Legal services have had a torrid couple of quarters because of the coronavirus crisis. However, there are some areas that are seeing a spike in demand, including restructuring, bankruptcy, employment law and distressed M&A, which pick up when there is an economic downturn. Consequently, demand for LL.M. graduates in these economic sectors is robust.
“These areas may be resilient to COVID-19 because as recession looms many businesses have no choice but to lay off workers or restructure,” says Rebecca Moor, associate director for professional development at Boston University School of Law. “Highly-qualified LL.M.s who have experience in these areas should be marketable.”
However, she says that, given job losses elsewhere, no law student should expect that hiring will be easy anywhere in the world while pandemic-related uncertainty persists. “Many firms have had to readjust due to market conditions, including temporary hiring freezes or delaying the start of associate programs.”
But Toni Jaeger-Fine, assistant dean for international programs at New York’s Fordham Law School, agrees that the strongest candidates — those that are deliberate and thoughtful about their job search strategy and nourishing their professional persona — will usually find opportunities.
“Compliance, technology law and entrepreneurship remain very hot areas — some of them have truly thrived during COVID,” she says. “Compliance has been a burgeoning field for the last few years and I do not see signs that this is slowing down,” adds Jaeger-Fine.
She hints that the US presidential election could also offer a glimmer of hope for job-hunting LL.M. students: “Whenever there is a change in administration, there is also
renewed interest in regulated areas, such as banking, antitrust or competition law.”
Make sure you time your job search with hiring cycles
Caroline Springer, assistant dean in the Office of Graduate Careers at Georgetown Law in Washington DC, notes that the majority of LL.M. recruitment occurs in the spring when companies have a better sense of their future business needs — also because most employers are interested in seeing a student’s first semester grades. “At this point, it is too early to predict what the legal hiring market will look like for LL.M. students in the spring and after graduation in May,” she says.
But this fall, Springer says she’s seen a big uptick in hiring of Tax LL.M. students at accounting firms, some law firms and by the federal US government. “Some of our students have received and accepted offers with these employers. Accounting firms have been looking to fill positions in their M&A and international tax practice areas.”
Ellis Duncan, director of the LL.M. course at Georgetown Law, says: “In many ways, tax is a bit more resilient than other practice areas during economic downturns.” This is because tax lawyers may be needed to advise on bankruptcies or other types of business restructurings. Moreover, attorneys who focus on tax planning are always in demand because efficient tax structuring saves clients real dollars, which may be even more important when revenues are negatively impacted.
The effects of the pandemic on post-LL.M. careers
Crises have always served as strong catalysts for innovation, according to Val Myteberi, associate dean of graduate programs at Cardozo School of Law in NYC. “We are seeing opportunity for LL.M. students in innovation and technology law; the insurance industry; dispute resolution.”
However, the current pandemic has brought many challenges for Cardozo’s LL.M.s students, notably the uncertainty around the New York Bar exam, which was postponed multiple times before being held remotely. “Fortunately, the fact that most work is now done remotely has also expanded the markets where these students are able to work, because with an LL.M. degree they can virtually work from anywhere,” says Myteberi.
She advises students to keep an open mind and to not limit their job search to one specific region. And because employers value relevant work experience, another tip for overseas students is to apply for an externship during their LL.M. program.
Georgetown Law provides students with the opportunity to get practical legal experience in a variety of settings — including international organizations, government agencies, congressional offices on Capitol Hill, law firms, accounting firms and nonprofit organizations — in exchange for academic credit.
“Students can highlight this experience on their resume,” says Springer. “Externships also provide students with connections to an employer and, in many instances, a valuable reference.”
Back at Fordham Law, Jaeger-Fine says that networking is always critical, regardless of one’s specific goals. “Networking must be done with a genuine interest in meeting people with whom we share some commonality. These relationships must be for mutual benefit and should not be burdened with requests. It is enormously fulfilling in its own right.”
Of course, adds BU Law’s Moor, US bar membership, excellent grades during your LL.M. year in subjects that are directly relevant to your practice area, and strong recommendations from professors and practitioners are highly important as well.