After I passed the New York bar exam in 2019, I began researching opportunities to gain more legal education and credentials in a field of law I was particularly interested–food law. That’s when I found a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree from the University of Arkansas in food and agricultural law and policy.
The program is a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes and allows students to attend on a part-time basis. I was excited about the program, because I am passionate about food law and want to be an advocate for individuals with food allergies. I felt the program would help me better understand the nuances of food law and policy and help me better advocate for change in food policy.
But, do you really need an LL.M? After all, you finished your law degree, graduated, passed the bar exam, got yourself a great job, why would you need another degree?
The LLM is a program of study for law school graduates who have already passed the bar and become licensed attorneys. Why the need for additional education? Let’s look deeper into what an LLM is and what it can achieve for your career.
What Is An LLM?
As mentioned, the LLM is a degree program for licensed, barred attorneys. The LLM provides attorneys with an opportunity to specialize in a focused area of law.
For most of us, our law school curriculum provided a general overview of legal subjects. The approach of most law schools is to teach students how to analyze fact patterns and cases. Students can take clinics to learn how to practice in special areas of law. There are internships and clerkships and plenty of opportunities to gain an understanding of focused legal areas. Once practicing law, there are continuing legal education classes (CLEs) that will help you gain a better understanding of an area of law.
However, rarely do any of these opportunities give a legal scholar a credential to show that they have studied this area and been approved to practice in the area according to professional teachers. In essence, an LL.M. announces to the world that you have demonstrated a high level of competence in this area of law.
There are numerous LL.M. degree programs for a variety of areas of law including: estate planning, air and space law, agriculture law, food law, tax law, entertainment law, international law, human rights law, dispute resolution, business law, environmental law, and others.
Why An LL.M. Degree May Be Right For You
In short, probably not. Still, are there good reasons to get an LL.M. degree? As any good lawyer will tell you, the answer is: it depends. Let’s look at a few factors to weigh in deciding whether to pursue an LL.M. degree.
What Are Your Career Goals?
What you wish to achieve in your career may be a key factor in deciding whether an LL.M. degree is right for you.
An LL.M. program is not quite like law school classes. The focus isn’t so much on breaking down cases as it is understanding the nuances of a subject. Rather than focusing on just analysis, LL.M. programs look to help students develop an understanding of how that subject relates to other areas of policy, how to practice in that field in a real, practical way, and also how to be a change-maker in that space.
What kind of career goals would require an LL.M? Well, first off, there are very few (if any) careers that I know of that actually require an LL.M. That being said, there are some career paths where you’ll benefit more from an LL.M. than others.
For example, if you wish to teach in this field, then developing both a practical as well as an academic understanding of your field would be helpful. Understanding how to develop curriculum around your program of study, how to have academic discussions on these subjects, and how to assess proficiency in the subject would be helpful.
Attorneys practicing in other highly specialized areas of law like human rights and taxation would benefit from an LL.M. in these fields. Taxation especially is one of those areas that few attorneys want to attempt, because the laws are so complicated. Even as an estate planning attorney, I see a lot of confusion about tax concepts like capital gains, step-up basis, and tax-deferred accounts. Having a credential showing a mastery of these subjects would not only be an advantage as a job candidate but would also be a great selling feature when building a client base.
What Is Your Budget?
Not all LL.M. programs are created equal. Some can be very expensive. If you’re still reeling from student loan debt, getting another degree may not be a wise choice.
However, some programs are budget-friendly and may be more worth your efforts.
That being said, there’s also the value of your time. Most programs require you to complete the course of study within a certain amount of time. That will require you to participate in the program at least part-time with approximately six to nine credit hours per semester. The rule of thumb is each hour of in-class time should require two hours of work outside of class.
If you don’t feel you have the extra time to ensure you do a quality job in your studies, then this may not be the time to tackle an LL.M. program.
Do You Really Need That LL.M?
The question isn’t really whether you need an LL.M. The question is whether an LL.M. will be worth your time and money. If the subject matter is of particular interest to you, if your career aspirations will benefit from earning an LL.M., and you are financially able to spend the time and money on the program, then by all means, an LL.M. may be right for you.
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