Many international LL.M. students set out with the hope of using their studies as a stepping-stone to find work locally after graduation.
For those wishing to settle in the UK and gain work experience post-LL.M. there are plenty of options. Some opt to study towards becoming practicing lawyers in the UK, while others use what they’ve learned during their LL.M. to take their legal expertise into other sectors.
Dr Philippa Webb, associate professor of public international law at King’s College London, says many of the college’s LL.M. graduates choose to stay on in the UK with the hope of finding employment using their new qualifications.
“Quite a few of our graduates go into commercial law firms here in the UK and of course in Europe and other countries,” says Webb. “They have also gone into government and in-house counsel within companies. A small number go to the bar, while others go into academia, either pursuing a PhD or becoming lecturers.”
Some LL.M. graduates may also seek work in sectors outside the law, for example in the health and medicine sector, energy or environment sectors, where they can act as legal experts for large organizations, for example.
Obtaining the right to practice law in the UK
For those who do wish to practice law in the UK, there are a couple of options.
In the UK, you do not necessarily have to be admitted to the bar in order to practice law: to become a barrister or solicitor requires different training.
In order to become a barrister, “the entry standards are set by the Bar Standards Board, and they require a qualifying law degree,” says Webb. “An LL.M is a specialist degree, but not a qualifying law degree for the purposes of the bar.”
Those wishing to become barristers would either need to complete the undergraduate LL.B., which takes three years, or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which takes one year.
At that point, those wishing to become solicitors undertake a Legal Practice course (LPC), while hopeful barristers go on to study for the bar exam using a study program such as the Bar Professional Training Course.
But that doesn’t mean the LL.M. won’t help you in your career.
“The LL.M. isn’t irrelevant to becoming a lawyer in the UK, because it’s not just about becoming qualified and sitting the bar exam,” says Webb. “The most critical part of making a career at the bar, and I know this because I’m in the bar as well, is getting pupilage and that’s where an LL.M. can really distinguish you from other applicants.”
A Chinese solicitor with a competitive advantage in the City of London
Taking advantage of the concentrations and specializations on offer in many of the UK’s LL.M. programs can help future lawyers to stand out when they enter the job market.
Originally from China, Dr Yan Li completed an LL.M. at the University of Southampton in 2003. Today she is a senior associate at INCE & Co, a commercial law firm in the City of London, where she works as a maritime shipping lawyer.
As she is a solicitor, Li did not need to sit the bar exam, however she did undertake many years of training to get to where she is today. She says her LL.M. has been integral to her success.
“I did my LL.B. in Shanghai and then came to the UK to do my LL.M., thinking I would just stay for that one year, but here I still am!”
Li had originally planned to specialize in commercial law during her LL.M., but ended up changing to maritime law. This turned out to be a fortuitous choice.
“I realized after studying maritime law that it is used all over the world,” says Li. “Today, I work for lots of Chinese clients, and in shipping law, it’s the English law I learned that is used in the maritime and shipping industries.”
“It doesn’t matter where you work [in maritime law], the English law applies. Studying maritime law makes you internationally recognized.”
Following her LL.M., Li took a gap year while she sorted out her scholarship funding, and then undertook her PhD in international trade law, also from the University of Southampton.
“I got a trainee solicitor role in the City, where the law firm sends you to do a two-year trainee solicitor course,” explains Li.
The first year is spent on the GDL, with the second on the LPC. At the end of those two years, Li was a qualified solicitor, and has stayed on with her firm ever since.
International experience has its advantages
Li says her Chinese background has given her a competitive advantage when working with Chinese clients.
“When I was having my original job interview, I asked them whether a Chinese candidate would have an advantage,” says Li. “They didn’t think so at the time. But now, because the Chinese economy picked up, and in the shipping industry the Chinese and Asian market really grew very quickly, now my maritime English law background and my Chinese law background makes me very marketable.”
“There are only a handful of us who specialize in maritime law,” says Li. “And that’s why I’m in China right now, because the London office sent me here to do a three-year secondment.”
So what about obtaining a visa?
All non-EU citizens require a visa in order to study or work in the UK.
For those who wish to stay on in the UK post-study, getting that visa is a challenge, but it’s not impossible.
“All students studying on a program of 12 months or longer are given an extra four months’ leave at the end of their visa,” says Ali McDonald, Assistant Head of International Student Support at the University of Edinburgh.
“Students can use this time to look for appropriate employment in the UK.”
However, in order to get a work visa, known as the Tier 2 visa, applicants must find sponsorship from an employer.
“The application itself is straightforward,” says McDonald, “however the job market is very competitive and the position available must meet the requirements for a Tier 2 visa.”
“For example,” she says, “the salary must be at least 20,800 GBP or the industry minimum and the employer itself must be a Tier 2 sponsor.”
- City of London skyline from London City Hall by Diliff CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
- Yan Li. Source: Private