Adéla Kratenova completed her bachelor's and master's degrees in law in her home country, the Czech Republic. But when Kratenova, who wants to work in international commercial law, decided she needed more legal education, she knew there was only place for her to go: England.
"It's an English-speaking country, so I'd rather go to the UK than go to another European country," says Kratenova, who's studying at Nottingham Trent University. "And if you want to improve your knowledge in international law, it's the best way to go to an LL.M."
Kratenova is far from the only student who chose to study in England to improve her language and international legal skills. Over 50 law schools in the country offer LL.M programs that cater to students like Kratenova, offering specializations ranging from sports law to oil and gas law to human rights law.
Of course England is not a homogenous place: the country ranges from the bustle of London, a world-class capital, to the farmland and small villages of its rural districts, to small post-industrial cities like Manchester and Birmingham. Although the advantages of London are obvious, students are also drawn towards England's lesser-known areas, such as Nottingham, a small city with historical ties to the Robin Hood legend and two international airports nearby; Manchester,with its sports and music history; and Cambridge and Oxford, both quaint historic college towns.
Directors and officials at schools in these various locations say that they attract international students from all over the world who want to take advantage of England's unique position as a country that speaks the language of international business, is home to a large international population, and practices the most popular form of law in the world.
"That's one of the outstanding features of the law culture here: it's incredibly international and oriented towards regional and legal systems," says Andrew Fagan, Human Rights LL.M. co-director at Essex.
Pursuing an LL.M. in England gives international students the opportunity to learn one of the most important skills for anyone pursuing an international career these days: English language skills. But learning English law has another advantage. The English legal system is one of the most common and popular systems used in international business; even parties from non-Commonwealth countries often use English law to craft international deals or resolve international disputes.
"English law is used in a number of associations that have nothing to do with England," says Alfonso Valero, principal lecturer at Nottingham Trent University's law school. "If there's a party from Japan and another party in Russia, the reason why they're choosing this law is because it's neutral to both of them. It offers them the possibility of a law that is accessible to both of them."
Many students also come to England from civil law jurisdictions, such as countries in continental Europe, Asia, or South America, and are seeking the opportunity to learn a common law system.
"These days when you're representing clients that have interests all over the world, [it's important] to get exposure to common law and civil law jurisdictions," says Anne Flanagan, professor of law and LL.M. director at Queen Mary, University of London.
"I would say that the LL.M. is, for many civil law jurisdictions, an essential step to being a recognized expert in the field."
As a result, England is especially popular for students who want to pursue international trade law, international business law, and commercial law, officials say.
In 2012, the United Kingdom changed its visa requirements for students planning to work in the country after graduation. Prior to April 2012, students could stay in the UK to work for two years after graduation without applying for a new visa. But the new regulations required students to switch over to the Tier 2 visa scheme, which requires students to secure an offer of a skilled job from a licensed employer to stay in the UK.
The changes also increased English language requirements for incoming students as well as tightened requirements for students to demonstrate that they could support themselves while studying in the UK.
This change has complicated matters for some international students studying at these LL.M. programs.
"Sometimes we get students two or three weeks into the term who are still waiting for their visas," Flanagan says. "There is an element of burden on the applicants."
Fagan says the changes have made it more difficult for Essex students to pursue internships while at school. But he also says the changes haven't caused enrollment to drop or driven international students away from LL.M. programs in the country.
That could be because many international students want to come to England to study, learn the country's legal system and language, but then move on instead of trying to stay and work in the country.
Indeed, Fagan says his students have gone on to work all over the world. One of his former students is now a specialist on contemporary racism with the European Union; another is the vice chair of the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights; another works for Mercedes Benz on corporate and social responsibility. Other students work for the United Nations and the United States State Department.
"They come from everywhere and they're going to everywhere," Fagan says.
Domestic numbers on the rise
Although England is a popular country for international students to pursue LL.M.s, officials say that the number of domestic applicants is also on the rise.
"The domestic legal market, like any market, is very competitive," says Marios Koutsias, director of the commercial law LL.M. at Essex. "If you would like to compete with people in niche markets and you would like to find a position in this field, it very much helps for the employer to know that you're specialized rather than just having an LLB."
Koutsias says Essex has seen the number of domestic students rise in the past three years, a trend he attributes to the uncertain British economy.
"Numbers [of domestic students] rise at the same time with economic crises," Koutsias says. "Some students wanted to delay their entry into the job market, but if you delay and don't do anything, it doesn't look good. If you add academic qualification, that's something significant."