Hot Practice Areas for Foreign LL.M.s


The question of what is a hot practice area for foreign attorneys is not easily answered. Foreign attorneys come with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and the country in which they gained their experience and expertise is a huge factor in the hiring process. Further, there are practice areas that are hot, but for which employers do not sponsor H1B visas because there is sufficient domestic talent whereas other practice areas may be less hot, but with a deficit of domestic talent.

It makes me cringe to see lists titled “Law Firms That Hire LL.M. Graduates.” There is no such thing as a law firm that hires LL.M. graduates. There are only law firms that hire international lawyers because of their specific legal acumen or contacts. Knowing that a law firm hired an LL.M. graduate from Brazil in the Latin America corporate practice group some five years ago does not help the French LL.M. graduate with a real estate background. Law firms do not hire an LL.M. degree, they hire expertise and skills the market currently demands.

The question is further complicated by the influence of the economic relationship between the U.S. and the country the foreign lawyer has expertise in. LL.M. graduates that gained experience primarily in countries with which the U.S. legal industry has strong economic bonds have an easier time than others.

So, every foreign attorney should have an in-depth understanding of his or her expertise and skills. I emphasize that in-depth understanding is needed, because too often I see job seekers who do not know what they bring to the table that will benefit the hiring firm. Law is a business after all. It therefore also requires having an understanding of the legal market and recent developments in the field of interest. These two components, understanding of one’s expertise and market analysis, will allow candidates to make educated moves within the legal market leveraging their skills. The approach of “I would like to find any job with any international nexus” or “I am looking for firms that hire LL.M. graduates” is doomed to fail. 

Having said all that, let’s take a look at some trending practice areas with current job openings. To give you some numbers, our Foreign Lawyer Talent Pool currently has 400 positions posted which are distributed among these language skills (highest to lowest): Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, German, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Arabic, and Hindi.   

Business and Corporate Law
In particular, new products and new markets, corporate transactions, corporate finance, and regulatory compliance. 

Islamic Finance
Islamic finance is one the fastest growing areas of law. Lawyers in this field ensure that their clients’ instructions and transactions are compliant with Shari'a and secondary sources known as the “Hadith.”

Capital Markets
Capital markets practice includes advice on debt and equity offerings, on securitization and on the creation of derivatives.  Debt, equity and derivatives are all types of security, which is why capital markets law is sometimes referred to as securities law.

Especially with knowledge of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and import and export control laws.

Intellectual Property Law

Patent Prosecution
Especially with degrees in mechanical, aerospace, electrical, and biomedical engineering or equivalents.  An advanced engineering degree is preferred.  Many openings seek Japan or China expertise.

Especially with knowledge in digital rights management, encryption and fingerprinting.

Immigration Law
Immigration law will always be an interesting practice area for foreign attorneys. However, foreign attorneys from Spanish speaking countries compete with JD graduates whose Spanish skills are often en par with those of foreign LLMs but have more knowledge of U.S. immigration law. 

International Commercial Litigation/Arbitration
The financial sector, especially due to the European crisis, intellectual property and the energy sector are just a few contributors to growing contentious legal practice. Many disputes are going to arbitration as many corporate parties seek to save cost. Cross-border trades contribute to the popularity of ADR with major commercial contracts increasingly including arbitration clauses. 

So, what if your practice area is not on the list?  This is not cause for concern.  We are merely talking about trends and the legal market is in constant flux so it can and will change. Further, as I hope to have made clear at the beginning of the article, the variables that have to be taken into consideration are many and no one size fits all answer can be made. Finally, there is so much that you can do to enhance your job prospects that no article of 900 words should ever discourage you from pursuing your goals. We have worked with clients who secured job offers that seemed impossible at first.

One last piece of advice: E-hiring is trending. Social media will be an essential tool of corporate recruiters and HR departments. Keeping and maintaining an up to date and active LinkedIn profile is not a plus anymore, but a necessity.   

Desiree Jaeger-Fine, Esq, is a regular contributor to The National Jurist and principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, The Hub for Foreign Legal Talent™ - helping foreign lawyers seek employment in the U.S.