The LLM experience from an Anonymous Lawyer

Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons

By Banana Pie on Jan 12, 2010

Hey Everyone,

I have been a long time follower of LLM guide since I decided to do my LLM in 2008.  So I've decided to give something back to the LLM Guide community by sharing some of my thoughts and experiences of the LLM from the perspective of someone who had worked for a number of years as a lawyer.

The LLM was always something I wanted to do.  But it meant that I had to take a "break" in the climb up the commercial law firm hierarchy.  However the LLM experience is definitely worth it.

I am currently undertaking the LLM at UCL with a international commercial specialisation.  I have to say that I am loving the experience.   UCL is a fantastic university.  I love the courses I am doing.  They have opened my eyes to new theories and perspectives that I believe will only enhance my practical experience and knowledge.

But not everything was wonderful and some things were...well disappointing.  Where you have paid out of your own pocket (and borrowed) and quit your nice cushy job for the experience any disappointment is hard to bear.  But the key thing is that if you are here for the right reasons, you will get over it and make the best out of it.

So here are my thoughts and experiences of the LLM at UCL so far:

*I expected the class sizes for the LLM to be much smaller (max 20 people) than what I had experienced at undergraduate level (100 plus people).  A smaller class size means intellectual discussion of the ideas and topics covered in the course. However, the reality is that the total number of people taking the LLM at UCL for 2009-10 is 450 people (including about 50 part timers).  This has meant that in the courses I am taking (commercial courses) there are usually between 50 to 100 people in a class, which is not conducive to intellectual debate or discussion.  In fact it encourages intellectual inertia.

*Because of the class sizes, the lectures are run as undergraduate lectures with you (the student) listening and the Professor talking at you. If your Professor is good he/she will try and encourage some discussion and debate.  If your Professor is not so good, he/she will read from the powerpoint slides that you had to print out and take to class.

*Pick papers you're interested in and that will enhance your knowledge and experience.  Don't pick papers because you think it will look good on your CV.  I know of several people who had to drop out of courses and switch to other courses because they hated the paper so much but were only doing it because they thought it would look good on the CV. 

*I expected all if not most of the LLM courses to be "advanced".  That is basic legal principles and practices in the commercial world would be assumed or covered in one introductory lecture and the rest of the course will cover the topics in the course in more detail, with application etc.  However, a good number of the courses are almost primers in the area rather than an advanced course of study.  Wisely use the 2 weeks you have to choose your courses and find out which ones are actually going to add to your knowledge and experience and which ones won't.

*If you're thinking about doing the LLM because you think you can get a job in London after wards, think again.  At a careers law fair at UCL a friend of mine was bluntly told by a number of law firms that there no jobs for people with legal work experience and that they would have been better off staying in their home country.  If they really wanted to work in London as a lawyer they had to start again and complete a training contract.  To be honest, I am not sure whether you would have to start again at training contract level if you've got a decent number of years work experience.  But, getting a job in London is not going to be easy and the LLM  won't be the golden ticket into a job no matter which university you're from.

*I struggled to do the readings before the lectures.  Not because they were hard or too much (well yes they were too much: the readings lists are massive!) but because I had no idea why I was reading what I was reading.  After chatting to my personal tutor I started to do some of the readings before class (for example the textbook chapter) and then the rest after the lecture.  This for me made more sense.  In the work context, you would never read up on the law before you met a client (ok you'd do some background reading from a textbook- at most).  You did the intensive research/reading after you had found out what the issue was.

So, those are my thoughts and experiences so far.  Despite what appears to be a whole list of negatives, I am truly loving my LLM experience at UCL.  I have made a great bunch of friends, met some great people and I have genuinely learnt a lot (with the second semester still to go!).  I think despite all the negatives, because I really wanted to do the LLM to learn, grow my knowledge and add to my experiences, the negatives really became "non issues".  

So, the moral of the story: If you're doing the LLM for the right reasons then you will have the best and most unforgettable experience.

"Why bother?" asks the Anonymous Lawyer.

By Banana Pie on Feb 04, 2010

The second semester at UCL is in full throttle.  People are getting together study groups and study sessions for the exams in May/June.

However, this post is not about those people: the fair majority of people who do the LLM.  This post is about those people who make you go "Why bother?".  Since starting at UCL I have been told, been involved in discussions with, or overheard people talking about how LITTLE work they were doing in the LLM.  So, you ask me, why do you care?  Well, to be quiet honest, I don't.  But I feel sorry for those people who did not get a place at UCL and whose place was effectively taken by these people who...well, you really have to question why they are doing the LLM in the first place.  Now, also remember, I am older, worked for a number of years and left a well paying job at a top commercial law firm in my home country to do the LLM at UCL.  So the following post needs be read from that perspective.

*Today, a friend told me that a friend of hers was not going to any of the classes for a particular company/commercial law paper.  When asked by my friend why they had decided not to go to the classes, the person stated that it was easy as they had interned in a firm that had done work in that area of the law.  First, while I appreciate that the interning experience is very important, no amount of interning is really going to get you familiar with the theory and the law in detail.  Second, why would you waste your money doing an LLM if its so easy?  Why didn't you start working straight away (or get made partner)?  

*Apparently some people are doing courses they have already done at undergraduate level.  Company Law is one very obvious example.  When asked why they are doing company law when they had already done it at undergraduate level, they said "its easy" and "I will ace it".  I have a couple of problems with doing something you've already done at undergraduate level.  First off, why bother doing the LLM if you're not going to do something that challenges you intellectually?  Second, why bother spending money on subjects you've already done before?  If its to improve your marks from the first time round, I am not sure employers are going to be too impressed unless you score 200% in the exam.  Third, employers aren't dumb.  They have your academic transcript in front of you.  If they see you've done company law at undergrad and then done it at post grad, they are going to wonder why you've done the same thing twice. Are you not up to challenging yourself, they wonder? If you are planning on doing a course of study you've already done at undergrad you better start thinking of why; ... or have plans to ace the exam.

*I know a couple of people who don't go to class because they "can't be bothered".  Seriously.  I am attend all my classes and I will attend all the tutorials because that is what I paid for.  I saved up hard earned cash to do this LLM and I am attending ALL MY classes and tutorials.  Further, if I had borrowed money off my parents, relatives, bank I would be more motivated to go to classes and tutorials.  

*I have heard a lot of people complain about not being able to get through all the readings and the notes for the lectures.  When you ask them why they say its all too much.  Then, when you ask them what they got up to over the week and the weekend they say oh, "I went to this bar/club", "Hung out at this event", "Partied with these friends" etc etc. Part of the LLM experience is meeting new people, experiencing the city you live in (London IS really a fantastic city) and having fun.  Balance is important.  Don't forget why you are doing the LLM.  

*A lot of people complain about how long the lectures are.  In some classes, we don't even get a break because of the volume of material we have to get through.  Some people in the lectures ask for a break because they can't concentrate for "that long".  Lectures are only 2 hours long.  And a fair majority of people only have them four times a week.  If you can't handle a 2 hour lecture in one day, I am not sure whether you can handle taking notes and listening in an 8+ hour client meeting, commercial negotiations that go on all night or in court all day.

Like I said, my post relates to only a small proportion of people at UCL doing the LLM.  The majority of us at UCL are all hard working, intellectual and want to do well in exams.  I suppose the purpose of the post relates to my first post:  to make those people considering doing the LLM for the wrong reasons to consider whether an LLM is really a worthwhile spend.  If not, then you could give your place to someone who really wants it and who will make full use of it.

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