When eighteen-year-old students matriculate at Maastricht University's undergraduate law program in the Netherlands, some of them have a very particular attitude towards one of Maastricht's specializations.
"They don't choose tax law," says Anouk Bollen, director of studies at Maastricht's LL.M. in tax law, which includes an international English-speaking tax LL.M. and a domestic Dutch-speaking tax LL.M. "They think it's boring."
But the students who do pursue Maastricht's tax specialization are starting on a road towards a career in one of the most sought-after legal fields in Europe.
Tax law LL.M.s are one of the most popular and valuable LL.M. degrees in the United States, with schools such as New York University, Georgetown and Boston University accepting a select number of tax enthusiasts every year, but that popularity also extends beyond America's boundaries.
Europe is home to a huge range of tax LL.M. programs. While some European law schools offer programs in domestic tax law, these are mainly taught in national languages and do not generally recruit students interested in international tax law.
In terms of English-language European LL.M.s that focus on international taxation, the top law schools are generally considered to be Maastricht, Vienna’s University of Economics and Business (WU), and Leiden University.
The Netherlands is home to a number of law schools that offer programs in this area, including Tilburg University, Amsterdam Law School, and Utrecht University School of Law.
Across the English Channel, London-based schools like LSE, King’s College London, and Queen Mary University of London also offer tax LL.M.s.
Although American tax law programs often prepare students for careers in New York or Washington D.C., European programs have a different focus. These English-language programs attract students from all over the world and produce tax lawyers who can navigate the increasingly complex world of international business.
"[After the program], some students go back to their home country, but they still are looking for jobs in the international tax law area," says Qunfang Jiang, coordinator of the International Tax Law LL.M. Program at Leiden. "Our program is more about tax law and an international perspective.”
Many students, according to Jiang, use the program to internationalize their career. “Before they come here they may do domestic tax law,” says Jiang, “but after they have this degree usually they do more international business."
In this respect, students who pursue an international tax degree in Europe can go on to work in a variety of capacities, such as advising multinational organizations and governments about investments and taxation; working in private or public firms; or bringing international expertise to the Big Four, all lucrative and plentiful positions in today's increasingly interconnected world.
"[International] tax is a very important topic because globalization is a very hot topic and tax is very much related to that," says Barbara Ender-Rochowansky, organizational manager of the LL.M. program in International Tax Law at Vienna's WU. "People need to have these kinds of skills if they want to work in this area and get in touch with clients.”
“It's a very good starting point, to get this LL.M. here, then go wherever there is to go and have the skills and knowledge to be successful."
Officials say that students who pursue this degree typically transition directly into the workforce.
"We tend to follow our alumni and within a very short period, they all get a job quite quickly," says Eric Kemmeren, director of Tilburg's International Business Tax Law Program, which the school launched in 2013 in response to a growing need for international tax lawyers.
Will I get into the Tax LL.M. of my choice?
Many tax LL.M. programs in Europe admit between one-quarter and one-third of students who apply. Ender-Rochowansky says WU takes 25 out of 100 applicants, while Jiang says Leiden receives about 150 applications every year and admits between 50 and 60 students, many from countries such as China and Indonesia or from regions such as Latin America.
Jiang says the most important components of an application tend to be education and work experience.
"I think international tax law is a very specialized area," says Jiang. "We have some applicants who don't have any experience in this area, and it's a bit difficult for them to study in our program."
Bollen says that some successful international applicants to Maastricht have already been working in international tax law before they apply to the school, while domestic applicants often specialized in tax law during their undergraduate studies, an undergraduate specialization peculiar to the Netherlands, since many European universities don't allow students to specialize their undergraduate law degrees.
Kemmeren says the application process at Tilburg is based on whether the admissions committee thinks the applicant will succeed in the program and beyond.
"We must have a feeling, based on the materials selected, that there's a real chance of success," he says.
"It's not really helpful for the individual student when he or she starts and doesn't have a sufficient chance of successful completion within a year. Grades, motivation, and recommendation by professionals or professors helps us to get an idea of what the potentials are of the individual students."
Of course, since the international tax programs are taught all in English, officials and directors say it's also essential for students to have strong English-language skills.