Beyond Dollars: Unlocking the Full Value of an LL.M. Degree

The legal job market slowdown has sharpened focus on the expected payoff

After a hiring boom in recent years, the legal sector is experiencing a recruitment slowdown. Some firms are scaling back recruitment efforts or implementing job reductions following a period of heightened hiring for fresh law graduates who could command starting salaries above $200,000. 

This slowdown has sharpened focus on the calculation that many prospective LL.M. candidates make: what is the expected payoff? 

By and large, however, would-be students are fairly confident that they’ll get a return on their investment. “Usually, by the time a prospective student reaches out to me or attends an LL.M. fair they have already determined that the degree is worth the costs and efforts involved,” points out Martin Slavens, Director of Graduate Admissions at Fordham Law School. 

Financial concerns and questions are presented as a challenge to overcome to reach their goal of studying in the US, he adds. “I work with applicants to help them find ways to make it possible for them to attend our LL.M. degree. This includes the various scholarship opportunities offered by Fordham Law as well as providing applicants with a resource guide for external funding.” 

Slavens adds that when it comes to judging the ROI in the LL.M, prospective students should consider how they will be able to leverage the opportunities, resources, and network a law school can provide to meet their specific goals. 

“The ROI is as much about what students do with the unique opportunities they have during and after an LL.M. degree as it is about the school and programs themselves,” he says. “For example, someone looking for short term or long term employment in New York after their degree will need to spend a lot of time attending networking events and may want to do an externship to gain experience in a US law firm.” 

He says that what each student brings to these opportunities, how they approach the encounters, makes a huge difference. “For those planning to return to their home countries after their degree to seek employment or return to their law firms, I recommend talking to lawyers from their area who have earned a US LL.M. to learn how the degree helped their career progress,” he adds. 

Financial assistance and challenges

At USC Gould School of Law, most of the LL.M. students are international, from approximately 40 different countries. “We find that our prospective students and applicants understand the value that an LL.M. degree can bring them after graduation, and they apply because they plan to use the degree to further their career advancement,” says Ashley Sim, Associate Director of Admissions, Graduate and International Programs at USC Gould School of Law. 

“Rather than inquiring about the expected return, we find that many students are reaching out to us to request financial assistance as they experience a variety of economic, financial, and personal challenges that reflect the diversity of the countries they represent,” he adds. With that in mind, USC Gould has continued to increase both the number and value of the scholarships it offers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created financial challenges. 

Assessing the potential value of an LL.M. is more than a simple calculation of what students would pay for the courses they would take to earn their degree.

“We encourage our students also to take into consideration what kind of academic support they would have access to in order to make the most of their coursework, what extracurricular opportunities are available both in the law school and in the greater university, what career services they would be offered in order to become licensed in the U.S. or otherwise develop their legal careers, and what professional networks they could tap into and develop that would help them progress both in the short-term and in the long-term,” Sim says. 

Beyond salary: assessing multifaceted returns

Eugenia Castrillon, Vice Dean IE Law School in Spain, says that to maximize the ROI, LL.M. students should seek programs with transformative potential.

“This requires a willingness to be intellectually challenged, to engage with diverse perspectives, and to actively build their professional network. In turn, law schools must offer a top academic experience with distinguished faculty, opportunities for real-world client work, insights from industry experts on current challenges, and an environment that fosters personal growth and guided individual support for career development, both during their studies and as alumni,” Castrillon says. 

She adds that an LL.M. not only enriches legal expertise but also has the potential to significantly impact financial well-being through career advancement, increased earnings, and diversified professional engagements. “Professionals with an LL.M. tend to command higher salaries compared to those with only a basic law degree. Employers recognize the added value of specialized knowledge and are willing to compensate accordingly,” she says. 

“Some law firms or companies view an LL.M. as a prerequisite for senior roles. Meeting this expectation demonstrates commitment, expertise, and ambition, potentially leading to promotions and increased responsibilities,” Castrillon adds. 

But while salary increase remains a tangible benefit, alternative metrics contribute significantly to the overall ROI of an LL.M. “Legal professionals should consider these multifaceted gains when evaluating the decision to pursue advanced legal education,” says Castrillon – including expertise, global exposure and networking. 

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