LLM (Master of Laws) in Continental Europe

The development of Europe’s LLM market is the result of two related trends: globalisation and Europe’s continuing integration. Where once it was considered enough to know the laws of one’s own jurisdiction, this is no longer enough in a growing number of legal fields. This has resulting in a wide range of LLM programs that are designed to help students handle the multinational nature of top-level legal practice.

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The European LLM programs

LLM (Master of Laws) in EuropeAs Europe’s national laws become increasingly intertwined, it is no surprise that a substantial percentage of LLM programs now focus on the nature and impact of this change. In some cases, it has been just a matter of existing programs offering more courses with an international orientation. In others, however, completely new programs devoted to the study of European law or introducing national law to foreign students have sprung up.

A notable feature has been the development of cross-border collaborations. The cross-border collaborations have hardly been limited to Europe. Jagiellonian University in Krakow has forged a joint program with Catholic University in Washington, DC, as has the University of Salzburg with McGeorge School of Law in California. Friedrich-Schiller University, in Jena, Germany, has gone far beyond California to establish a joint program with Sydney Law School (in Australia).

But it is not just these multi-university programs that are available. Approximately 110 schools – ranging from furthest north (Finnish Lapland) to furthest south (Malta), from east (Russia) to west (Iceland) – offer LLM or similar degrees. The specialist subjects that are on offer to LLM students include: Comparative and European law; Competition law and economics; Corporate law; Criminal law; Energy law; Environmental law; European and international taxation; European business law; European Community litigation; European integration; French and European Community law; Finance and law; German law; Human rights law; Insurance law; Intellectual property and technologies; International commercial arbitration; International trade law; Legal theory; Maritime law; Taxation law. 

In addition, numerous programs offer students the chance to customise their degrees, to specialise in a subject of their own choosing,

Reasons to study law in Europe

The European LLM market has grown up; it is no longer just the American market manqué. It offers:

 Remarkable choice, as the listing of subjects and programs above suggests.

Closeness to local markets – and not just in western Europe. Programs in central and eastern Europe are well under way. Along with programs nearby (such as in Vienna), they give access to an exciting new part of the European Union. 

Established relationships with local employers. The Institute for Law and Finance in Frankfurt, for instance, places its students with local financial institutions and law firms during the February–March break in classes. 

Small programs (typically 10–40 students) that allow close interaction with faculty members, guest speakers and other students. 

Programs in various languages.

Many part-time courses. For example, the Amsterdam Law School (Universiteit van Amsterdam) allows students to complete its LLM in International and European Law in either one year or two. 

Many programs are open to applicants without prior law degrees, but with substantial related education or experience, eg the LLM in Maritime Law at the University of Oslo is open to those with experience in either law or shipping.

Good value, with many courses available for less than €10,000.

There is clearly no longer a need to go to the US (or the UK) for a degree focusing on technology or numerous other specialised subjects. That said, there are still more specialist subjects available in the US. The leading American schools are also large, very well financed and well regarded, with substantial alumni networks in place. These advantages will continue to weigh heavily in some applicants’ decision-making. Yet even those who sensibly eschew an American degree should be careful in their selection of European programs – not all are created equal. 

Young programs run the risk of being ill-conceived and underfunded and they inevitably lack well-established alumni. Some older programs continue to rely almost exclusively on adjunct instructors, too many of whom appear on campus for only a few hours each week, making out-of-class interaction with them difficult. Rapid development of the LLM market – and lack of rankings – means that choosing the right course will remain a tricky proposition for the foreseeable future.

Practicalities of studying an LLM in Europe

LLM (Master of Laws) in EuropeLanguage issues
Many LLM programs are in English, with the notable exception of Germany, home to a third of Europe’s LLM programs, where nearly all courses are in German.

Length of program 
The standard length of full-time programs is one year, but, for some programs that means a nine-month academic year; for others, a full twelve months. Iceland is an outlier in this, as in so many other regards: Reykjavik University’s LLM programs are two years long.

Start dates
Many programs start in early October and end in either June or September, but the range of starting dates is substantial. Some schools start as early as 1 September, whereas others offer the chance to start in January.

Timetable for applications
There is little rhyme or reason to the application deadlines of different programs. Even for one school, there can be multiple deadlines. Oslo’s LLM in Information and Communication and Technology Law, for instance, has a 1 December deadline for scholarship applicants, a 1 February deadline for self-funding ‘international’ applicants, and a 15 April deadline for students from the Nordic countries. Be sure to read the fine print regarding when you need to apply, and then apply as early in the admissions cycle as possible to increase your chances of getting on the LLM.

Language ability
For programs conducted in English, a good TOEFL score (550–600, depending upon the program) is generally the preferred means for you to demonstrate English language proficiency, but many programs also accept either IELTS or Cambridge exam results.

Essays
Many programmes want you to discuss your professional (and perhaps also your personal) reasons for pursuing an LLM. Explain what you are interested in studying and how this relates to your prior study, work experience and professional goals. (Note that the quality of your writing may well influence the school’s view of your English language ability.)

Undergraduate transcript
Required.

References
One to three, from professors or employers, is the norm.

Interviews
Seldom required.

LLM (Master of Laws) in EuropeCV
Submit an up-to-date version with clear explanations of both your educational and career history, not forgetting skills and achievements. Do not assume that admissions officers will understand the grading and honours systems in effect at your undergraduate institution.

Getting in
The lesser schools are not difficult to get into, but the top schools have as many as 10–15 applicants per place. Note that many of the strongest programs require several years of work experience.

What it costs
The average tuition fee is about €10,000, but the range is significant. Living expenses also vary dramatically. An expensive city, such as Amsterdam, requires at least €750–€850 per month for room and board, whereas some eastern European cities may cost little more than half that amount.

Financial help
Although the general rule is that LLM students are expected to be able to pay for themselves, many programs have at least some grants available. Many also have loan programs generally designed for their own nationals, but sometimes available for other EU nationals as well.

Course structure
The typical program is structured into two terms, with perhaps 50% required courses and 50% to be chosen from a list of acceptable electives. However, there is no shortage of exceptions to this structure. For instance, the University of Oslo’s Maritime Law LLM, which lasts 12 months, is divided into four terms. The first and second consist of regular lecture courses, but the third consists of specialised seminars and a mock trial, and the fourth is devoted to thesis writing. (Many programs require a thesis of up to 30–40 pages (12,000–18,000 words), but an equal number can be completed solely on the basis of coursework.)

Part-time work
Those wishing to work part time during full-time programs are generally discouraged from doing so by the schools themselves, but a substantial number work up to ten hours per week.

 


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