Law firms are facing a daunting 2023 amid falling profits and demand for their services, coming after a bumper couple of years for hiring, pay and bonuses. But their loss is likely to be a gain for law schools, given that degree program applications tend to run counter-cyclical to the economy.
So when there is a downturn, this tends to increase interest in going back to law school and earning an LL.M. degree, but when the job market is strong, that reduces the appeal of putting your earnings on pause and going to law school.
The past couple of years have been boom time for lawyers, with record high demand and salaries on the back of a dealmaking boom that led to huge profits for the top law firms. However, that trend is going into hard reverse and law firms are freezing bonuses, making cutbacks and redundancies.
But, it’s not all bad, because that increases the pool of potential LL.M. degree applicants. And law schools certainly see the opportunity for an influx of demand amid the wider economic gloom.
A downturn is a big opportunity for LL.M. programs
“A slower market resulting in a decrease in demand sometimes results in a bit of a boost in demand for LL.M. programs because some lawyers having difficulty landing a job in a slower market might opt to use the opportunity to pursue their LL.M. degree,” says Karen Jones, Executive Director of Global and Graduate Programs at the University of Houston Law Center, a law school.
“There might be some correlation between factors that impact law firm hiring (such as falling profits) and an increase in demand for an LL.M. program,” she says.
However, Jones adds that law firm performance is not the only factor that impacts demand for LL.M. programs, given that lawyers work in other parts of the economy and not just in private practice.
But the prospects for law schools do look bright ahead, and Jones expects them to be able to sustain the expected influx of demand, even if the economic situation gradually improves in the months ahead.
“We have explored non-traditional sources for attracting potential LL.M. candidates, whether that is [at] conferences, law firms, governmental entities, [or through] alumni networks,” she explains. “…We are always exploring new ways to identify potential LL.M. students and opportunities to expand our outreach.”
Admissions will become even more competitive
If there is an increase in demand, law schools also expect the competition for spots in LL.M. programs to become even more competitive. All the more reason candidates should take care in preparing their strongest application materials and selecting the right LL.M. program to meet their needs.
Sandra Friedrich is the Assistant Dean of International Graduate Law Programs at University of Miami School of Law. She says: “Application numbers are steadily moving back to normal pre-pandemic levels. Many prospective students had delayed their LL.M. studies in previous years due to the uncertainty the pandemic brought and are now deciding to pursue their LL.M.
“Students deciding to pursue their LL.M. programs now may be able to take advantage of the current economic lull by obtaining practical skills and in-depth knowledge.”
Since LL.M. seats are limited, the increase in applications from highly qualified candidates has certainly increased competition, she adds. “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,” Friedrich says.
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.
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, says Friedrich.
Affiliation and membership in professional organizations central to the field of interest can also help. “Last but not least,” she adds, “it is good 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.”