Traditionally, a strong economy has been a deterrent to full-time study for practicing lawyers, as a hot job market raises the opportunity cost of not working. So industry professionals do not want to give up potential salary increases and promotions to return to full-time education.
Today, there are strong arguments in favor of pursuing an LL.M. degree, even in a historically tight labor market at a time when pay at the top law firms is soaring as the sector competes for talent.
“Many students rely on a strong economy to help fund their dream of an advanced law degree,” says Anya Grossmann, director of global outreach and professional engagement for the LL.M. at Berkeley Law. “Furthermore, in a strong economy, employment opportunities can expand so it’s a good time for people to consider an advanced law degree in order to expand their practice or switch practice areas.”
Sandra Friedrich, director of the International Arbitration LL.M. course at University of Miami School of Law, says: “Law firms, multinational corporations and international organizations interested in expansion during a strong economy often look for candidates who have an LL.M. to expand into new and growing markets and legal fields.”
Moreover, since an LL.M. can be completed in as little as nine months, students starting this fall may still be able to take advantage of the hot job market to boost their post-graduation career prospects.
“Obtaining an LL.M. also allows foreign-trained students to sit for the bar exam in certain U.S. states, including New York, and may qualify them for a one-year post-graduation work permit in the US, thus giving them additional advantages in their future careers,” Friedrich says.
Timing an LL.M. application matters
The top law schools receive many more applications than they have places for on their flagship LL.M. degree programs, so prospective students should do everything they can to boost their chances of admission.
The timing of the application matters, according to Friedrich, who says: “Applying early ensures that prospective students have the best chance of being admitted. LL.M. programs in specialty areas might have very limited space.”
Additionally, submitting an early application helps ensure that prospective students can be considered for all scholarship opportunities, while funds are still available. Furthermore, Friedrich says “early application allows students, once admitted, the necessary time to obtain any required visa documentation to start the program, thus avoiding the possibility of deferring admission and possibly losing the awarded scholarship”.
It never hurts to check with the program of choice as to whether they still accept applications even later in the year. Many programs accept applications on a rolling basis into early or even mid-summer, until spaces are filled. At Berkeley Law, decisions are rolling for the LL.M. “Admission decisions are not impacted by how early someone applies, but we always caution applicants not to submit their application too close to the deadline just in case technical issues arise,” says Grossmann.
Like other law schools, Berkeley Law reviews applications holistically, so there is no one particular aspect that the decisions committee will look for that can make or break an admission decision. “That being said, our LL.M. class is invariably made up of smart, passionate, creative lawyers who are eager to learn and explore; we’re looking for those kinds of students,” Grossmann adds.
Miami Law is looking for a strong academic background, professional achievements, interest in the field, and career aspirations. Of course, strong English skills are also a must. However, for those who wish to improve their legal English prior to starting their LL.M. studies, some schools also offer intensive lessons.
Important in an LL.M. application: personal statement, letters of recommendation
Beyond those table stakes, the best place for prospective LL.M. students to stand out is in their personal statement, where their individuality and achievements can shine and help set them apart from other candidates. “The personal statement should include a prospective student’s academic and professional background, extracurricular activities, professional goals, and specific interest in the chosen area and institution of study,” says Friedrich.
Having letters of recommendation (either professional, academic, or a mixture of both) written by a professor or colleague who knows the student best and can speak to their specific skills and achievements will also help them to stand out in the application process.
So, too, would affiliation and membership in professional organizations central to the field of interest. In addition, schools say it can help to attend program events, like application workshops or lectures, to learn more about the program of interest and connect with admission personnel who can answer applicant questions.
“Applicants should attend recruiting and information events, research their chosen schools, and customize their application for each school,” says Grossmann at Berkeley. “Applications should be complete and error-free; having someone proofread your personal statement is a great idea! And don’t be shy about your accomplishments; if you don’t tell us what you’re proud of, we won’t know.”