ADVICE

What is an LLM, and is it the right choice for you?

SOURCE: Loic Venance/AFP
The LLM is a graduate-level law degree. Source: Loic Venance/AFP


By Shekinah Kannan 

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What do former US President Barack Obama, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi have in common? All three influential leaders have practiced law.

Law is one of the oldest academic fields in history that involves just about every aspect of life, be it business, politics, government, finance, property, to human rights, to name a few.

If you’re looking to carve yourself a rewarding law career, a master’s of law — or LLM — should be at the top of your academic bucket list. 

What is an LLM?

The LLM is a graduate-level law degree that enables students with a bachelor’s degree to broaden their horizons with a particular area of law. 

This specialised knowledge helps lawyers establish themselves as an authority in their chosen fields. It also opens up new career options than those with only an undergraduate degree. A postgraduate degree in law is also ideal for those looking to switch specialisations, and even get involved in legal research.

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The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the employment of lawyers is projected to grow four percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. “Competition for jobs over the next 10 years is expected to be strong because more students graduate from law school each year than there are jobs available,” it said.

While the legal environment can be competitive, an LLM can set graduates apart. 

Graduation requirements for an LLM programme varies between universities. Some are research-oriented, requiring students to write a thesis. Others only offer a number of classes that students must take to complete the course of study. Many other programmes, however, combine both coursework and research. 

Part-time programmes are also available, and could be a useful option for practicing solicitors who need a more flexible option. 

Many professionals use an LLM to develop a new specialisation or as a pathway to a new career. These typically include those in intellectual property; entertainment; international dispute resolutions; tax and securities or many others.

Apart from a general programme, common concentrations include but are not limited to banking law, finance law, bankruptcy law, business law, commercial law, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), contract law, criminal law, air and space law, cybersecurity law, real estate law, and maritime law.

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There are many universities the LLM, including esteemed institutions such as the NYU School of Law, Columbia Law School, the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law, Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Stanford Law School, Leiden Law School, or National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law.

Regardless of which area you choose to specialise in, an LLM can be a great option to help you advance your career. Despite the pandemic prompting a near-shutdown of almost every sector – there are more law firms and corporate legal departments hiring in 2021 than laying off in the US.

A survey by Robert Half Legal Consulting Solution which notes that 57% of its respondents said they were expanding compared to the one percent that are eliminating positions. Meanwhile, 37% are bringing back furloughed employers or are maintaining their current workforce.  

Last month, Reuters reported that many firms are scrambling to attract and retain associates. “Some firms have increased base pay for associates, matching New York rates in smaller cities, and a raft of firms announced special bonuses reaching [US]$64,000 this spring,” they said.

What’s more, according to Payscale, the LLM is an advanced qualification that comes with a stellar ROI, or US$132,500 to be exact.