LL.M. application deadlines being around the corner, for a lot of young lawyers, who are either about to graduate from their LL.B.s or who have been practicing for a while and want to level up their game by adding an LL.M. to their CVs, this is the season for applications to those LL.M. programs.
LL.M. being a big investment, it is important to get the most out of it. Even if you receive a scholarship, it is important to put your time and effort to the best use possible. Although they are not exclusive, below are a few points to take into consideration. They are mostly applicable to LL.M.s in the US, because the author received one and shares his observations based on his and his friends’ experiences. But you should be able to draw analogies for other LL.M. programs in anglo-saxon countries, where (i) LL.M. is an additional investment and (ii) it would give you a similar “added value” as a degree towards professional life. I would also like to distinguish LL.M. from regular master programs in law, usually 2 year programs, that are a requirement – either legally or socially (or both)- for being considered as a proper lawyer, as it is the case in many countries in Europe.
Being in NY, DC, Boston, Texas, Philadelphia, Chicago and some other big cities (or at locations relatively close to these cities) is quite very important.
Because differently than your undergraduate law degree, what you should expect to get out of LL.M. should be different than what you got from your first education or even from your non-professional master degree , if you have one. Remember, you are already lawyers in your own countries (or about to become one), and received a stellar education. Your LL.M. should give you things beyond simply education, such as a name & label to be proud of for the rest of your life, friends to stay in touch and visit whenever you make business travels – and sooner than you expect, you will discover mutual business benefits with your contacts, along lifelong friendships.
And while you are in a city for your LL.M., I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of NOT closing yourself to the library of your lovely school library. Print your school-related business cards, and go to as many conferences, receptions, events as possible, meet as many practitioners in your field of interest as possible, establish a big pool of contacts for using after you leave US. For that to be possible, you need to be located in a relatively big and active city, and although certain universities offer fabulous programs, because they are located in the middle of nowhere, you should ask yourself whether that is the right university for you.
Remember that your LL.M. is not really the equivalent of a master degree in Europe, or pretty much in the rest of the world, where academic achievement comes before many other aspects. This is more of a professional degree, without neglecting the academic side of course. Also the way that LL.M. programs are designed is not the same as a J.D. program (which is the equivalent of a bachelor degree in Law, with the small difference that, one has to have another undergraduate degree and pass LSAT in order to get into this program.), which, I find to be a lot better “engineered”.
Try to use your LL.M. program as a stepping-stone in going higher in your career, rather than only furthering your academic knowledge about Law. That’s why it might also be good to try to balance the classes that you take from full-time and adjunct professors. Usually, professors in US do not have only an academic background, with a few masters and PhDs. As a matter of fact, only a very small percentage of professors, educated in American-system, in US Law Schools have any degree beyond JD. They usually have a prior or parallel career in respected law firms, national and international institutions, and NGOs, depending on their fields. And adjunct professors are practitioners before theoretician, that’s why sometimes you might have a hard time in adjusting yourself to their teaching style, that’s why you should try to learn from them more of professional know-how, rather than, academic knowledge.
Again, LL.M. program is and should be very different from your regular Law education. Not only because you won’t simply get a generalist education – and will be offered dozens, if not hundreds of different classes, but also once you complete your LL.M., the classes that you will take will have an impact on the next job that you will land. Especially if you consider changing fields, that point is vital. Try to discuss everything with your academic counselor, but in some schools that service is not very well. That’s why never limit yourself to the advice that you will get from only one person, try to reach out to the alumni, professionals, professors, and every relevant people and try to get advice before you make your choices.
For some students, taking all their classes from a very specific field make a lot of sense for their very specific career paths. But if you are not sure about what you will do after LL.M. or after a few years time (mid and long term plans), try to pick a large – yet still relevant – array of classes that will probably help you to get better integrated to different fields where you might potentially want to work in the future. Even if you change your mind in the future, that large array of classes will give a certain flexibility to you and to your potential employers.
The size of your LL.M. program
In US, the size of LL.M. programs varies greatly. Depending on your expectations from your LL.M. program, you might consider picking a bigger program, because it would allow you to meet more people. But at the same time, if you are a devoted academic, then small and picky programs such as Yale’s might be a very good match for you.
Do not apply to an LL.M. if you envision to work in US permanently, because you will greatly be disappointed. Even if you consider working temporarily, establish your contacts, through your law firm or other connections, even before coming to US, so that you will be guaranteed to work during the one year OPT period during which you will be allowed to work in US.
But if you insist on your desire to work in US, then consider applying for a JD program instead of an LL.M. program. Which will mean in addition to your regular application materials, such as CV, Transcripts, TOEFL / IELTS and statement letter, you will need to take LSAT and your competition will be different. But don’t despair right away, because you are coming from a foreign country, the way you will be considered as a candidate will be different than American students, analogical but not identical. But do your homework about whether it is a good choice for you, before taking such an important decision.
Although this factor might seem like the most obvious, in fact it has two sides of it. Obviously you should try to get into a school as good as possible, since it will mean not only you will get a good education but also you will have better peers as well. The better the prestige is, the more you will have influential friends from/in different countries. Either through those who have been working in their governments or in top law firms in their countries, or in the future, if they are promising young lawyers – LL.M. will open many doors to them when they go back to their countries.
The other side of it, you shouldn’t rule out seemingly lower ranked schools just because of rankings at one website. The other factors above are just as much, if not more, important for your LL.M. as the ranking.
That said, depending on what you expect from your LL.M., if you didn’t receive an acceptance from a well-known school, it might be a wise idea to keep developing yourself and to reapply for LL.M.s with more experience next year.
Unless you are sure that the name of your LL.M. program won’t matter back home, in which case you don’t even have to follow any of the advice that I gave you,
As I said at the beginning, this list is not exclusive, there might be many things that I forgot to say, or didn’t realize them in the first place. But start to think about your applications early, take your time, and prepare well.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy your time during your LL.M. program as much as possible. That one year of your life has the potential to be one of the best years of your life.
But obviously at the end, it will be your decision and you are the one who will live with the consequences – good and bad.
May the odds be in your favor.
 LL.M. is the abbreviation of the Legum Magister, which literally means Master of Laws.
 For the sake of argument, what I mean is non-LL.M. master programs, that have a bigger emphasis on theoretical aspect of the law, while LL.M. focuses more on professional achievements.