Making the Most of Your LL.M. Program

Expert advice on taking advantage of all that a law school has to offer

An LL.M. degree is a huge investment, in both time, money and effort. So it falls on the individual candidate to make the most of their time at law school, to maximize the returns from the degree.

“Enrolling in an LL.M. is an amazing opportunity for students. In addition to a wonderful legal education, they will develop a robust and international professional network, and also explore local culture and events. Indeed, students often find that there is so much going on, it can be a little overwhelming at first,” says Sarah Gruzas, Director of Graduate and International Programs at USC Gould School of Law, University of Southern California.

USC Gould recommends that incoming LL.M. students spend time actively networking with colleagues, professors, and professionals in the local legal market. “The LL.M. allows students to interact with professionals from around the world; taking time to seek out these connections and develop lifelong personal and professional relationships [is important]. The LL.M. is also a great time to explore the new city in which they are living,” Gruzas says.  

There is no wrong way to experience the LLM. However, students may miss out on great opportunities during their studies if they do not actively engage with the student community. “Relatedly, students who are nervous about their English language skills and continue to speak in their native language during the LL.M. lose the chance to enhance their fluency and make friends from outside their culture,” says Gruzas.  

Make sure you plan in advance for a head-start

One of the hardest issues to address is not planning in advance, particularly when it comes to sitting for the bar exam. Gruzas adds: “As most jurisdictions require foreign-educated students to complete mandatory courses during the LL.M., it can be difficult or impossible for a student to satisfy these requirements if they change their bar plans too late in the program.”

Students should prepare for the LL.M. by first and foremost reading all of the information given to them from their university upon matriculation, says Cecilia Caldeira, Assistant Dean for International and Non-J.D. Programs at Fordham Law School in New York.

It would also be advisable to join such programs as Legal English Institute, Pre-Law program or Summer Institute offered at Fordham Law. “These programs aim to help students to better acclimate to American law school teaching methods as well as gain familiarity with common law topics. Additionally, it’s a way to join the Fordham community and expand their network,” Caldeira explains.

Participants can make the most of the LL.M. program by taking advantage of all that a law school has to offer. “This includes joining a law journal, becoming a member of the Student Bar Association, doing an externship, as well as attending the plethora of events hosted on campus. Additionally, students are encouraged to form relationships with faculty who can serve as mentors and advisors for projects outside of traditional courses,” says Caldeira.

Broaden your horizons, take a variety of classes

Some of the mistakes that LL.M. students make are being too focused on one particular area of law and only attending programming and taking classes in that specific area. “Attending an LLM allows students to be exposed to a variety of classes and as such, a multitude of different areas of law. This expansion of a student’s legal base can lead to high levels of professional success,” Caldeira adds.

Similarly, a student may face additional challenges with their job search if limit their options, or if they wait to begin implementing their strategy until after graduation. Caroline Springer, Assistant Dean in the Office of Graduate Careers at Georgetown Law in Washington D.C., advises LL.M. students to “work with the law school’s career office to navigate the job and hiring market in the area they are interested in pursuing”. She also suggests attending career-related programs that a law school offers to learn about different practice groups and different settings.

Furthermore, LL.M. students should “attend events on campus to network with legal professionals and alumni”, says Springer.

“The best way to begin thinking about their career is to be open to different areas and opportunities,” says adds Caldeira, at Fordham Law.

“With having a more global approach to their career goals there are more career options and possibilities to consider. This may be as it relates to geographical location or area of practice. There are many areas where the intersection of two fields are growing such as law and technology. Students that have and invest in their ability to be flexible are more likely to capture excellent opportunities and succeed in these areas.”

The LL.M. is, ultimately, a fantastic way for students to gain knowledge of the U.S. legal system, develop an international network, and possibly get legal experience in the U.S. But the learning does not stop there. “After the LL.M. ends, we recommend that students continue to network extensively in their preferred field as well as working with their career advisors,” adds USC Gould’s Gruzas. “Finally, depending on a student’s long-term plans, becoming licensed in a U.S. jurisdiction may make them a more competitive applicant with employers.”

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