An LL.M. can be a fast ticket to a job at a Big Law firm, or an in-house counsel gig at a Fortune 500 company. But the skills that students learn on the degree are highly transferable to a wide array of industries.
These skills include communication, research, and problem-solving. One industry keen for them is academia, says Abi Gaston, deputy head of careers and enterprise at Queen Mary University of London.
“There are numerous other career paths open to LL.M. graduates,” she says.
LL.M. graduates have a natural advantage in the scholastic profession, given that they have a strong relationship with their law school, and have abundant mentorship from the professors.
For some, an LL.M. is a step on the path to becoming a law school professor.
Rachel Zuraw, the co-director of LL.M. professional development at Berkeley Law in California, says that LL.M. students who want an interdisciplinary academic career often make connections with other departments on campus through events and coursework.
Zuraw’s co-director Peter Landreth says: “One of the most valuable things an LL.M. provides is access to a network.”
The most well-trodden route to a professorship is a PhD program in a complimentary discipline, such as humanitarian law or finance law. “The obvious route for further study is a PhD,” says Marko Milanovic, professor of public international law at University of Nottingham School of Law.
“Our graduates frequently move to lectureships elsewhere.”
However, there is a high opportunity cost to doing a PhD: forgoing a salary while you study and conduct research.
Still, most law schools housed in universities offer a pathway to a PhD. The London School of Economics is one. On its PhD program, LL.M. graduates work at the cutting-edge of legal scholarship, and play a major role in educating lawyers around the world.
The learning is hands-on, with students gaining real teaching experience, for instance organizing mooting, conferences, and doing pro bono legal work. Each year two PhD candidates also advise LL.M. students.
The academic path: alternatives to a PhD
Another pathway to teaching is a J.S.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science or Doctor of Science in Law). Berkeley Law offers one, though it is a very selective cohort, says Zuraw. During the first year students focus on mastering the theoretical underpinnings of law. The second year is a doctoral candidacy, with the focus shifting to academic research.
Doing a teaching fellowship is another good way to accrue experience during your LL.M. degree. Georgetown Law in Washington D.C offers graduate teaching fellowships that can serve as a launch pad into academia. The two-year fellowship pays $117,000 overall and involves supervising J.D students. Fellows also help run the school’s Federal Legislation Clinic, which represents NGOs that promote civil rights, immigrant rights and privacy.
Other students work as assistant researchers alongside their LL.M. studies. Take the LL.M. candidates at University College London (UCL), for example. Working under the close supervision of qualified lawyers and advisers, they can work for the UCL Dementia Research Center and the UCL Center for Access to Justice. The volunteer LL.M. students get hands-on experience of casework research, and advising clients diagnosed with dementia.
Research experience is highly valued by universities when hiring professors because research impacts their standing in league tables and law school rankings. Some academics say publications in peer-reviewed journals are more important than teaching experience.
Potential downsides of post-LL.M. careers in academia
One downside of a post-LL.M. career in academia is the relatively low pay. US-based Big Law firms like Kirkland & Ellis or Sullivan & Cromwell pay first-year associates up to $180,000 per year. In comparison the national average salary for a law professor is $119,653 in the US, though top scholars can earn significantly more and some also practice consulting on the side.
Berkeley Law’s Landreth says: “Public sector jobs pay less than the private sector, but they often provide opportunities for greater responsibility, and can be extremely gratifying.”
Many LL.M. graduates cite the chance to impart wisdom and train the next generation of legal professionals as the most rewarding parts of their academic jobs. Other graduates focus more on research, advancing the legal profession through papers published in prestigious journals like the Columbia Law Review or the Yale Law Journal.
The biggest problem is just how competitive it is to get onto a feeder program like a PhD, and then to land an academic job. LL.M. graduates considering this career path should know that there is no free lunch.