LL.M. Degrees offer Lifelong Returns

Fast-rising inflation has sharpened minds on the cost of tuition, but for many, the degree pays off in varied ways

With financial conditions tightening amid fast-rising inflation, cost will be a major concern for prospective LL.M. candidates — for while these degree programs can lead to a substantial increase in salary and career progress, they do not come cheap.

At the most selective institutions, the fees for an LL.M. can top $70,000 per academic year. And traditional sources of funding, including bank loans, are now more costly as interest rates increase. At the same time, rampant inflation is eroding the real value of salaries, making it harder for lawyers to pay for the cost of a top LL.M. degree.

“The cost of education is a challenge,” says Cecilia Caldeira, Assistant Dean for International and Non-J.D. Programs at Fordham Law School in New York. “This is true when analyzing the United States educational system as a whole. LL.M. candidates are largely international students, thus these financial impacts may be more volatile depending on the student’s home country’s current economic situation.”

In other words, the high US dollar can make it harder to afford tuition fees priced in dollars because of unfavorable exchange rates for countries with weaker currencies. But law schools such as Fordham are on hand to help with a range of financial support and advice for prospective students.

Wide range of financial support

“While there is no blanket or easy solution to lower educational costs, institutions can continue to provide generous scholarships and fellowships to offset these fees,” says  Caldeira. “Additionally, generous alumni can and often do play a role in supporting prospective LL.M. students.”

On top of this, Fordham Law is developing an online LL.M. degree, which lowers the opportunity cost of taking a year out to study a traditional, full-time program on campus. “It will enable those who are working full-time or caring for families, to continue to reach their educational goals, enhance their intellectual skills and better compete within the job market,” Caldeira says.

Other law schools are also attuned to the financial worries of students in the current macro environment. “The high cost of LL.M. tuition has always been a concern for students,” says Oleg Kobelev, the Associate Dean of International Studies at Duke Law.

The school has, for many years, had a robust scholarship program that aims to increase access for students from underserved and underprivileged backgrounds. Moreover, says Kobelev, over the past decade, the amount of scholarship aid available to LL.M. students at Duke has risen faster than the cost of tuition. “This is primarily due to the generosity of our alumni, who have established several need and merit-based scholarships,” he adds.

A number of top law schools have taken the unusual step of lowering tuition fees to reflect the cost of living crisis and to lower one of the biggest barriers to attendance and help to improve access for underrepresented students. At Yale, for instance, tuition fees have been scrapped entirely for low-income students.

However, Kobelev points out that for most law schools, tuition does not actually cover the full cost of attendance. “As nonprofit institutions, law schools rely on a mix of tuition, grants, and alumni giving to pay their bills and retain their faculty.”

And he raises further concerns about the moves to cut fees. “Lowering costs will likely translate into lowering teaching standards by increasing class sizes and reducing the numbers of faculty and staff,” he says. “The best way to increase access for underrepresented students is to continue increasing targeted financial aid – which is exactly what many law schools are currently doing.”

Big return on investment

As well as the upfront cost of tuition, prospective LL.M. students will be thinking closely about the return they expect on the investment they are making in the degree. And law schools say the higher rates of pay currently being offered by top law firms because of high demand and low supply of talent, are helping to boost the returns from an LL.M.

“Law firms’ rising compensation rates can help enhance the return on investment of an LL.M. degree,” says Fordham Law’s Caldeira. “It’s important to understand that students can also gain many valuable skills and connections – beyond a law firm job – through an LLM degree,” she adds. “This can lead to professional success down the line or professional growth in the long term in a variety of sectors.”

Kobelev at Duke Law agrees. “Students who chose to pursue careers in Big Law tell us that the increased renumeration, combined with the relatively short duration of the program, makes the value proposition of the LL.M. degree even more attractive,” says Kobelev.

But it is important for students to understand that the benefits of the LL.M. degree accrue over a lifetime of professional growth and success. It is a long-term investment that, for many people, is transformative.

“Our alumni often frequently tell us that, despite its high cost, the LL.M. degree pays for itself many times over,” says Kobelev. “Its benefits, such as increased employment opportunities, faster advancement, access to a global network of committed alumni, and personal and professional growth, pay dividends over many decades.”

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