“Another year of school?”
“Wait, how much is that going to cost?”
If you, like me, pursued or are thinking of pursuing an LL.M. degree, someone has asked you one or all of these questions. Here’s your answer key:
What Is an LL.M.?
As with many things lawyerly, the LL.M. degree, or Master of Laws, has its root in Latin. Specifically, it’s a translation of Legum Magister. Legum is the possessive plural of lex, meaning “specific laws.” That explains one of the L’s, but why are there two? In Latin, an abbreviation of a plural word is represented by two of the same letter, so we get LL; combining them gives us the LL.M.
Why Should You Get an LL.M.?
After completing three harrowing years of law school, why would someone pursue yet another year of law education?
I got this question a lot! I chose to do an LL.M. in taxation because I was very interested in working in tax policy, and despite my tax coursework during law school and my undergraduate economics degree, it wasn’t readily apparent to hiring committees that I was “serious” about tax law. Spending a concentrated year studying this area exclusively gave me the boost I needed to be taken seriously as a tax policy specialist. One reason, then, to pursue an LL.M. is to gain knowledge in a specific field of law that you are interested in pursuing professionally.
Another reason to seek an LL.M. is to gain knowledge of a different country’s legal system. If you are a student from outside the U.S. who holds or is near completion of your J.D. (Juris Doctorate — the foundational law degree in the U.S.) or its equivalent (such as an LL.B. or Bachelor of Laws), you may want to understand the U.S. legal system and how it operates. Moreover, you may want to practice in the U.S. or add international credibility to your resume. The University of Texas School of Law's LL.M. offers a general program in U.S. Law for Foreign Lawyers, which “provides students with a foreign law degree with the opportunity to focus on a particular area of study or gain a broad foundation in U.S. law by taking courses in a variety of areas.”
This is just one of many programs that offers a basic course with specialization opportunities. In other words, you get the basics of the U.S. legal system and can tailor your remaining courses to fit your interests. There are equivalent programs overseas if your interests are in European maritime law or business law in China. Be sure to check language requirements when applying to programs in other countries.
The American Bar Association lists 112 schools with LL.M. programs in the U.S. and provides a helpful international search function for overseas programs. You can use Noodle’s law school search to sort schools by LSAT score, GPA, and specialization.
Narrowing Your Choices
Once you’ve narrowed down your area — geographically or by interest — you’ll need to decide where you’d like to apply. If you are determined to get to Australia, then your search area would be limited to law schools offering the LL.M. in this country. Alternatively, if you are focused on tax law, as I was, your goal may be to attend the law school most highly rated by tax firms or one highly rated according to the placement of its graduates.
Choosing a Good Fit
You may choose based solely on schedule (part-time or full-time) or teaching method. There are some LL.M.’s that now offer online courses that you can take from anywhere, while others still value the traditional method of face-to-face communication. And, while the traditional LL.M. degree lasts for one academic year, some schools now offer part-time options that enable students to work towards the degree over the course of two or three years. Be sure to check which types of programs are available and best-suited to your schedule and learning style.
One important note: Completing an LL.M. by itself in the U.S. does not guarantee that you will be able to sit for the bar exam or be licensed to practice law. Individual state boards of law examiners determine the qualifications necessary to practice in their states, and in many, a J.D. is still required. If you are a foreign student seeking an LL.M., be sure to check the requirements of the state where you are interested in working before making the leap.
While there are schools in the United States where tuition and fees can total less than $10,000 a year, it is undeniable that a graduate legal education is expensive. At some law schools, tuition and fees can top $50,000 for a single year of study. There are also the added expenses of room and board, books, and foregone income (could you have been making $50,000 that year instead of attending school?). Seeking an LL.M. is an investment, which, for me, was completely worth it; that said, the educational path can result in “sticker shock.”
When I say that my degree was worthwhile, it’s because I know that policymaking doors would not have opened for me if it hadn’t been for my LL.M. I have been able to pursue a career after law school advocating for fair tax policies that I care about deeply. Moreover, I’ve had the added excitement of getting to work in a governor’s office putting some of those policies into practice.
Good luck! Or, as the Romans would say, bona fortuna!
Latin Phrases. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from The Bookmark Shop
Programs by Category. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from The American Bar Association
The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from UT Law
What is an LLM? (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from LL.M. Guide