The LLM Degree: A Degree in Mastering Uncertainty

COVID-19 reminded us that uncertainty is a fact of life, but this article is not about COVID-19. It is about the LLM degree in “normal” times. Uncertainty is an intimate feature of the LLM program and part and parcel of what makes the degree so valuable.

Most LLM applicants, students, and graduates are frustrated by the lack of concrete answers to simple questions: Will I be able to sit for the bar exam with this LLM? Will I be able to find a job with this LLM? Which LLM program should I choose? Which classes should I register for? Which bar prep course is the best for LLM students? I could fill the entire page with similar questions. Most answers will include “it depends” and require the LLM to decide between multiple eventualities. To add to the complexity, it requires the LLM to make decisions based on incomplete data. The LLM degree and the connected goals are permeated with variables and unknowns. The question, “Will an employer hire me after my LLM?” for example, will depend on the attorney’s experience, language skills, cultural acumen, and bar admission; the economy and competition; and visa considerations, among other factors.  

It is precisely this aspect of the LLM experience that makes the degree not only a degree in law but a professional degree. The ability to function in an uncertain environment and to make decisions based on incomplete data is a valuable life skill. Moreover, it can turn an average professional into a leader. Life rarely presents itself with complete facts. Should we wait to make decisions until we feel we have all the necessary information, we will never make a decision. A professional must be able to discern which information is necessary to act competently, and which information, while helpful, is not critical to have before taking action. 

Not getting straightforward answers can be frustrating; we all understand that. But our answers are vague because of the complexity of the situation. This complicated situation can stress you or teach you – the decision is yours. If you let it teach you, you are getting more than just a degree in law. You will learn how to act competently within uncertainty and to make decisions despite incomplete information. This will set you apart on the legal market. 

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is director of International Programs at Brooklyn Law School and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).