After a pandemic boom, LL.M. applications have fallen because of the strong job market, which increases the opportunity cost of taking a year out of the workforce to go back to law school. This will have increased admissions odds to the top LLM programs — making it a buyer’s market for prospective students.
But how can would-be LL.M candidates pick the right program, and the right law school for them? Given that the tuition fees can be substantial, there is a lot riding on this decision.
To differentiate schools, candidates will need to look at the specific courses offered by the institution, the size of the program, the location of the school, and the level of support the candidate can expect to receive as a student and graduate.
Christina Rice, who is Assistant Dean of Graduate, International and Online programs at Boston University Law School, says the choice of program comes down to the fit between the student’s professional goals and the type of content in the LL.M.
“For example, if a student wants to focus in the area of Intellectual Property Law, they should make sure that the school and program have more than just a single course on that topic. They may even want to consider a specialty LL.M. program focused on that area of law,” she explains.
Similarly, also consider how much flexibility students have in selecting their course schedules at the beginning of the semester. Beyond curricular offerings, Rice says students should also factor in whether the school offers extracurricular opportunities for both professional and personal development.
“There is also significant geographic diversity in U.S. law schools and students should consider whether they want to be in an urban, suburban or more rural setting,” she adds – not to mention the expanding variety of LL.M. program options elsewhere in the world.
How each law school is different
In what dimensions do these programs differ from one another? “Each law school has a different personality, so it’s important for students to select the program that is the best match for their needs and interests,” says Sarah Gruzas, Director of Graduate and International Programs at USC Gould School of Law in Southern California.
Two important factors will be the experiential and career opportunities available. “These programs should offer opportunities that support a candidate’s professional goals, such as courses to prepare for a U.S. bar exam, and may include some experiential learning component through practical skills courses, externships, clinics and journals,” she says.
Another factor to consider is the level of support a student will receive from the administration at the law school and the university. “As the majority of LL.M. students are studying on a student visa, having staff who are familiar with the questions and needs international students have, is critical,” Gruzas says.
“Moreover, for a student who may be far from family and friends, and speaking a language that is not native to them, having a supportive and welcoming staff that can help answer questions and provide support for academic and career advising” is helpful, she adds.
Such questions are best answered by current students and alumni. “At USC, we always encourage prospective students to connect with our current students or alumni ambassadors, as they can speak freely and [candidates] really get a sense of what it will be like to study with us,” says Gruzas.
A substantial investment
Law schools advise that applicants take their time to make the right choice, given how much is on the line. “The most significant consequence to making the wrong choice of school is that the student will have lost a significant amount of money and time pursuing a degree that may not help them achieve their goal,” says Rice, at BU Law. “A student who feels like they chose the wrong school may feel unmotivated and struggle to keep up academically.”
On the other hand, finding the right fit means that the student is going to be happy with their choice. “Students who are happy may also be more motivated to succeed academically and take advantage of both the curricular and extracurricular resources their school offers,” Rice says. “The benefits of the right LL.M. can lead to future career success, developing long-lasting relationships with classmates, during what many LL.M. students describe as the best year of their lives.”
Karen Jones, Executive Director of Global and Graduate Programs at University of Houston Law Center, agrees. “If you get the right fit for you, you have the possibility of gaining a respected credential, credibility in the industry, depth of knowledge in a concentration area, incredible alumni network of lifelong colleagues, and a career. [It’s a] life enhancing experience.”