London is a draw in many ways. It’s not only one of the biggest cities in the world but is also a bustling hub of commerce and one of the world’s centers of arts and culture.
And there’s no question about it, London is one of the world’s biggest—if not the biggest—legal capitals.
“You've got the big international law firms with offices here; you've got the UK Supreme Court,” says David Collins, the director of LL.M. programs at City University London. “But you've also got the international tribunals, and the London Court of International Arbitration,” among other legal institutions.
Indeed, not only does London host the head offices of Big Law firms like Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, the city is also a center for international courts and a hub for media, technology, and banking and finance; all places where many LL.M.s want to work.
For potential students seeking to study at the heart of the action, there is no shortage of LL.M. programs in London. Most international students will most likely be interested in the LL.M. programs offered by the four main law schools in the University of London system: the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University College London (UCL), King’s College London (KCL), and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
Smaller LL.M. programs are also offered through other colleges in the University of London system like the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) and SOAS, as well as by schools outside of the University of London system, such as City University London and Notre Dame Law School.
Doing an LL.M. at one of these law schools gives students many opportunities to network and build connections.
According to law school officials, students studying for the LL.M.s in London might find that their professors and guest lecturers are actually working in law firms and elsewhere. “The people who are coming in to teach are often actually practicing at the same time,” says Pippa Heath, director of professional development at QMUL.
Heath says that students can leverage and build upon these connections. “At the very highest level students are able to make these links with the different firms, and they can find opportunities within them,” she says.
And of course, many law schools in the city offer focused networking events, where LL.M.s can rub elbows with representatives from law firms and other organizations.
Getting outside the classroom
Studying in London also gives students many opportunities to develop valuable hands-on experience, through internships and professional skill development workshops.
According to Geoffrey Bennett, the director of Notre Dame’s London Law Program, students in Notre Dame’s London-based LL.M. program have interned in a huge range of organizations. Students have done “internships with barristers in London,” Bennett says. “We've always had one person placed in the legal department of the US embassy in London, and we've placed people in American law firms in London.”
Officials at law firms in London say that LL.M. students are increasingly taking advantage of working with startups and entrepreneurs in London Tech City—often known as Silicon Roundabout— the city’s booming center for technology innovation.
“We have a very close relationship with the startup community in the London Tech City area” says City University London’s David Collins. LL.M.s at City can participate in Start-Ed, a legal clinic that offers free advice to startups and entrepreneurs.
In 2014, QMUL launched a similar clinic, called qLegal, where LL.M.s can give legal advice to local startups and entrepreneurs. According to Patrick Cahill, the center’s manager, qLegal appeals to students who want to gain experience at the intersection of law and technology.
“Technology is progressing so quickly that the law isn't catching up, which creates lots of legal challenges that students can work on,” Cahill says.
Cahill says that experience in this space can go a long way, even for students who don’t necessarily want to open their own legal advice clinics or consulting firms. Even the bigger law firms need lawyers with experience in this sector.
Big Law firms “are giving out tons of advice to startups in the hopes that they're advising the next Facebook or the next LinkedIn,” Cahill says.
Staying in London after the LL.M.
After experiencing London’s vibrancy and opportunities, some students doing their LL.M.s in the city might be tempted to stay after graduation to work.
“The ones that really want to stay, most of them actually do,” says City University London’s David Collins. “But I'm not sure that a lot of them seek that out.”
Many LL.M.s, Collins says, are just in London to study and actually plan to go back to their home countries after they graduate.
Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Bennett would agree, and says that what many students are looking for instead is an exposure to the UK’s law system. “They're often, in my experience, people who have worked for a law firm,” Bennett says, “and what they want is an injection of the Anglo-American system, because obviously so much commerce is based on Anglo-American law.”
But even for LL.M.s who do want to go back to their home countries, London has a lot to offer. Because many law firms have headquarters in the city, students can still network with the end goal of going home (or elsewhere.)
“Certainly students do transfer from one country to another,” says QMUL’s Pippa Heath.
“But because these are international firms, students don’t have to be UK-focused.”