Best tax LL.M. programs

The tax LL.M. is held in high esteem because of how complicated and ever-changing tax law can be. As many as 30 law schools offer an L.LM. in tax, so options are widely available. Which, however, are best? 

TaxTalent, for several years, has surveyed the heads of corporate tax departments, asking them to name up to five of the nation's LL.M. programs they held in the highest regard. In the most recent survey, New York University was first, with nearly 67 percent of respondents acknowledging it. Georgetown University was second with nearly 65 percent.

The University of Michigan Law School's program finished third — ahead of the University of Florida, but that program, which is an international tax L.LM., is very selective. As few as four students may make up the class.

Boston University School of Law and Northwestern University School of Law were the other top finishers.

Several of the schools — including New York University,  Georgetown University and Boston University School of Law — offer programs online, so they can accessed that way. Indeed, because a good portion of L.LM. students are working attorneys, that option has become increasingly popular.

It was the growth of these options that led Paul Caron, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, along with other legal professionals, to write a book on tax LL.M.s, which is to be published soon by the American Bar Association. It's the continuation of an effort he started with a paper he co-authored called, Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree: Where?

He was concerned that students didn't have enough information on tax LL.M.s as they grew more popular.

“Our book gives them more data than they currently have,” he said.

It's not a ranking, he noted. It's to help students make more informed decisions when it comes to pursuing a tax LL.M. The team managed to get information from the top 13 programs.

One problem, for instance, is that schools are not required to post employment information regarding LL.M. graduates, as they are with their J.D. grads, Caron said. The scholars sent out a “very detailed” questionnaire to the schools in hopes of filling in some of these blanks.

Students need to realize that this LL.M. is no “magic bullet” if they are having problems finding jobs, he said. “That's not how this world works,” he said.

A third-year law school student, for instance, shouldn't pursue it if he or she has no interest in tax.

“It only makes sense if they're committed and they go to a program with all guns blazing,” he said.

New York University is a school that, even though it's not required, does post LL.M. employment data on its website. For the Class of the 2013, for instance, 105 of the 113 graduates — or 92.9 percent — were employed.

The information is provided to give prospective students as true a picture as possible of the tax LL.M., said Joshua Blanks, the faculty director of the school's graduate tax program.

“We know it's a huge commitment for students,” he said.

His school is a powerhouse in the speciality for a number of reasons, he said. First of all, the program dates back to 1945, and it boasts both a renowned faculty and adjunct faculty, he said.

That combination allows for the school to offer “a huge number of classes,” he said. Indeed, it boasts 95 offerings. How about, Taxation of Subchapter S Corporations, anyone? Or, Colloquium on Tax Policy and Public Finance, perhaps?

Being based in New York, the financial capital of the nation, is a huge bonus as well. Weekly, events on tax topics are held on campus, Blanks said. Because of the program's long history, it's produced many alumni who are quick to mentor students and give them employment advice.

An LL.M. is not necessary to practice tax law. So why take it? In most J.D. programs, a student only takes no more than a few tax classes, Blanks said. Arguably, that simply is not enough.

“The material is technical and complex,” he said. “It's hard to practice without taking [an LL.M.].”

And technology is opening the door for students from all over the world to get an LL.M. from top universities without having to attend the schools. The online LL.M.version at New York University is the same as the classroom one, Blanks noted. Lectures are videotaped and students can access them at will.

Top 20 Tax LL.M. programs as ranked by U.S. corporate tax hiring authorities

  1. New York University
  2. Georgetown University
  3. University of Michigan
  4. University of Florida
  5. Boston University
  6. Northwestern University
  7. DePaul University
  8. Golden Gate University
  9. Villanova University
  10. University of Miami
  11. UCLA
  12. Chicago-Kent College of Law
  13. University of Denver
  14. Loyola University Chicago
  15. New York Law School
  16. Wayne State University
  17. The John Marshall Law School
  18. Washington University
  19. University of Washington
  20. Temple University