The decision to undertake an LL.M. can be overwhelming enough on its own. But then many law schools offer LL.M. programs with concentrations, meaning you have to choose up-front whether to earn your LL.M. with a specific focus.
What is an LL.M. concentration?
A concentration – sometimes referred to as a specialization – is a specific focus for your LL.M. program.
Law schools tend to offer a general LL.M., and/or a set of programs with specific concentrations.
For example, at Stanford Law School LL.M. students must choose a concentration. The school offers four choices: Corporate Governance & Practice; Environmental Law & Policy; Law, Science & Technology; and International Economic Law, Business & Policy. There, students apply for and enroll in an LL.M. with their chosen concentration, which will be displayed on their transcripts when they graduate.
Whereas the University of California, Berkeley Law, offers a traditional LL.M. Students then have the opportunity add additional Certificates of Specialization in concentrations like Business Law, Environmental Law, or Law & Technology.
Should I choose an LL.M. concentration?
A concentration can really boost a resume and help it stand out from other applicants with more general LL.M. qualifications.
A specialization can also help you delve into a new area of law. For instance, if you wanted to move into banking law from another practice area, you could pursue an LL.M. in banking or finance law to do just that.
If you’re not so sure, then choosing a concentration might limit your opportunities to explore other areas. If you’re not set on one in particular, then leaving yourself open to trying as many different classes as possible will give you a much better chance of finding something that suits you.
Schools like New York University School of Law offer both the Traditional LL.M. as well as specialized programs in Taxation, Environmental and Energy Law, among others.
If you choose the Traditional LL.M, you may still be able to gain informal specializations in two subjects by carefully selecting the right papers, leaving yourself some leeway to explore other options as well.
It’s important to consider how a specialization could impact your future career options. In some countries a concentration is merely seen as proof that you’re able to work on specific subject matter, while in others it would be hard to get work in an area of law different to the one in which you specialized. Getting to know where you want to work becomes very important here.
How do I pick the right LL.M. concentration for me?
With so many options on offer between different schools, choosing just one isn’t easy. Luckily, there are plenty of advisors and resources available to help you make your decision.
You probably already know which areas of law interest you the most. Paying attention to both your interests and skills will set you in good stead for choosing a suitable concentration.
Professors, admissions staff and alumni generally make themselves available to prospective students wanting to know more about a particular specialization. Alumni can be invaluable resources for understanding how a specialization might pan out for you in the workforce.
Getting to know the industry behind a particular concentration can also be insightful. Talk to professionals at career fairs, or ask someone in the industry about their work to better understand whether this would be a good fit for you.
This is also a good time to read job descriptions and research the average salaries of particular roles to give you a better idea of what you can expect if you are to land a job in the industry in the future.
Another really important question to ask yourself is whether there is current employer demand for this concentration. If you’re interested in finding work in this field when you graduate, checking in with employers and industry statistics could save you time, money and stress.
When do you choose an LL.M concentration?
Students will often choose a school based on the specializations it offers: in most cases, choosing a specialization is done at the same time as choosing a school. Once you’re admitted to a particular school and program it might be possible to switch to a different specialization, but you will still be limited to the options your school offers. Make sure you check with the law schools to which you’re applying.
What are the most common LL.M. concentrations?
Here we list some of the most popular concentrations.
Business Law/Commercial Law
From taxes to liability to trademarks, this specialization covers everything to do with industry. Commercial law is often split into areas of expertise, like small-business law or corporate law.
Tax law is all about the legislation around taxation: how tax law is made, as well as advising businesses on legal processes regarding taxation.
Human Rights Law
Human rights law covers the basic rights to which all human beings are entitled. This LL.M. specialization is popular with human rights advocates. As a concentration this will generally cover human rights law within a specific jurisdiction as well as internationally, how it is implemented, as well as research.
Public International Law/ International Organizations
This is the concentration for those interested in careers in diplomacy, nonprofits, government agencies and cross-border interactions. LL.M. programs in these fields generally cover comparative and foreign law, broadening the scope beyond the laws of the country in which you are studying to offer an international perspective.
Alternative Dispute Resolution/ Arbitration/ Mediation
This concentration focuses on how disputes are settled outside of the courtroom —through arbitration or mediation, generally.Disputes relating to other areas of law – like commercial law, human rights law, property law – are discussed.
The Constitutional law specialization provides a deep understanding of the US Constitution, drawing on Supreme Court rulings to explore how it is interpreted and implemented. Law schools in other countries have their own domestic law specializations.
Environmental Law/ Energy Law/ Resources Law
These related concentrations prepare lawyers to advise clients on environmental issues and how clean or renewable energy can be used legally, as well as the management of assets. This is a specialization increasingly in demand due to increased awareness of climate change and its effects on government policies and industry. Energy Law LL.M. programs cover laws related to the production of energy—be it oil, coal, solar, or anything else.
Banking Law/Finance Law/Securities Law
Specializations in banking, finance or securities and law cover the legal terms for corporate transactions, as well as financial economics and other related topics like corporate valuation.
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