Master of laws degree (LLM)
A master of laws degree can make you more competitive in the job market. Many legal firms hire graduates of this program, because these candidates have advanced legal training and knowledge in a particular field. They are also qualified to work internationally, an important factor at multinational companies.
The master of laws is often referred to as LLM. The roots of this abbreviation are Latin, with the L and M representing “Legum Magister.” If you are wondering why the L is repeated, the reason is that plurals in Latin abbreviations are signified by repeating the letter.
Now you know what LLM stands for, read on to find out more about this postgraduate degree program, and whether it is for you.
Do I need an LLM to work in the legal field?
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.
Why take an LLM?
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.
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 also the preferred qualification.
Most international students complete an LLM because it is a requirement if they wish to practice law in the U.S.
How long does it take to get an LLM?
Typically, a full-time LLM program takes 1 year. For students unable to make this commitment, due to work or family for example, there is an option to study part-time. Although this can be more convenient, it also means the degree takes 2-3 years to complete.
Another option is to choose a dual program. This is for students studying for a J.D. who already know they want to take the LLM. It involves studying for the J.D. and LLM simultaneously. Whilst this can be challenging, a student can save time and money by completing the LLM in a single semester.
How is an LLM program structured?
There are numerous experiential learning opportunities on LLM programs, and students spend a significant portion of their studies outside the classroom. These activities not only provide academic credits, but also important hands-on experience. Examples of such activities include:
- Clinics – students work with real clients and cases, under the supervision of faculty members
- 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. Example courses include corporate finance, estate planning, or accounting and finance for lawyers
- Workshops – students develop their skills in a more interactive setting. Workshops at Harvard Law School, for example, cover subjects such as global justice, law and philosophy, and legal history
- 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 skillset. For example, collaborating with their faculty, contributing to the school law journal, participating in pro-bono projects, or serving as a research fellow.
The conditions for acceptance into an LLM program vary. However, the most common requirements are:
- D. degree
- transcripts (minimum GPA of 3.0 usually required)
- 2-3 letters of recommendation
- statement of purpose or essay
- international first law degree (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.
Most LLMs require applicants to have a J.D. However, there are some non-lawyer master’s level law degrees that accept candidates without it. These programs are designed for professionals who will not practice as an attorney at law, and are called: master of studies in law, master of legal studies, or master of science legal studies.
Can I study for an LLM part-time and online?
Many LLM students are already practicing lawyers or in a related full-time career. Therefore, part-time and online study is common. Some programs are blended, consisting of both in-class and online coursework. The latter can include both pre-recorded and real-time lectures.
There is also the option to take an executive LLM. These are designed for professionals already working in professional legal practice. They take place partially online and allow students to work whilst studying. This represents is an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals in the field. For example, the Columbia Law School executive LLM program, includes a 12 week on-campus residency, allowing students to meet other participants.
The focus of an LLM degree
The main draw of the LLM is the focus on a particular specialization, which students can choose based on their career goals and needs. Some common LLM focus areas include:
International business and trade law
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.
International human rights law
Students who choose this program learn about concepts including the general principles of international human rights, the intersect between humanitarian law and human rights law, and the future of human rights.
Administrative law studies
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 of public law and administration.
Criminal law and justice
Aims to give students a better understanding of combating crime. Courses are regularly updated to reflect the most important issues of the time. Examples include: cybercrime, human trafficking, white collar crime, and piracy and terrorism.
Energy, environment, and natural resources
The legal policy that surrounds these vital areas is both interesting and complex. Those involved in this field often have motivations that go beyond money. Courses available on such programs include coastal and ocean law, hazardous waste law, clean air act, and corporate compliance.
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.
- Legal theory – Draws on philosophy, economic theory, psychology, and political theory, allowing students to engage in law from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The cost of an LLM degree
The price of an LLM varies, but the average cost is $75,100. Some schools and other organizations offer scholarships, so it is a good idea to research these opportunities before deciding on a program.
It is advisable to enroll in a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). This is especially true for international students who wish to sit for the bar exam. While most states require a J.D. to sit this exam, California, Georgia, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin are exceptions.
Career options 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.
Some common career paths students take upon completing an LLM are:
Can I continue with my education after the LLM?
The only law degrees higher than the LLM are the doctor of juridical science (SJD) and doctor of science of law (JSD). These 2-year programs are designed for students planning to become scholars or professors of law. Most include elective coursework, seminars, and independent/professor-led research. They are primarily earned by international students.
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.