How to decide if an LL.M. is the right path for you

The decision of whether and where to pursue an LL.M. degree in the United States is an important one that includes a range of considerations and challenges. Let me take you through some of the most important aspects.

The Basics

More than 100 of the country’s some 200 law schools offer the LL.M. or Master of Laws degree. Many of these programs are designed largely or even exclusively for international law graduates. The LL.M. degree is a one-year (two-semester) program of study that is at all or almost all schools course based. The fall semester runs from August or very early September through December and the spring semester begins in January and generally goes through May. The standard start date is in August, but a handful of schools permit students to begin their LL.M. studies in January.

Should I Pursue an LL.M.?

There is no “yes” or “no” answer because it depends on each person’s circumstances. In determining whether to do the LL.M., it is important to consider the extent to which the LL.M. will help you reach your goals – whether they be academic, professional, and/or personal. Other possibilities include pursuing a master’s degree in Europe (or somewhere else), an online degree, or a U.S. J.D. These, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

The U.S. LL.M. offers several advantages over other options. These include the social and cultural experience of living in the U.S., the broadening of knowledge and perspectives that come from learning about a different legal system, adopting a form of critical thinking that is indispensable to becoming a top-quality lawyer prepared to handle global challenges, developing your legal English language skills, and building a global community and network of professionals. Some states – including, most prominently, New York – allow LL.M. degree holders to sit for the bar examination and become licensed in that jurisdiction – an impressive credential regardless of where you practice. And, unlike the U.S. J.D. degree, the LL.M. takes only one year to complete and requires no standardized entrance examination (J.D. seekers normally must take the LSAT).

Where To Do Your LL.M.?

Once you decide to pursue the U.S. LL.M., there are myriad programs and law schools from which to choose. There are several factors that you should consider, primary among them the academic program offered at the various schools. Master of Laws degree programs in the United States vary in terms of whether they offer a general LL.M. or an LL.M. specialized in a particular field or fields of study. The important thing is to be sure that the law school you choose has sufficient focus and courses in the subject(s) in which you are interested. Prospective students should always review current and prior semester course listings to get a sense of the breadth and depth of the academic offerings. Other factors that you should consider are location (big cities offer networking possibilities that may be absent in smaller cities, for instance), the size of the program (U.S. LL.M. programs range in size from a handful or two to several hundred students), and academic opportunities such as the ability to engage in clinics, externships/internships, and journals.

I suggest that you start your search by writing down what is important to you and then look for a school and program that can offer that. If you start your search without first identifying your needs and wishes, the search becomes overwhelming easily.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is a writer and author of "Pursuing Happiness: One Lawyer’s Journey” (forthcoming August 2021), "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking,” and “A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired."