LL.M. Demand Bounces Back from Covid Dip

There’s resurgent demand for graduate law school education in different formats as economies exit the coronavirus pandemic and academic institutions loosen admissions requirements

LL.M. programs are thriving amid signs of resurgent demand for graduate law school education in different formats as economies exit the coronavirus pandemic and academic institutions loosen admissions requirements.

Even the top law schools saw a dip in applications to their LL.M. courses early in the pandemic as lockdown limited travel and the scope for face-to-face sessions, while the economic uncertainty deterred investment in these very expensive degrees. 

But international lawyers are returning and applications rising again for many schools as travel rebounds after stagnating for two years and Covid-19 fears recede. “Initially, as many countries went into lockdowns and imposed travel bans, LL.M. applications slowed down and enrollment was disrupted as incoming students did not know what to expect,” says Sandra Friedrich, director of the International Arbitration LL.M. at Miami School of Law.  

As students experienced disruptions in their personal life from the pandemic, such as virtual school for their children, taking care of family members, experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic, some delayed their LL.M. study plans. But many are now picking up where they left off and filing applications to the world’s best law schools.

“Application numbers certainly are back to normal pre-pandemic levels,” says Friedrich. “In fact, many of our LL.M. programs have seen an increase in students and application numbers. Many 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.”

Many LL.M. programs have become cheaper and more flexible

Furthermore, a switch by necessity to online education in the past two years has opened up access to graduate school education for people who would not otherwise consider a master’s degree.

Law schools have used technology to provide cheaper, more flexible ways for people to study after demand for LL.M. degrees tumbled in the wake of the pandemic. Demand has now recovered and many institutions are still running hybrid law degrees, which blend online and in-person study and are bringing in new students.

“Virtual and hybrid classes can offer some much-needed flexibility to law students in the post-pandemic world,” Friedrich says. “Many of our students prefer a mix of residential and virtual course offerings for a schedule that best suits their needs. Most students still value the in-person classroom experience and the ability to connect with professors and peers in person before, during and after class. This kind of networking is a very important element of the LL.M. experience.”

Moreover, there are also some restrictions with regards to the amount of virtual course work international students are allowed to complete under their student visa and also with regards to eligibility requirements for bar exams in the US. “So in short, virtual classes are here to stay, but in combination with in-person offerings,” adds Friedrich.

This sentiment is echoed by other law schools, which see degrees mixing campus and online study as the next evolution of the LL.M. program. “There are many students across the U.S. and across the world who still need to work full-time. Offering an online option or online resources makes a world of difference for these students,” says Ernestina Taleb, manager for global programs at University of Arizona Law.

Her school has also notched up an increase in LL.M. applications thanks to last year’s economic recovery and the loosening of lockdown restrictions. “We assume it is because travel has now opened up and more people are interested in travel and getting ahead professionally,” Taleb says.

Admissions policies have become more flexible

Law schools are also making their admissions policies more flexible, further strengthening the case for pursuing an LL.M. degree. For candidates whose first language is not English, Arizona Law now allows one additional English proficiency test through the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of Arizona.

This test, implemented during the pandemic, tends to be more cost-effective and accessible than the traditional TOEFL or IELTS tests. Miami Law is also offering more flexibility now, including a January start in some of its LL.M. programs.

But with resurgent demand for law school courses, competition for a place is only intensifying. Miami’s Taleb recommends that prospective LL.M. students write a very strong personal statement which includes a little about how your previous studies in law or your professional experience have led you to wanting to pursue additional, specialized study.

“Also, strong letters of recommendation, especially from previous law professors under whom you studied at your first law program, may help,” she adds.

Friedrich, at Miami Law, advises would-be LL.M. students to strengthen their applications as well. She says that “excellent academic credentials, demonstrated interests in their chosen field of study through scholarship writings, research, practical work experience, or moot courts” can help lawyers stand apart from the pack.

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