LL.M. Programs for Non-Law Graduates

A look at a handful of programs open to students without a first law degree

See also: Pursuing an LL.M. Without a Background in Law, published in 2016.

There are many reasons why non-law graduates would want to pursue a Master of Laws (LL.M). Perhaps he or she wants a new job that requires some legal knowledge, or perhaps it’s a way to specialize or change professional direction. This article provides a few examples of LL.M. programs that are open to students who do not have a first law degree.

The demand for interdisciplinary knowledge continues to get stronger on the job market, particularly in companies and organizations working on a European or international level. The growing number of international agreements, especially within the European Union, makes having some legal knowledge a real asset when applying for jobs. Therefore, many of the LL.M. programs that accept non-law graduates concentrate on international or European law.

The European Master in Law and Economics (EMLE) addresses precisely this connection between law and economics on an international level. Its purpose is to give a solid understanding of the economic effects of laws to prepare students for a career in public organizations and multinational law firms. Aside from focusing on the “Law and Economics” perspective, the program also gives students the chance to spend each of the course’s three terms at a different European university campus.

The program accepts graduates in both law and economics, as well as applicants with a degree in business administration or social science, as long as their previous studies included a substantial number of courses in law and/or economics. In other words, a certain legal background is necessary to apply. Similarly, the Bucerius/WHU Master of Law and Business in Hamburg, Germany also accepts students with a first degree in economics, but "some prior knowledge" of legal issues is needed. 

Another program in a totally different field is the Master in Advanced Studies (MAS) in International Humanitarian Law offered jointly by the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International Studies. It is the only Master program that focuses on the legal dimensions of armed conflicts and emergency situations. The University Center for International Humanitarian Law (UCIHL) is closely connected to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international organizations, and it prepares students for work in NGOs, international organizations, embassies, and law firms, as well as university research.

Courses are held in two parallel classes taught in English and French, which allows students from all over the world to participate, especially students from developing countries. While the student body is made up of mostly law graduates, other students who have “another academic qualification deemed to be equivalent by the Admission Committee” can also be admitted. Students with international relations or political science degrees, for example, could get in if they took a number of international law courses during their previous studies.

[Related Article: Juris Masters, MSLs and Beyond: Master of Laws Programs for Non-Law Graduates]

Also in the field of international law, the University of Nottingham in Britain offers LL.M. programs in nine different specializations ranging from Criminal Justice to International Commercial Law. Although they mostly accept law graduates, they also consider candidates with a degree in a related discipline, such as international relations. La Trobe University in Australia has also announced two new postgraduate law programs – a Master of Commercial Law and a Master of Global Business Law – especially for graduates of non-law disciplines.

Some distance learning courses, including the University of Edinburgh’s LL.M. in Innovation, Technology and the Law and the University of London External Program, also consider non-law graduates.

But even if these programs accept students from other backgrounds, a certain legal knowledge is expected. Particularly for international law programs, some knowledge of international law is necessary to be able to follow the generally fast pace of teaching. For this reason, some schools, such as the London School of Economics and University College London, will consider qualified non-law graduates, but prefer/require that applicants pass the Commmon Profession Examination (CPE) or an overseas equivalent.

Having myself been an LL.M. student without a law degree (in the Master of Law in International Humanitarian Law described above), I sometimes felt a bit behind when certain legal concepts were discussed, but this was never a big handicap, and was counterbalanced by the understanding of the international system that I acquired during my undergraduate studies.

Perhaps an even more important question concerns the job prospects for non-law graduates enrolled in these programs. First of all, if you want to become a lawyer, these programs are probably not the best place to start. They usually only concentrate on specific legal topics, which are typically international in scope. Therefore, it would be wiser to pursue a J.D./LL.B., a CPE/GDL, or another relevant course that actually prepares students to become lawyers.

But if you’re not looking to become a lawyer, these programs can give you a specialized knowledge of international and European law that will prepare you well for work in an international organization, international law firm, multinational company, or even in the government sector. And aside from career prospects, you will never forget the people from around the world – lawyers and otherwise – who you will meet during your LL.M. year.

Image: "Yale Law School Library Reading Room (L3)" by PENG Yanan (Neo-Jay) / Creative Commons (cropped and rotated)

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