There are many different reasons for taking an LLM; for instance, changing career or employer. Postgraduate law is a good way of acquiring the right skills to help you move in the direction you want to go
The increasing complexity of the legal world (and the greater need for further training as a result) and the desire to stand out from an ever-larger body of lawyers has resulted in a greatly increased demand for LLMs in recent years. Not surprisingly, employers favour lawyers who have developed additional expertise and demonstrated a substantial commitment to self-development.
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To restart your career
If you are currently unemployed or underemployed, doing an LLM not only adds to your skill base, but also keeps you from having a gaping hole in your CV.
If you have been out of the legal market for some time, an LLM can provide a useful combination of retraining and credential enhancement. For example, if you stepped away from the practice of law to start a company or to raise young children, you may be out of touch with current developments in your field – or have forgotten too much of what you once knew – to practise with confidence. Employers generally expect you to be productive from the first day, but law schools are more forgiving: the staleness of your credentials is unlikely to be a major issue for them.
To move into a new area of expertise
An LLM offers the opportunity to change career focus. By choosing the right specialist programme, a corporate generalist can become a securities regulation specialist or a litigator can become a human rights advocate.
To move to a new part of the world
The more well-developed your skills, the further employers will go to hire you. For example, middle-tier law schools in the US are able to market their first-degree (Juris Doctor (JD)) graduates only in the surrounding area, yet employers from across the country recruit graduates of their master’s in taxation programmes.
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To improve earnings
Many of the points made above apply to those who want to earn more money. Switching fields or employers, or becoming an expert in a complicated field is an excellent way of increasing your income.
To move to a new employer
The quality of your education will be one of the determining factors in your ability to switch employers; so, too, will the alumni network of both your undergraduate and postgraduate law schools.
To get the bigger global picture
Increasing globalisation means that fewer and fewer lawyers can afford to view their clients’ or employers’ affairs from the perspective of just one legal system. LLM programmes offer the chance to learn the law, practices and institutions of other jurisdictions.
To deepen your knowledge
The further training an LLM offers can help you get to grips with a field too complex to be mastered in a first-degree programme. For instance, in many countries, tax law has become so complicated that even those who trained as accountants before becoming lawyers find extra training extremely helpful.
To be a high-flyer
Some parts of the legal profession are virtually off-limits to graduates of lesser law schools. These include major private law firms, government positions reserved for high-flyers and many public-interest organisations. One way to get your foot in the door, despite a weak first degree, is to upgrade your academic credentials by obtaining a good-quality LLM.
To be a teacher of law
Those who wish to teach law face a somewhat different situation: they generally need an advanced degree no matter the quality of their first degree. The choice of programme also differs slightly for would-be academics. Some LLM programmes offer the opportunity to do a degree solely by coursework or, alternatively, partly by coursework and partly by completing a major research paper. The opportunity to do a major paper – especially one that can be published or provide the basis for a future book – is clearly the better option.
To improve your status
Possessing an LLM degree conjures up a different impression and reaction than being the possessor of just a bachelor’s degree. Getting your LLM from a better-quality school than you received your bachelor’s degree from will add further status. The same is true of getting a degree abroad.
To have an interesting experience
Many of the benefits of doing an LLM are intangible. For some, it is a matter of seeking an intellectually challenging experience; for others, it is interacting with faculty members and fellow students who are interested in the same professional field.
Whether you hope to climb the ladder in your current field or wish to change fields, you are most likely to benefit from an LLM if you know exactly what you want. By all means choose the programme carefully, but then go further and understand how to get the most out of it. Decide which options to choose within the programme – the right courses, professors and outside activities (student organisations, career development series and so on) will provide you the highest payoff in terms of what you want from the programme.