not planning to practice as attorneys. They go by names such as:
- master of studies in law
- master of legal studies
- master of science in legal studies
Another option is executive LLM programs, designed for professionals already working in legal practice. These programs, which are often offered in a blended format, are an excellent opportunity to network.
What careers can I have with an LLM?
LLM graduates frequently go on to careers in policy, academia, or consulting. Others take jobs in non-governmental organizations or work as immigration attorneys. Certain practice fields particularly benefit from the specialized training of an LLM due to their complexity. Many of the careers listed here are also available to J.D. holders but likely offer better compensation to those who have completed the LLM as well.
Immigration attorneyMedian salary: $70K
These attorneys assist clients in entering and staying in the U.S. They may help refugees, people seeking political asylum, or those traveling for work or study. Immigration attorneys advise and represent their clients in immigration courts.
Legal advisorMedian salary: $81K
Hired by firms who require law expertise, consultants help to increase an organization’s profitability, draft legal documents, perform legal research, and find appropriate solutions to legal problems. They may work as employees or independently.
Legal counselMedian salary: $121K
Legal advisors who become the primary lawyers for a large company or government agency are referred to as a legal counsel. They play a key role in many types of decision making, ensuring errors are avoided when it comes to working within the law.
Law school professorMedian salary: $132K
Law professors teach in university settings, devising lessons plans, grading, assigning readings, and delivering lectures. Those employed at professional graduate schools usually specialize in a specific facet of law. Many are members of the state bar and are certified to practice professionally.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need an LLM to be a lawyer?
The short answer is no. You do not need an LLM to practice law in the U.S. The minimum requirement to do so is a juris doctor degree (J.D.), which differs from the LLM because it only covers basic law concepts. In most states, you need a J.D. to sit for the bar exam.
Can I study for an LLM part time?
Many LLM students are already practicing lawyers or in a related full-time career. Therefore, part-time study is common. Some programs are blended, consisting of both in-class and online coursework, allowing for more flexibility.
The ABA focuses on combatting bias and promoting diversity within the legal professions. Benefits of membership include career development, access to publications, and regular online events.
The IALLM offers graduates career guidance and recruitment in law firms. Members can grow their career via the connections they make in this organization.