Why are U.S. LL.M. programs so popular?

 

George Edwards, a law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law is the world's leading expert when it comes to U.S. graduate law degrees for foreign-trained lawyers. He is also author of LL.M. Roadmap: An International Student’s Guide to U.S. Law School Programs. We recently sat down with him for a Q&A on why LL.M programs are so popular and why international students come to the U.S.

Q. Is the LL.M. degree a very popular degree in the U.S.? What is the enrollment like?

A. Yes, the LL.M. degree is very popular in the U.S. In the last decade or two, many U.S. law schools have created new LL.M. programs for international students, that is, for students who earned their first law degree outside the U.S. Many U.S. schools with long-existing LL.M. programs have sought to increase the number of international students enrolled in those programs. And indeed more international students are seeking LL.M. degrees from U.S. schools.

Today, about 6,000 students are enrolled in U.S. programs at over 150 U.S. law schools. Despite increased costs of attending these programs, students still come to the U.S. for these degrees.

 

Q. Why has there been an increase in the quantity of U.S. schools offering the LL.M. in the U.S. and increased enrollment?

A.  I would like to think that U.S. law schools are creating LL.M. programs or expanding existing programs primarily for altruistic reasons. Maybe U.S. law schools understand how bringing international students to the U.S. for law study promotes peace, security, the rule of law and human rights not only in the U.S., but also overseas. The school recognize that when LL.M. graduates return to their home countries and become judges, professors, government officials, and otherwise have an opportunity to share some of the values, multi-cultural learning and living experiences, inter-cultural sensitivities they acquired living in U.S. local communities and going to school with great legal minds from the U.S. and great legal minds of LL.M. classmates from around the globe.

The reality is that law schools are businesses, and to stay afloat they must generate revenue to pay law school expenses, such as faculty salaries. Law school revenues primarily come from tuition revenues, and revenues are down due to fewer U.S. students enrolling in the degree programs for the basis U.S. law degree, the Juris Doctor (J.D.). The U.S. economy has been down along with the demand for U.S. lawyers. Tuition has increased. Student loan debt has increased, with prospective students avoiding law school to avoid debt.

U.S. law schools have been seeking ways to make up for lost revenue. One way is to create or expand enrollment for international LL.M. students who may not have the same worries that are driving JD enrollment downwards.

The desire to increase law school revenue has triggered a proliferation of new LL.M. programs and triggered the expansion of existing LL.M. programs.

 

Q. Why do most international students come to the U.S. to join those LL.M. programs?

A.  The overarching reasons that international students give for wanting to receive an LL.M. are:

First, to make you more marketable to U.S. clients in your home country, & to clients from your country in U.S. In the globalized business marketplace, there is a demand for lawyers well-versed in the both sides of international deals. For example, if you are a Brazilian lawyer with a U.S. LL.M. you can service U.S. clients doing business in Brazil, and serve Brazilian clients doing business in the U.S.

Second, to help you get a better job or to do your current job better, using the expertise you will gain during your LL.M. year.

Third, as an economic investment in your career, whether in practicing law, judicial work, teaching, or even in a non-law area. After you complete your LL.M. you may not reap immediate results, for example of a new job or a promotion where you currently work. But in the long-term your U.S. law degree will likely benefit your career.

Fourth, to take a break from your current job, to gain some direction, or just because. Some international students are young in their careers when they come to the U.S. for an LL.M., and may have little or no work experience in law, may not even be admitted to practice law in their home countries, and may lack direction on what they want to do with their career.  Others may be mid-career, and just want a break from the office or courtroom.