When Lára Herborg Ólafsdóttir finished her LL.M. from Berkeley Law, University of California last year, she had job offers from top tier law firms across Europe.
“If you’re passionate, curious and interested in what you are doing, the opportunities will present themselves,” says Ólafsdóttir, who specialized in intellectual property and technology law at Berkeley Law.
She joined DLA Piper in Luxembourg last year, a law firm building up an IP and technology department. She has dealt with a wide range of matters as a DLA Piper attorney, including copyrights, technology agreements, and data protection compliance. Previously, she worked as an attorney in Iceland, specifically in corporate, construction and commercial law.
“The LL.M. degree has sparked a new level of interest, strengthened my skills and given me an opportunity to pursue [this] career,” says Ólafsdóttir, who has held lectures and written articles on law and technology.
She cites the Berkeley Law professors, who are at the forefront of their field, as a highlight of the degree program. “[They] really took critical thinking to another level,” she says.
Ólafsdóttir’s story is an example of how an LL.M. degree can open up students to a wide range of career paths, from multinational corporations to NGOs, or specialities within law, such as human rights law. “We have graduates doing almost any type of legal work you can think of,” says Rachel Zuraw, co-director of LL.M. professional development at Berkeley Law.
“Our graduates practice in law firms all over the world, in legal departments of companies ranging from global conglomerates to tech startups, and in a variety of government agencies and NGOs,” adds Peter Landreth, also a Berkeley Law co-director of LL.M. professional development.
Many LL.M.s going into ‘in-house’ and government roles
Multilingual, international lawyers with LL.M.s can be attractive candidates for “in-house” roles, especially with companies looking to expand into new markets. “Their broad base of comparative knowledge, connections with international colleagues, and practice experience make them quite valuable,” says Zuraw.
Employer demand for such lawyers appears to be growing. The number of in-house lawyers in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2000, according to the Law Society, and in-house solicitors now make up 22 percent of all working solicitors in the UK. Comparable figures for the US are not available.
“For students who have a few years of practice experience prior to getting their LL.M., the degree can be a great pivot point to go in-house,” says Zuraw.
The degree can also launch students into rewarding careers within government and the wider public sector, according to Karen Watton, a career consultant for law at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
She cites the UK’s civil service, where LL.M. alumni can work across a variety of areas, including parliamentary and advisory work, litigation, commercial and employment law.
“The remuneration may not match the dizzying heights of that offered to some [graduates] in private practice, but pay is only one way in which people may feel rewarded,” says Watton. Indeed, work that has a positive impact on society or the environment can be worthwhile and satisfying.
Another benefit of public sector work is that the government legal profession in the UK offers training contracts and pupillages — an apprenticeship that qualifies barristers to practise independently in England and Wales.
“The quality of work undertaken is top notch, with the benefit of being able to move within departments, so lawyers are not pigeon-holed into narrow fields,” says Watton.
Beyond government roles, many LL.M.s also go into non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the United Nations or Amnesty International. These and other NGOs often recruit LL.M.s to help with legal issues, both internal and external.
Some LL.M.s go onto careers outside the legal sector
LL.M. graduates can use their legal training in many different fields, even those outside the legal profession. Queen Mary’s LL.M. graduates have gone on to work in regulation and compliance (a growth sector), policy-making, as financiers, entrepreneurs, journalists and charity leaders.
Berkeley Law is seeing a small uptick in LL.M. graduates pursuing consulting, but for the most part they are interested in pursuing legal work.
Queen Mary’s Watton says: “An LL.M. gives you advanced legal knowledge and skills, such as the ability to research, critical thinking and problem-solving capability, and the power to persuade. All of which may be very useful in non-legal contexts.”
She adds that LL.M. students can supplement these skills by making the most of other opportunities while studying. For example, getting involved in societies, keeping up with hobbies and interests, or doing voluntary work, can help students acquire further transferable skills such as communication, and demonstrate initiative to potential employers.
“Being a strong all-rounder can make you attractive to many different employers,” says Watton.
Another post-LL.M. career path: the academic route
Some LL.M. graduates go on to study for a PhD in a complementary discipline, which is a fantastic route into an academic career, perhaps working as a professor at law school.
“Our students [who are] interested in an interdisciplinary academic career often take advantage of their time here to make connections with other departments on campus through events and coursework,” says Zuraw, at Berkeley Law. The school offers a J.S.D, another pathway to an academic career.
It’s important for LL.M. graduates to stay open to new opportunities rather than expecting to follow a rigid path, says Watton. “There’s always an element of luck.”
Whichever career path you follow, networking will be vital to its success — an LL.M. provides access to a network of legal professionals from around the world. “Learn from the people around you and make yourself useful to them in turn, and you will find that you have built an invaluable career network,” says Zuraw.
Back at DLA Piper, Ólafsdóttir advises: “Surround yourself with interesting people who are bold and enthusiastic, and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.”