While other law degrees may provide a graduate with immediate qualification for a legal profession, earning a Master of Law degree does not grant the graduate with a license for any specific position. LL.M. degrees, as they are commonly known, are not pre-law degrees, nor are they paralegal degrees, nor are a “terminal” degree like a JD. So why, then, do people pursue them?
Earning an LL.M. can have a wide scope of benefits spanning most job markets. As almost every job involves interaction with law and regulation to some extent, LL.M. graduates stand out, able to provide legal context for their actions as well as better resolve disputes involving legality. It is for this reason that now more than ever people are entering LL.M. programs to get a leg up in the job market.
LL.M. programs are designed to give professionals an understanding of the American legal system and the work of industries within it, though its benefits go far beyond just that. Here is everything you need to know if you are interested in earning a Master of Law in 2019.
What are the prerequisites to be eligible for a Master of Law Degree?
Before you can apply for a Master of Law program at any American university, it is important to be sure that you have fulfilled all the prerequisites for the program. To begin, you must first have a law degree from an accredited school recognized by the university to which you are applying; in the United States, this is typically a Juris Doctor from an American Bar Association-recognized school. If a student is applying from abroad, their law degree may be different, e.g. an LL.B. (an undergraduate bachelor’s law degree phased out in the United States but still popular worldwide).
If you wish to pursue a specific LL.M. specialization, some universities may require you to have already completed coursework within that specialization. This is one of many reasons why your transcripts are an important part of the application process. Your transcripts allow your prospective school to see the classes you took, the grades you received, and the overall rigor of your course load. Relevant coursework looks good to law schools, and great care is paid to your performance during your undergraduate years. Some schools have a minimum required GPA for application, though this is not always the case and exceptions have been known to be made.
Students for whom English is a second language must prove English proficiency with their law school application. At most universities, this comes in the form of a TOEFL test. Each school has their own required score for this test, but generally speaking, requirements for law students are higher than other university applicants due to the density of work that the prospective student will be undertaking upon acceptance.
Other paperwork may be required depending on the school. In most cases, schools request at least one letter of recommendation from a former professor, which will speak to your strengths as a student. Schools also often require a personal statement with your application, a document that guides the application reader through your academic history and demonstrates your interest in their university.
Already having an LL.M. may make applying for a second LL.M. program difficult, as a number of schools refuse to accept current LL.M. holders who have obtained their degrees from competing universities. As with all of these points, the specifics of each university’s requirements and stipulations can be found on the admissions page of their website, or by contacting the admissions department of the university directly.
What courses and topics are covered under the Master of Law Degree?
Students studying to receive a Master of Law degree can choose to either receive a generalized legal studies degree or specialize in a certain area, depending on their interests and university. For a general legal studies program, students develop a foundation of legal understanding, examining the underpinnings of what makes the current legal system and how best they can learn to navigate it. Taking a generalized course of study may be good for students who know they want to investigate law further but do not yet feel comfortable with a specialization.
For those who wish to specialize, there are a multitude of options.
Environmental law is a field growing at a considerable rate. As an increasing number of companies opt to be more considerate of the environment, legal questions about environmental issues must be answered. These problems, and their potential solutions, are examined in environmental law studies. Students will train in environmental policy, studying laws and legal efforts regarding energy, resources, pollution, climate change, and more.
International Business Law
As the world becomes more global, understanding broad questions of international legality is important in both the public and private sectors. Studies in this area involve learning about international economic law, policy issues resulting from legal disputes, and international business generally. Coursework may feature international trade law, international intellectual property law, laws meant to regulate international business transactions, and other courses related to the field.
Technology and Science Law
Technology and science law are truly the cutting edge of legal study. With the growth of e-commerce platforms and web content spanning multiple countries, a technology and science law focus gives students a framework by which they can understand contemporary legal issues in these emerging fields. As an example, coursework may interrogate issues of biotechnology and health science, examining controversies and seeing how governments and local authorities around the world are responding to these issues. Other topics of discussion can include contractual developments between international content creators, regulations for new science and technology companies, and internet-centered conflict resolution.
A fair number of schools let one decide their own path of specialization, not providing any specific tract for students who wish to specialize in one particular field. Information about available programs can usually be found on the law school’s website or by contacting the admissions office.
How long does the Master of Law course last?
A Master of Law course can last anywhere from one to three years, with most schools offering one- or two-year programs. The exact amount of time an LL.M. takes to complete can depend on both the university and the student; some students opt to take the course at a leisurely pace, studying part time while gaining work experience. Some universities allow coursework to be completed online, enabling one to complete the LL.M. program at their own pace. However, if a student is studying full-time, they should be able to complete all of the required LL.M. coursework in one to two years.
What careers can I pursue with a Master of Law Degree?
With a Master of Law degree, graduates are able to pursue a variety of careers. This is because an LL.M. degree gives graduates an in-depth understanding of the law, something that employers find increasingly desirable as law affects every part of their business. Additionally, LL.M. degrees educate students in more than just legal matters; through the degree-earning process, LL.M. students hone their negotiation skills, improving their ability to analyze data, resolve conflict, and avoid disputes. While LL.M. degrees do not immediately qualify one for a career, there are numerous options for LL.M. holders in the job marketplace.
A significant portion of LL.M. graduates find work as compliance officers. The American legal system is dense, and most companies would rather hire a full-time compliance officer than have to sort through every aspect of the law themselves. Compliance officers ensure companies and organizations are following local, state, and federal laws and regulations. If the company has relations with any other regulatory agency, compliance officers promise that standards are being met and determine potential techniques for enforcement.
Another area where LL.M. graduates are highly desirable is human resources. Knowing the ins-and-outs of employee/employer relationships is necessary for any H.R. position, but being able to ground the reasoning behind H.R. decisions in a legal framework makes LL.M. graduates attractive prospects for this kind of work. As a result, many LL.M. graduates find themselves in H.R. managerial positions, and some currently working in H.R. may complete LL.M. studies in order to better their chances of ascending to a managerial role.
Operations managers help coordinate operations of organizations in both the public and private sectors. This involves laying out and directing a range of operations, some of which overlapping with legally-complicated issues. LL.M. graduates thrive in these environments; their knowledge of the legal system speeds an organization’s work in this area, especially when dealing with issues of regulation.
These are just some careers available to LL.M. graduates; Master of Law degree holders have also found success in the financial sector, information technology, healthcare, and other fields. Many others go on to teach law themselves, though further education is often required to do this.
What’s the annual income as a Master of Law graduate?
Master of Law degrees open up countless opportunities for graduates. As such, the pay for LL.M. graduates in the years immediately following graduation spans tens of thousands of dollars. This is due to both law school performance and the chosen career following law school.
For example, graduates from America’s top law schools had a median annual income of over $100,000 immediately following law school, though data is unspecific about what degree they held upon graduation. Again, an LL.M. is not a terminal degree, and as such, does not immediately qualify graduates for any one job in particular. LL.M. graduates who became compliance officers could expect a median income of approximately $70,000, according to data released in 2016.
Human resources managers, an in-demand field for LL.M. graduates, earned a median income of around $107,000 in 2016. Operations managers were paid even more: over $122,000 annually according to that same 2016 report.