LLM Guide: The Basics

Like any other graduate degree, a Master of Laws (LLM) requires a prior degree – in this case a Juris Doctor (JD). There are several important differences between the two degrees, the most basic being that a JD is a professional degree that enables individuals to practice law, while an LLM is an advanced graduate degree, which denotes expertise in a specific area of law, or knowledge of American law for foreign law school graduates. An LLM on its own does not enable someone to practice law.

Applicants to LLM degree programs are usually required to submit their law school transcripts, a personal statement, letters of references (varies for different LLM programs), and sometimes a passing score on an English proficiency examination such as IELTS orTOEFL. The infamous LSAT — a standardized test used by law schools as a index for admissions to JD programs – is not used for LLM admissions.

Once admitted, students working towards LLM degrees should expect to go through 22 to 28 credits worth of graduate-level courses in law – roughly equivalent to one year of full-time study, or two years of part-time study. Difficulty and workload may vary widely between different LLM programs, depending on the law school where the program is offered, the particular focus of the LLM program, and whether the program serves as a general overview of the American legal system or a narrowly focused exploration of a complex area of law, such as taxation, bankruptcy or environmental law. Of course the actual coursework of an LLM is only half the battle. Paying for any sort of law degree is an enormous investment, but often pays off thanks to the high salaries earned by lawyers.

LLM Guide: The Steps

Now that you have the big picture, let’s go over the actual steps you should take.

  1. Before even thinking about an LLM, you should have a professional law degree. If it’s a JD from an American law school, you should be set to apply to any American LLM program of your choice. If it’s a professional law degree from another country, check to see if an LLM will enable you to practice law in the state where you want to practice.
  2. From there, start researching different programs to compare LLM costs, locations, and subject areas. Remember that online LLM programs can often save you both time and money.
  3. Once you have whittled down your list of potential LLM degree programs to the point where you are comfortable completing the applications and paying the application fees for all of the LLM programs on your list, have your law school send copies of your transcripts to the schools offering the LLM programs on your list, and gather references for your applications. Don’t forget to read the application instructions for each of your potential LLM programs very carefully – different programs may have different processes for potential applicants.