Welcome to your LL.M.: Who is Who at the Law School

Welcome to America. There are a lot of things different about law in the U.S., including how universitites and law schools are structured.

What is the difference between a university and a law school? A university is an institution of higher learning that typically awards a range of degree —graduate, professional, and undergraduate — in a variety of disciplines. A law school is one of the schools or divisions in the larger university. Occasionally, law schools are freestanding, which means that they are not part of a university but operate independently.

Given these and other differences among law schools, there will be variation among institutions in the structure of their administration. The below reflects a standard structure from the highest university officials down.


President and Provost

The university president is the head of the entire university and, along with the board of directors, sets the policy for the university. There may also be a university provost, which is generally the chief academic officer of the university. Although the president and provost are incredibly important to the well-being of the university and the law school, typically they are not relevant in the day-to-day life of most LL.M. students.



The dean is the head of the law school and sets academic and other policy for the institution. The dean often also sets the tone and style of the law school. Although the dean has overall responsibility for the law school, these days the efforts of many U.S. law deans are externally focused on alumni relations and, especially, development; development in the context of higher education refers to raising funds for the operation and betterment of the institution. Thus, many deans spend a great deal of time on fund raising.


Vice Dean/Associate Dean

The dean is typically supported by one or more vice deans or associate deans. For instance, there may be an associate dean for academic affairs (who has overall responsibility for the law school's academic program) and an associate dean for administration (who has overall responsibility for the law school administration). These individuals report directly to the dean.


Assistant Dean

The vice dean(s) or associate dean(s) in turn are supported by several assistant deans. Each assistant dean typically has day-to-day responsibility for a particular area, such as admissions, international programs, career development, alumni, or development. At some schools, these positions may be held by "directors" rather than "assistant deans." Your law school may have an assistant dean or director of international or graduate programs.



The word "faculty" at a U.S. university or law school is very different from the meaning of the term as used in many other countries. In other places, the term refers to the school or department, such as the law faculty. In the U.S., faculty instead refers to the teaching staff of the law school–the professors/instructors. U.S. law schools have a range of different kinds of faculty members, including full-time faculty and adjunct faculty.

 Regardless of the status of the faculty member, you should refer to them as "Professor," followed by his or her last (family) name.


Full Time

Full-time faculty members, as the name suggests, are those who are devoted on a full-time basis to academic endeavors (although they may do consulting or other work on the side). Most members of the full-time faculty are on a tenure track. Tenure is a process by which full-time faculty members in U.S. universities and law schools attain job security after a certain number of years and/or reaching specific milestones, such as a record of service and scholarly publications.



Many U.S. law schools, especially those in large urban centers, have a lot of adjunct, or part-time, faculty members. These adjunct professors typically are drawn from leaders in local practice to fill gaps in the curriculum. They may work in private practice, public interest, courts or other governmental offices, or NGOs. Adjunct faculty members add a practical dimension to the classroom that supplements the teaching of the full-time faculty members.



The Registrar is the head of the office that deals with course registration, maintenance of academic records, evaluating student progress toward completion of degree requirements, and issuing transcripts and diplomas. The Registrar's office generally is also charged with certifications required to sit for bar exams and for documentation often required when applying for bar admission.


Student Affairs

The office of student affairs is designed to support the development of students as young professionals and enhancing the quality of life of students. It may do this using any number of vehicles, including supporting student groups and providing services such as academic advisement, academic assistance and enrichment programs, and personal counseling.


The LL.M. Program Office

In most U.S. law schools with LL.M. programs, there is an office devoted to international or master programs. In many institutions, this would be the main point of contact for LL.M. students with the administration.

In some schools, the LL.M. or international programs office handles admissions, career services, student affairs, and alumni relations for LL.M. students. At other law schools, the role will be more modest. In any case, this office in many cases will be the first point of contact with international LL.M. students and can guide you to other offices that can assist you with specific matters.


Alumni Affairs and Development

Most law schools have an office devoted to alumni relations–relations with graduates of the law school; and development (fundraising) for the law school. This office or these offices may, for example, organize alumni events in cities around the world, including international venues, where there is a critical mass of alumni.

For the most part, students do not work closely with these offices until after they graduate from the law school.



The admissions office, as its name suggests, is responsible for the process of admitting and enrolling students. At some U.S. law schools, there is one central office that handles admissions for all degree programs offered at the school; at other law schools, there is one office devoted to J.D. (juris doctor) admissions and one devoted to the law school's LL.M. (and any other graduate) programs.


Office of International Services (Visa)

It is common for universities to have a centralized office to deal with visa issues and other matters that affect international students across the university.


Career Services

Each law school has an office devoted to career services. These offices offer a range of services, including assistance in drafting your resume and cover letters, networking, preparing for interviews, and identifying opportunities. As with admissions, such services for LL.M. students might be handled out of the central career services office or the office for international/LL.M. students.


Public Interest Resource Center

Most law schools have a Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC) or similar office. This office, as its name suggests, is intended to assist students who wish to pursue public interest work, either as students or after graduation.

Public interest work covers a wide swath of activity that includes pro bono representation of individuals, work for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government service. Many law students and attorneys in the U.S. pursue this kind of work on a part-time basis and many engage in this kind of work as full-time professional work. Some students seek public interest work to complete a school or bar requirement; the New York State Court of Appeals, for instance, requires attorneys to have 50 hours of documented pro bono work (undertaken in the U.S. or abroad) before seeking admission to the bar. The Public Interest Resource Center at your law school can help you identify appropriate activities.


Disability Officer

Each university or school has a disability officer who, among other things, enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to all students in the United States, regardless of nationality. If a student has a documented disability, he or she is entitled to an appropriate accommodation. Disabilities can be anything from blindness or deafness to attention deficit disorders to more temporary conditions, such as a broken arm.

The disability officer will work with each student to determine the most appropriate accommodation for the disability in question. The goal of the accommodation is to put the disabled person on a level playing field with other students--or as close to a level playing field as possible. Accommodations can include assigning the student someone to help take notes or giving the student additional time for completing an examination. Most schools have a deadline for requesting an accommodation, so pay attention to such dates. Disability officers will also ask for documentation of a disability. A note from a physician will generally suffice.



Individual law schools will have additional offices or a slightly different structure. You can learn about this from your law school's website or from the international office.

Enjoy your LL.M. studies!


Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of A Short & Happy Guide to Networking (West Academic Publishing).