Confidence Trick: The Importance of Preparing for Your LL.M. Studies

Recent research sheds light on the potential pitfall of excessive self-assurance

Earning a coveted spot in a prestigious LL.M. program is a remarkable achievement, and understandably, those who gain admission often exude confidence. However, recent research sheds light on the potential pitfall of excessive self-assurance and underlines the importance of thorough preparation.  

The study’s findings show that a significant majority of aspiring law school students anticipate achieving high ranks within their classes. When prompted to forecast their academic standing at the outset of law school, the typical incoming student envisions placing within the upper quartile, or top 25 percent, after the initial year.

Remarkably, an overwhelming 95 percent of the 600 participants in the study from University of Illinois believed they would secure positions in the top 50 percent, while over 22 percent of respondents predicted securing spots in the top 10 percent.

However, the reality, as uncovered by the authors, diverges from these predictions. A substantial number of incoming law students were unable to accurately foresee their first-year grades. Interestingly, those who eventually landed in the top quarter of the class slightly underestimated their eventual ranking, while their counterparts in the bottom quarter significantly overestimated their own ranks.

Get ready for a demanding year ahead 

This raises an important question: What actions should LL.M. students take to effectively ready themselves for the demanding academic year ahead? The summer months offer a precious interval for groundwork before embarking on studies, with most top LL.M. programs kicking off in the fall.

In addition to grappling with overconfidence, LL.M. students, often seasoned professionals with years of work experience, occasionally miscalculate the time and effort required to excel in an LL.M. program. 

“Lawyers tend to be ambitious and are used to long, hard hours,” points out Martin Slavens, Director of Graduate Admissions at New York’s Fordham Law School. “Some may believe that a year of study will be less demanding than their work schedule, and overcommit themselves in their first semester by taking an additional elective class or volunteer position.”

This inclination is further intensified by the fact that the majority of Fordham's LL.M. students earned their primary law degree outside of the United States, rendering them unfamiliar with the nuances of U.S. legal education, he adds.

“Students can avoid this pitfall by speaking with their academic advisor when registering for classes and communicating with alumni and returning students to learn from their experiences,” suggests Slavens. “Students should be conservative when planning their schedules the first semester and leave time to take part in activities that will come up during the semester.”

Furthermore, he says that prospective and admitted students can adopt measures to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the array of experiences and opportunities awaiting them during their LL.M. journey.

“Since this will also be helpful for writing the personal statement, prospective students should begin at least a month or more before submitting their application,” Slavens advises. “Read through the brochures and online materials to learn about clinics, externships, centers and institutes, journals, and student organizations.”

Additionally, he suggests taking part in an information session and visiting the school if you are in the area. “Speak with alumni if you can and with colleagues who have studied in the U.S. If you have time, come for a short-term program,” says Slavens, noting that Fordham offers a full-time, semester-long Legal English Institute.

Seeking out support programs 

Over at University of Miami School of Law, one of the most significant missteps LL.M. students can make upon returning to full-time study is underestimating the time commitment demanded by pursuing an LL.M. 

“For example, for every one credit taken, the student will spend approximately one hour preparing for class, one hour in class, and one hour reviewing after class,” explains Sandra Friedrich, the Assistant Dean of International Graduate Law Programs. “If the student takes 12 credits in a semester, it’s a full-time commitment of about 36 hours per week.”

Yet, this time requirement might be even greater for non-native English speakers, students hailing from civil law jurisdictions, and those unacquainted with U.S. teaching methodologies, especially during the initial stages of their LL.M. studies while adapting to the transition.

“To avoid some of these mistakes, students should seek out support programs offered at the university,” advises Friedrich. “For example, at Miami Law, students may attend Dean’s Fellow study sessions hosted by upper-level students who excelled academically in the class previously and attend workshops hosted by the Academic Achievement Program on topics like note taking, studying for exams and study aids.”

Moreover, it's crucial for students to allocate time for post-LL.M. professional development during their studies—collaborating with their designated LL.M. career advisors on resumes, applications, and job fairs. Networking opportunities are equally pivotal to ensure success post-graduation, she concludes.

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