5 Hottest LL.M. specializations

Twenty years ago, University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville’s LL.M. in agricultural law attracted almost as many students as the three schools that offered LL.M.s in intellectual property (IP). Today, there are 30 IP programs in the U.S. And agricultural law? Food law has replaced it. 

Legal specialties have taken over the graduate program landscape. When The National Jurist first started tracking specialized LL.M. programs, the 67 programs nationwide took up a single page of the magazine. Now, more than 300 programs are open to American lawyers. And the programs are increasingly specialized.

“The most likely LL.M. candidates are students who want to specialize in a particular subject, like tax, human rights or business law,” said Roger Alford, associate dean for international and graduate programs at Notre Dame Law School. “[Programs] are increasingly competitive, and more and more students are applying for them. But more and more law schools are offering them. It’s a time when the market is maturing.”

Richard Hermann, a professor at Concord Law School and author of several legal-career management books, attributes some of this growth to law schools mirroring one another in an effort to stay competitive.

“I think a lot of it is copy-catting,” Hermann said. “What we are discovering is that a lot of these programs are fillers for empty seats in the J.D. program. You have to do some due diligence before you hand over your check.”

But Hermann said law continues to grow more complex, meaning the need for attorneys with advanced training is greater.

For example, Hermann predicts an increase in compliance and cybersecurity LL.M. programs, as the market begins to need attorneys with experience in those areas.

We scoured our files and spoke with experts to identify the graduate law programs that are growing at the fastest rates.

1. Intellectual Property, Patent and Information Technology

Katrin Hussmann Schroll, director of admissions at University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, works closely with incoming LL.M. students. Without skipping a beat, she confidently predicts that intellectual property is the fastest growing LL.M. program in the country, and she is correct. It is likely to continue growing.

“I don’t foresee intellectual property dying down in terms of hot areas,” she said. “I think it will still be a hot area three years from now … There is always this catch-on in terms of how many additional law schools are going to come into this area.”

Schroll has seen a number of attorneys who graduated prior to the IP boom return to law school to earn LL.M.s. Members of the National Security Agency have earned LL.M.s in the subject at the University of Maryland in recent years.

“They didn’t have the LL.M. back then, so some [attorneys] are coming back to get it part-time because it’s a feasible way to solidify their credentials in areas they have been pursuing,” she said.

While earning an LL.M. in this area of the law may make attorneys more appealing candidates to employers, having an undergraduate degree in science, technology, engineering or math, commonly referred to as STEM degrees, is often important.

“You can do an IP law program if you don’t have a STEM background, but the employers are really looking for folks with that background,” she said.

Several law schools offer IP programs that intersect with other practice areas, such as UCLA School of Law, which offers an LL.M. in entertainment, media and intellectual property law. University of Maryland’s IP program intersects with business.

Hermann recommends pursuing a program with a sub-focus.

“I think you have to be a little bit selective, because IP these days covers a lot of things,” he said. 

2. International, Comparative & Transnational

There are 34 LL.M. programs open to American students in international, comparative and transnational law alone. Add programs with sub-specializations such as business, arbitration, trade, dispute resolution, criminal or human rights, and the offerings nearly double to 62.

While Hermann is not surprised by the growth of programs in this area, he said opportunities in the private sector are more likely to emerge than opportunities in the public sector.

“I think it is interesting career-wise if we are talking about private international law,” he said. “Now, public international law I see as rolling along very casually without much of an uptick.”

Most international LL.M.s open to Americans, are also available to graduates of foreign law schools, who often are the primary demographic. But Americans earning this particular degree have become more common due to globalization.

“Jut that fact that you’ve got a little hiccup in Cyprus a couple years ago and the whole world economy went nuts,” he said. “It’s not a bad field to get into. Everything is interconnected ... There’s good reason to think that in an interconnected world, an LL.M. in something like private international law is a very good thing to have.”

International law is another field where many intersections with other areas of the law take place. University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s program focuses on international business transaction, while Fordham University School of Law has a program on international dispute resolution. Criminal law, human rights, taxation, business and trade law are also commonly offered in conjunction with international law. 

Read the rest of the story in the free Back to School digital issue of the National Jurist magazine here.