LL.M. Programs in New Zealand: An Internationally Recognized Education in a Native English Environment

New Zealand offers law students the chance to study among native English speakers, as well as cultural diversity and idyllic scenery.

For many LL.M. applicants looking to study in an English-language environment, the UK or the US might seem like the obvious choice. But a growing number of students are seeking options further afield.

Indeed, beyond the language, there are plenty of reasons New Zealand makes for both an exciting and comfortable place to complete your LL.M. studies.

The Associate Dean of International and Postgraduate Students at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law, Chris Noonan says, “a lot of students want to study in New Zealand because of what they perceive New Zealand to be: a clean green country with good outdoor experiences, mild weather, pleasant people and so forth”.

With rugged Lord of the Rings scenery, and both mountains and beaches within easy reach of all the main cities, New Zealand has plenty to offer those looking to supplement their study abroad with unique outdoor experiences.

But the nation of 4.5 million people also boasts a relaxed lifestyle, high standards of living and friendly locals. On top of that, the universities offer internationally recognized education and the opportunity to study law in a native English setting. It’s a winning combination that makes the long flight times to this part of the world worth the distance for many international law students.

Noonan says international students also choose New Zealand “because they see they can get a good quality education and it provides them with a stepping stone to do other things with their career, whether that’s back home, or in multinational corporations around the world, or even working in New Zealand”.

Gain work experience while you study

Victoria University's Faculty of Law

Victoria University is found in the country’s capital, Wellington, which Lonely Planet has deemed the “coolest little capital in the world”. This is a title Wellingtonians are proud of; for a tiny capital city, there is a vibrant arts, culture and café scene well-suited to students.

Victoria University’s Faculty of Law offers a general LL.M. with coursework, covering subjects including intellectual property law, business, human rights and the environment, and law reform and policy, a key subject area in the nations’ capital.

LL.M. students can incorporate a dissertation or a thesis into their program of study, and there is also the option of earning an LL.M. by research.

Joanna Mossop, Postgraduate Programme Director for Victoria University’s Faculty of Law, says that the school does attract a lot of LL.M. applicants from outside the country.

We have a strong tradition of international students in our LL.M. program,” she says. “One of the things that attracts people is our internship option, which is not so common in LL.M. programs.”

“This is an opportunity for international students to be placed in a workplace in Wellington that is connected to their interests. So, say they are interested in employment law, we would try to place them in an employment law firm. If they’re interested in government work, we place them in a government department.”

The internship program counts for course credit and is supervised by a law faculty member as well as someone at the work placement, where students work on one or more research projects.

The opportunity to complement postgraduate study with relevant work experience is a strong pull factor. Mossop says, “our international students say this is the main reason why they choose Victoria”.

Experience cultural diversity

As for where international students tend to come from, Mossop says it’s a diverse mix at Victoria University, with students arriving from Germany, France, India, China and South East Asia – all taking up the opportunity to study law in English – as well as neighbouring countries in the Pacific Islands.

But beyond diversity at school, those studying for their LL.M.s in New Zealand will find that the country’s cities are all home to a wide range of cultures, and cultural diversity is celebrated. New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, is the biggest Polynesian city in the world, and it is also home to a large Asian population. Inhabitants with an Asian background will soon make up one-quarter of Auckland’s population.

Auckland city

Additional work opportunities in New Zealand

For those who wish to stay in New Zealand post-LL.M. and look for work, the immigration system is relatively welcoming. Graduates who have earned a New Zealand qualification are able to apply for a study-to-work visa, which gives them 12 months to look for a job, at which point they can move on to a standard work visa.

One thing to note, Noonan says, is that earning an LL.M. in New Zealand won’t qualify an international student to practice law there. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

“The LL.M. itself doesn’t entitle foreign students to practice law in New Zealand,” he says. “But New Zealand’s Council of Legal Education can prescribe an additional course of study for international students, depending on where they come from and what their background is, that allows them to qualify to practice law in New Zealand.”

For others, it’s the shorter-term opportunity to live in a new country and make the most of it that appeals.

The LL.M. at Otago University in Dunedin in the South Island makes this very easy with a flexible, research-only program that allows students to live away from campus if they wish.

Lauren Hall, Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago’s Faculty of Law says that while the university offers more specialized programs – like the Master of Bioethics and Health Law – most international law students come for the general LL.M., aiming to hone in on a research area of their interest.

One of our current LL.M. students is from Germany, and I asked him, ‘why did you come to Otago?’ He said he wanted deeper knowledge in the field he’s looking to work in, which is environmental law with an international perspective. That aligned with our research environment and the supervisors who specialise in that field.”

She says the flexibility of the research-only program is a big drawcard.

“So for international students, they don’t necessarily have to be on campus the entire time and they can start the program at any time.”

New Zealand might not be the first place you think of when considering law study abroad, but law schools are eager to have their programs considered along with the more obvious options.

As Joanna Mossop at the University of Victoria says, “doing an LL.M. in New Zealand, the universities here are world-class and the academics are operating at an international level. Often New Zealand is seen as a small backwater, but actually the quality of education here is the same as what you find in Australia, or the US or UK.”

Image credits:

  • Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand by Bernard Spragg CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
  • Victoria University's Law School by Ronald Woan CC BY 2.0 
  • Auckland City by Malcolm Peacey CC BY 2.0

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