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The Value of a LL.M. Degree

In today’s competitive job market, many law school graduates are looking for ways to distinguish themselves from the pack. One such way that both international and U.S. law grads are turning to give them a leg up on the competition is by receiving a Master of Law degree, or LL.M.

According to the National Law Journal, the number of LL.M. degrees conferred by American Bar Association-approved law schools grew by 65 percent between 1999 and 2009, following an already 82 percent increase between 1990 and 1999. (Note: LL.M. degree data is only updated every 10 years, so the next census update won’t be available until 2020!)

Often specializing in areas such as tax, environmental, and corporate law, the majority of students receiving the LL.M. are international. Most of these students already have a law degree in their home country, and in many cases, they are required to get an LL.M. to compete in the global marketplace.

According to Fernando Elias-Calles Romo, a recent LL.M. graduate from the University of Chicago who practiced civil and commercial law in Mexico, the LL.M. degree is seen as a necessity. “Globalization is bringing the world closer and lawyers need to learn the language of international deals, which is English,” says Romo. “As a lawyer we also know that many important clients are American, or want to do business with American law firms, so we need to understand the mindset of the American lawyer.”

For American J.D. graduates there are a number of reasons to seek out a LL.M. degree. Many want to develop an expertise within a particular field or change their area of practice. Others meanwhile want to enhance their credentials by going to a nationally recognized school or are simply looking to get their career back on track.

The LL.M. is particularly helpful to an American student who wants to specialize in a particular field but did not have an opportunity to pursue that area going through their J.D. program. According to Heike Spahn, a consultant with LL.M. admissions committee experience for AdmissionsConsultants and former Assistant Dean at University of Chicago Law School, the LL.M. is “for people who have a special interest and don’t have the background.”

Take for example the fact that tax laws and environmental policy are constantly changing. Schools like New YorkUniversity and the University of Denver offer specialized degrees in those areas.

For LL.M. students specialization is what truly provides someone an edge in their looming job search. According to Professor James Otto, the director of graduate students for the University of Denver’s LL.M. program, “The legal profession is very competitive. In order to distinguish yourself in the job market, having a specialization really helps.”