LLM (Master of Laws) Programs in the UK
The UK offers a wide range of programs; plenty of ‘specialist’ options sit alongside more ‘general’ LLM (Master of Laws) programs. This means that you can be sure there will be a UK program that’s right for your needs.
One of the oldest in the world, the English common-law system has been used as a model by many newer legal codes. It also often cited in deciding multinational or international disputes. Although based in the UK, only two of the four ‘home’ nations use English law – England and Wales. Northern Irish law is not too different, but Scottish law is derived from Roman law and Scotland’s legal system is separate.
Coming to the UK is therefore a chance to discover a diversity of legal ideas and influences.
Find LLM programs in the UK
English LLM (Master of Laws) programs
As there are over 40 universities offering about 350 LLM programs, your first consideration might be course content. Apart from numerous ‘general’ LLMs, there is plenty of specialist study. Recently, there has been a growth in LLMs covering human rights, competition law, European law, and all aspects of international law, business and trade – all which cover important issues in today’s society. There are also a rising number of programs that deal with armed conflict, the environment and IT/telecommunications, which are proving to be popular.
Here is a flavour of further possibilities:
Programs focusing on areas and aspects of criminal justice
Business specialisms, many featuring e-commerce
Medical and health specialisms, including ethics and bioethics
Niche areas such as shipping law, media law, intellectual property law and sports law
How to make a choice for your English LLM program
The program size and composition may influence you. Many LLM programs recruit fewer than 30 people per year, some taking no more than ten students. Larger ones may have at least 50% international students. This range of jurisdictions and legal backgrounds is an education in itself!
Alternatively, you could base your decision on how the course is delivered. Almost all LLMs involve lectures and tutorials. It is often compulsory to write a 15,000- to 20,000-word dissertation based on individual research, but in some law schools this is optional or can be replaced by several shorter essays. Modular LLMs make it easier to follow individual interests. Some involve continuous assessment (students’ work is evaluated throughout the year), with few or no exams, while some test their students regularly and/or have end-of-course examinations.
Most LLMs are also offered on a part-time (two years) basis: these are popular with UK and EU graduates who can work their way through law school. Not all part-time courses are suitable for international students, who are subject to restrictions on their working rights, including the number of hours they can work in term time.
There is no UK government league table of universities. The rankings and websites listed below offer some useful guidance, although such information dates very quickly. It is important to read course descriptions and to seek other relevant information, such as the views of visiting teachers.
Location, location, location
For exposure to legal institutions and corporate law firms, London has no rival. Conversely, it is a very expensive place to live! One point in its favour is the variety of LLMs and subject choices offered by the colleges that collectively make up the University of London, including University College London (UCL), King’s College London, Queen Mary’s and SOAS.
Another feature unique to England’s capital is the Inns of Court, home to London’s barristers (litigators) for many centuries. The Inns of Court School of Law (which changed its name in July 2008 to the City Law School) linked up with City University London to provide the UK’s first LLM in Criminal Litigation. However, other cities offer an excellent legal education, and London is never more than a few hours’ travel from anywhere in the UK.
The academic year
The UK university year stretches from late September until June. A few programs run for slightly longer (12–18 months) or commence in January. Begin your research at least a year ahead and apply six to nine months before the course starts. Some courses have an application closing date: this can be as early as 31 January. The most popular LLMs fill up rapidly, but it is possible to get in later, although candidates applying after July may not obtain visas and clearance in time for a September start.
Apply directly, often online, to individual universities. There is no limit on how many can be applied to. Application forms usually require a lengthy personal statement persuading the admissions tutor that you have the right enthusiasm and expertise. You may have to submit examples of academic work or write an essay on a set topic. A few institutions will interview you by phone.
Entry requirements for your English LLM
These vary between universities and programs, but usually ask for a law degree at the equivalent of a 2.1 grade, ie the top half of the second class. Some courses may accept lower academic grades, particularly with appropriate work experience. Others may consider non-law graduates whose studies are relevant to a particular course, eg one with a scientific, business or sociological slant.
Any LLM will involve reading dense and complicated texts, writing long essays that are thoroughly researched and cogently argued, and debating issues with teachers/fellow students.
Law schools set rigorous standards of English for non-native speakers, normally asking for an IELTS score in the range of 6.5–7.0, or a TOEFL score of around 625 (paper based)/263 (computer based)/106 (internet based). You may need high grades in particular papers, such as essay tests. Requirements may be more flexible if you have studied or worked in an English-speaking country, but it is rare to be accepted without an IELTS/TOEFL grade of at least 6.0/550/213/79.
Applicants may need to attend pre-sessional summer schools to raise their level of English. Some universities run special courses for students intending to study an LLM with them, ranging in length from two months to an entire academic year. They differ from standard English courses because they include legal terminology. All institutions offer free language support during your studies.
Studying for an LLM in the UK provides an opportunity to look at the theory and development of law in a multinational environment. An LLM adds weight to academic credentials, particularly if going on to teach or research. Legal employers everywhere see it as adding value to any application, but, in the UK, it is most acceptable alongside practical training if you intend to become a solicitor or barrister. Statistics show that many European Union (EU) and international students return home on completion of their LLM, and are successful in finding legal employment or related work.
The situation differs according to your nationality and whether you are already a qualified lawyer. The Law Society and the Bar Council can offer guidance on equivalency.
EU-qualified lawyers with good English are in the best position. Large UK law firms report that it is hard to obtain work permits for non-EU candidates unless they have practised law for a substantial amount of time in their home jurisdictions. An LLM, especially combined with a recognised UK qualification such as the Legal Practice Course, might boost your application in these circumstances. The trend at the moment is for large law practices to actively recruit LLM associates based in their own countries, but with the chance to spend time in the UK and elsewhere.
An LLM is a worthwhile addition to practical training and shows that you have high motivation and intellectual ability. It gives you extra credibility that might improve your career prospects in the short term and the medium term. Where better to study it than in the UK?
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