The LL.M. experience at ASU Law

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Editor’s Note: As offerings grow, we look to determine which LL.M. programs offer the best experience for both U.S. and foreign attorneys. The LL.M. used to be a rather narrow graduate degree. Foreign attorneys have traditionally been drawn to it because it could give them the chance to sit for the U.S. bar in some states, and U.S. attorneys sought it to further their knowledge in a number of fields, tax being among the most popular.

Today? The degree is growing in popularity as well as in the number of specialties offered.

Gaining such a degree can help lawyers get an edge in the job market, proponents say. U.S. attorneys may see the LL.M. as a way to distinguish themselves in a certain field or as pathway to an alternative legal career. Foreign attorneys can use it to make them more marketable in their home nations.

We reached out to a number of schools with LL.M. programs asked them how and why their programs were distinct. The overall consensus: they make the programs a priority.

Few schools offer the LL.M. in the same manner as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Most schools offer a handful of LL.M. programs, but Arizona State offers nearly a dozen in a myriad of fields, from criminal law to patent practice.

“We have a very robust curriculum,” noted Joey Dormady, director of Graduate Programs. “We put all of our great courses on the schedule to give students a smorgasbord of options.”

The school prides itself on taking a student-oriented approach to all of its degree offerings, he said. “We empower them,” he said. “They choose their own adventure.” For LL.M. students, that gives them more latitude when it comes to taking courses that they feel are necessary. “We want to give them the expertise to do their jobs well,” he said.

About 60% of students are U.S.-educated. The other 40% are foreign attorneys. The school’s location is another bonus, Dormady said. It’s located in downtown Phoenix, a major metropolitan center and a capital city to boot. That means a wide range of externships is available.

Plus, the school has campuses in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., so students can have a chance to study and land externships in those desirable locations as well.

The school is ranked 25th by U.S. News & World Report – the third highest ranking for a public school in the West – which also adds to its allure, Dormady said.

So who’s attracted to an LL.M.? That really depends, he said. A recent J.D. graduate may feel he or she didn’t quite get a deep enough dive into a practice area they really like, so the LL.M. gives them more knowledge and expertise in it.

A more established lawyer may be in a practice area that he or she finds unfulfilling and wants to change. Suppose a lawyer is in family law, but wants to get into intellectual property. That’s a tough transition to make, he said. Earning an LL.M. in that practice area could help.

“It really runs the gamut,” he said, of why lawyers look to gain the degree.

Some foreign attorneys are indeed interested in taking the bar, but many others also look to further their career goals back home. “They’re making strides to become more elite,” he said. A number are paid by their employers to get an LL.M. to make them more valuable to the firms or corporations.

The school’s ranking and location, the depth and breadth of courses and the large faculty all put the school on the LL.M. map, he said.

Like other schools, it also offers LL.M. in practice areas that are unique to the school and region. For instance, it has one of the nation’s only LL.M.s in Indian Gaming, as well as Tribal Self-Governance and Tribal Policy, Law and Government. Arizona is home to many tribes, and the law school has significant expertise in that area.

Indian gaming, for one, is booming. As the school notes: “Indian gaming generates annual revenues in excess of $33 billion with more than 680,000 employees.”

The LL.M. in intellectual property is one of the more popular offerings, again because of the booming tech sector. Arizona State’s Center for Law, Science and Innovation was the first of its kind in the nation, Dormady said. That might be surprising giving the youthfulness of the school. It was founded in 1965.

Law is constantly changing, Dormady noted, which is why the school looks to always adopt new courses and programs. “We listen and pay attention to what trends are out there,” he said. “We try to be innovative and keep our courses relevant.”

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