Guide to Master of Laws (LL.M.) Programs

Law professionals have worked hard to meet the demands of their clients, but as new trends take over the industry, opportunities continue to pop up for those with specialized degrees.

Perhaps you have your eyes set on a job in environmental law, or you want to use your law degree to help beef up national cybersecurity. A Master of Laws or LL.M. degree can help to get you on your way to reaching your professional goals, no matter the niche you’ve carved out for yourself. An LL.M. equips you with the skills and knowledge you need to work efficiently in the specialty area you choose for yourself.

What is an LL.M.?

The LL.M. is the standard abbreviation for a Master of Laws. An LL.M. degree is earned by people who already have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or an equivalent professional law degree and want to specialize in a particular field of law. While you don’t need an LL.M. to practice law, the expertise you gain from this advanced degree could potentially make you more attractive to law firms or clients. Master of Law programs may share similarities when it comes to admissions requirements. But they can differ too.

Typical Curriculum

From concentrations in Tax Law to International Law, the curriculum of an LL.M. student will vary, depending on their focus area. While students have the freedom to choose electives that align with their professional and intellectual interests, there are core courses that all LL.M. students have to take so they can gain an understanding of major legal terminology and best practices. Examples of these courses include:

  • Legal Research, Writing and Analysis in the U.S.
  • Constitutional Law
  • Criminal Law

Many schools offer students a wide range of elective courses to choose from. Some LL.M. electives are:

  • Tax Audits, Appeals and Litigation
  • Estate Planning
  • Election Law
  • Energy Law
  • Corporate Finance
  • Trade Secrets
  • Counseling and Legal Strategy in the Digital Age

In addition to the courses LL.M. students take, some programs require students to complete an externship within a legal organization, governmental agency, nonprofit or corporation where their direct supervisor is a lawyer. This opportunity, often lasting 10 or more weeks, gives students the opportunity to gain real-world experience and put the knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom to use.

Program Length

The traditional LL.M. degree is designed to be a single year of advanced study. However, depending on the school or university and the number of credits required, graduation times can vary. Some universities offer full-time classes so the degree can be completed in a year or even less than a year. Other universities offer part-time and online options for students who need a longer, more flexible schedule.

LL.M. Requirements

Generally speaking, the LL.M. degree is geared toward experienced attorneys or people who require an additional education within their particular field that they can immediately apply to their current jobs. Students who seek an LL.M. have already earned their J.D. degree or work within a field that incorporates law. For those looking to apply to an LL.M. program, know that the requirements vary from school to school.

While a J.D. degree is required of prospective U.S.-based students, some schools will consider international students only if they hold a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or international equivalent of the J.D. and can meet the other requirements that they’ve laid out. Taking the GRE or LSAT is not part of the application process for an increasing number of schools, as these exams are typically taken prior to earning your JD or other graduate degrees.

Online LL.M. Programs

There are plenty of online LL.M. programs for candidates to consider. These programs offer a legal education that is similar in scope and breadth to those that are offered in a traditional in-class setting. The online LL.M. degree offers the flexibility of course options and longer lengths of time to complete the program. However, there are some schools that still require on-site participation and group work, so it is important to research the university you want to attend to determine if they meet your specific needs and circumstances.

Is an LL.M. Worth It?

With an LL.M., you will gain knowledge and experience that may set you apart from professionals without this advanced degree. An LL.M. can provide additional career options, networking opportunities and competitive salary increases.

The median annual wage for legal occupations in 2018 was $80,810, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among lawyers, the top 10% earns more than $208,000. Your LL.M. may also open doors for you to work outside of traditional legal settings. For example, you may be interested in finance and decide to work as a Private Banker or Financial Advisor.

Your specialized education could help you to provide customized financial services to individuals and ensure compliance with tax laws. Private bankers can work in investment banks, wealth management firms, and more. As of 2018, the median annual salary for personal financial advisors is $88,890, according to the BLS.

Also, the LL.M. can be an attractive option for foreign lawyers who not only want to gain U.S. connections, but also have the opportunity to learn how the American legal system operates.

Like most graduate degrees, an LL.M. will come with its hurdles, such as securing finances and putting in the time to complete the degree. But consider earning this degree if you strongly believe that it can help you achieve your professional goals.

Frequently Asked Questions about LL.M. Degrees

There are other advanced law-related degrees you can pursue. Make sure you know what each degree offers and the similarities they share with one another before applying to a specific program.

What’s the main difference between an MLS and LL.M.?

While both are master’s degrees, the MLS and the LL.M. have some differences such as:

  • Non-lawyers earn an MLS while lawyers typically earn the LL.M.
  • An LL.M. degree requires a J.D. degree and offers a specialization for a lawyer to use in practice, while the MLS educates students to understand how the law affects and interacts with their work.

Can I transfer credits from an MLS degree to an LL.M.?

Every university has its policies about transferring credits for graduate-level courses between degree programs. If you want to move your credits, review the requirements of the specific LL.M. program you are looking to attend, and see if any of your MLS credits or coursework will be accepted.

Can LL.M. graduates take the bar exam?

In few jurisdictions, an LL.M can provide a pathway to sit for the bar exam - but it does not guarantee eligibility. Individuals who pursue the bar with only an LL.M are generally international candidates who are actively practicing law in their home countries and have the background and education to sit for the exam. Other special cases can also be those who have earned a non-accredited J.D. program and had not previously qualified for licensure. Most states require a J.D. degree from a law school, apprenticeship status, and good standing with your state board. Review the requirements of your state to see what is needed before you take the bar exam.

Do I have to declare a concentration in LL.M.?

Many candidates seek an LL.M. to earn a specialized degree in a particular field. Declaring your LL.M. concentration narrows your scope of study and provides you with additional qualifications within that field. However, you can still choose to earn a traditional and more general LL.M. if you are not quite sure about a specialization.

Do I have to pass the bar exam to be accepted in LL.M.?

Applying to an LL.M. program does not require the bar. Earning a JD is meant to prepare students for the rigorous testing of the bar exam, while a typical LL.M program offers an additional year of in-depth study. Holding a JD and having previous law experience is a main requirement of being accepted into an LL.M program.

What can you do with a law degree besides becoming a lawyer?

Not all of the people who obtain a law degree go on to become practicing lawyers. Often, understanding law concepts can be a useful skill to have in a variety of industries that require legal advice and trained professionals. Some non-lawyer jobs include a consultant, marketing executive, financial advisor, or law professor.