The LL.M. experience at the University of Houston

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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 and asked them how and why their programs were distinct. The overall consensus: they make the programs a priority.

The University of Houston Law Center has a number of LL.M. programs, including its LL.M. in Health Law, Tax Law, Intellectual Property Law and Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Law. Those are some of the school’s strongest specialties, which is why Houston Law developed LL.M.s in those fields, said Karen Jones, executive director of the school’s Global and Graduate Programs. “The specialty areas are very strategic,” she said. “These are programs that take into consideration what we do best.” The LL.M. in Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Law is an example. The city of Houston has strong, long-established ties to those fields. “Houston is the energy capital of the world,” Jones said, making it a perfect place to study that specialty in greater detail. Some of the course offerings include Advanced Oil and Gas Contracts, Hazardous Waste Law, International Petroleum Transactions, and Law of Biodiversity Conservation. That gives you an idea as to how deep the school, well, drills. The city is rich with big-time energy companies, no question. ConocoPhilips, Occidental Petroleum and Halliburton are headquartered in Houston. Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron all have major presences in the city as well. Houston has other advantages too, Jones notes. It’s known globally, given its heft in the energy industry. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the nation — and one of the largest. It’s ranked fourth in population trailing only New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. And it’s in Texas, a border state to Mexico, which helps attract foreign students from that nation as well as those in nations in Central and South America, she said. However, students come from all over the globe, she added. This fall, about 60% of the LL.M. students are from outside of the U.S., a number that’s been growing. In 2014, the Texas Bar allowed for foreign LL.M. grads to take the state bar, which has helped attract students to Texas law schools, she said. The school fully embraced that move. The foreign students bring diversity and a wealth of knowledge and experience. As with all of the schools in this report, the foreign LL.M. students take classes with J.D. students. The interaction is one of the biggest reasons for these programs. “We recognize the value they bring,” she said of the foreign students. U.S. students look to the LL.M. to gain more education in niche fields, she said. Most come from outside of the state of Texas, again drawn by the school’s expertise in fields such as energy, health and tax. It’s difficult to pinpoint which specialty is the most popular, Jones said. Initially, the LL.M. in energy was the strongest, given Houston’s reputation in that industry. But globalization gave rise to a greater interest in the school’s LL.M. in International Law.

 

The LL.M. in Intellectual Property & Information Law also has seen more interest, given the rise in technology. And Houston has a growing tech center, particularly when related to energy. At least 21 of Houston’s 40 corporate R&D centers are focused on energy technology and innovation, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. That kind of industry presence helps the school help students land key externships and networking opportunities, Jones said. The school’s career services are not limited to assisting J.D. students. It’s open to all students and those services are offered for life, she said. Finally, what makes the LL.M. experience at Houston so special is the faculty, she said. They are tops in their fields and take a hands-on, personal approach. She has seen professors give students their cell phone numbers and encourage them to contact them any time. “The excellence of our faculty and staff really sets us apart,” she said.

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