The LL.M. degree is going niche.
Many top law schools now offer students the opportunity to specialize in a field of law and develop their expertise in a particular area, whether that’s intellectual property, corporate law or environmental and human rights law, among many other options.
The aim is to help students enhance their CV and stand out from other applicants who have more general LL.M. qualifications.
A concentration, or a specialization, is a specific focus for an LL.M. program. “An LL.M. concentration is a grouping of certain law classes that will allow students to specialize in a particular field of law. For the most part, the classes can usually be taken in any order and, at the end of the program, the sub-plan will be listed on the degree,” says Ernestina Taleb the program manager for LL.M. concentrations at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.
Law schools also offer generalist LL.M. qualifications, which offer elective courses. They go into less depth than concentrations, but electives offer a greater breadth, as students can take several in one go.
The James E. Rogers College of Law School offers concentrations in International Trade and Business Law, and Indigenous People’s Law and Policy. “We also offer the general LL.M. with specialized foci in Mining Law, Health Law, and Introduction to U.S. Law. The latter is designed for students who aspire to sit for the bar exam. Specialized foci are not listed on the degree,” says Taleb.
A concentration or not? The choice might be a difficult one
Students should consider their intended career path very carefully. For while an LL.M. concentration can offer an employer proof that you can work in a specific area, the risk is that graduates become pigeon-holed as niche experts, limiting career mobility into other fields.
“The upside to choosing a concentration is gaining a deeper understanding of a specific field of law,” Taleb says. “The downside of choosing a concentration is that your electives will be fairly limited compared to the number of required courses.”
For those who are unsure, law schools advise against choosing a concentration that would limit your ability to explore other areas of the law. For that, electives are a good option. Taleb says students can also explore their interests through internships or talking with professionals in different specialties. “Speak with support staff who can help guide you to the program that might be best for you.”
A concentration is an opportunity for LL.M. students to signal to employers that they have aptitude, potential, and a passion for a particular area of the law. “Our law school graduates in general who are pursuing careers in the international law field are being asked to be multifaceted in their practice and knowledge,” says Rosa Celorio, associate dean for international and comparative legal studies at the George Washington University Law School.
This means showing an early aptitude and command of specialty areas such as international human rights and international arbitration. This was an important reason which motivated the creation of a new LL.M. concentration in International Human Rights at GW Law in Washington D.C. The school also offers an LL.M. concentration in International Arbitration, Mediation, and Other Forms of Dispute Resolution.
“Law school graduates with these concentrations can work in international organizations such as: the United Nations; the OAS; the World Bank; in non-profit institutions and foundations; in the federal government and think-tanks; in law firms and corporations and their pro bono and corporate social responsibility programs,” says Celorio.
Celorio says many LL.M. students are interested in learning more about: sustainable development; an adequate response to pandemics; the building of productive economies; the conduct of international business transactions; the guarantee of a clean, healthy, and safe environment; gender and racial equality.
“Every day students become more invested in these issues, and are increasingly called to help as future lawyers in the finding of solutions and legal strategies to address these problems,” Celorio says.
She says law schools also have an important role in imparting knowledge in specific areas of the law and creating opportunities for practical exposure and externships. “Our role is even more important in conveying specific values to students to guide their practice.”
LL.M. programs for every interest
Elsewhere, Miami Law offers a number of specialized LL.M. programs, each uniquely designed for students who are seeking to specialize in a specific area of law. Students can deepen their knowledge in areas such as Entertainment, Arts and Sports, Estate Planning, International Arbitration, International Law, Maritime Law, Real Property Development, Tax or Taxation of Cross-Border Investments.
“A specialized LL.M. degree is ideal for domestic and international students who wish to acquire an in-depth grounding in a specific field of law, or [those] who are looking to redirect their careers into a new area of expertise,” says Carmen Perez-Llorca, assistant dean for international and graduate programs. On the other hand, the school’s general LL.M. program “is ideal for international students who want to learn about the US legal system and explore different areas of US and international law”.
At Miami Law, students decide which degree to apply to before they enrol, based on their background, their current practice and interests and their career goals. “We do provide assistance to our candidates during the application process to help them decide which Miami Law program is right for them,” Perez-Llorca says.
Among the most popular LL.M. concentrations at BU Law School in Boston is the Estate Planning concentration due to the need for practitioners in this area to have highly specialized knowledge, along with Intellectual Property and International Business Practice.
“Students have the freedom to build and academic program consisting of a wide range of courses while still being able to specialize in particular topic areas of interest,” says Maureen Tracy Leo, director of the American law program at BU. “The concentrations have proven to be differentiating in the marketplace and a good grounding for study for our students.”