Post-LL.M. Careers: Finding Opportunities In a Downturn

While some practice areas are shedding jobs, others are picking up the slack

Amid a sharp decline in dealmaking activity that propelled law firms to record high revenues in 2021, many firms are announcing redundancies and pushing back start dates for new joiners. Demand has dropped from its extraordinary heights of the past few years. As a result, staffing levels are too high at many law firms, prompting the cutbacks.

For LL.M. candidates, there remain job opportunities in specific practice areas even during an economic slowdown, particularly as the labor market in many economies remains tight, with low unemployment levels. 

“The U.S. job market was already highly competitive for LL.M. students, particularly those who require visa sponsorship, so the economic slowdown has not significantly impacted what was already a very tight market,” says Christina Rice, Assistant Dean of Graduate, International and Online Programs at Boston University Law School.

“Internationally, the value of an LL.M. in U.S. law continues to give graduates an edge over their peers globally,” she adds, “and the economic slowdown does not appear to have affected job prospects outside the U.S.”.

Tax law and other bright spots on the legal job market 

In particular, she singles out the school’s Tax LL.M. as having very bright prospects. BU Tax graduates had a 100 percent employment rate within nine months after graduation in 2022. “We continue to see a strong need among the Big Four accounting firms and elsewhere for tax graduates, including some new opportunities at the IRS,” says Rice.

“There is a lot of truth to the phrase ‘nothing is certain in life but death and taxes’ in the sense that the job market for Tax LL.M.s is incredibly strong now and is unlikely to slow much in an economic downturn,” she adds.

Furthermore, BU Law has also seen an uptick in hiring needs for positions in investment funds groups, arbitrations, and litigation practices at global law firms in Europe and Asia.  “LL.M. candidates with experience in these practice areas, language skills, and a U.S. bar admission can further increase their value significantly within the competitive legal market,” Rice explains.

Even as the economy slows down, there will still be jobs that pick up when companies run into financial trouble, such as restructuring, bankruptcy, employment law and distressed M&A.

“The practice areas that are expected to generate more business are bankruptcy, tax, labor, procedural and regulatory, according to the heads of the largest Spanish law firms,” says Silvia Argilés Forné, Associate Director of Employer Engagement at Esade Law School in Barcelona.

More widely, she says career opportunities in commercial law remain robust. “The largest number of opportunities for young law graduates continue to be in business law firms, whose clientele are companies dedicated to energy, infrastructure, construction and telecommunications,” Argilés Forné adds.

“Likewise, there may be opportunities in the legal departments of these companies, as well as in legaltech,” she says. 

Setting yourself apart from the pack

Toni Jaeger-Fine, Assistant Dean of International and Non-J.D. Programs at Fordham Law School in New York, says: “The strongest candidates–those that are deliberate and thoughtful about their job search strategy and nourishing their professional persona—will usually find opportunities.”

She goes on to say that LL.M. students who want to find work need to be proactive and strategic about their job search. 

“They need to exercise common sense, get deeply engaged, differentiate themselves, and try to identify and develop opportunities where there is a need they can fill,” Jaeger-Fine says. “If you can demonstrate that you can add genuine value, you will be an attractive and sought-after candidate.”

Given that LLM graduates face uncertainty, what skills do they need to ensure a long-term career and how can they develop them while studying?

Esade’s Argilés Forné says: “Adaptability and creativity seem to be the skills that are becoming more relevant, but it is still important to know how to manage time and pressure.”

In addition, strong research and writing skills are key to any legal focus, adds Rice at BU Law. “Students would do well to take advantage of legal research and writing courses as much as possible during their studies, and ensure they have at least two different types of writing samples, such as a legal brief and an academic research paper to use during their job search,” she explains.

“Additionally, networking skills are critical for building relationships that can lead to future job opportunities throughout one’s legal career. Students should take advantage of any opportunities available in their LL.M. programs to network with people practicing in their area of interest.” 

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