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Choosing an LLM program
As there is a wide choice of LLM programs offered that could be potentially bewildering, use the advice in this section to help you find those courses that suit you best. Taking an LLM is an important decision, so you’ll want to be sure you’ve chosen the right LLM program. What you want to get out of the LLM program is the starting point; the application process should be driven by your goals. If your primary goal, for instance, is to do high-end merger and acquisition work in an international finance centre, such as London or New York, you should be able to home in on appropriate programs, schools, and countries. You will favour schools that supply LLM graduates to the major law firms, investment banks and other financial services firms.
The most important criteria for each applicant will, of course, differ substantially. In general, however, reputation, location, teaching quality, student body composition and interest from employers are likely to be amongst the determinative factors.
General considerations for your LLM program
Reputation is not everything, but among schools that do not differ dramatically in their ability to deliver what you are looking for, it is highly likely to be the critical factor. Location can affect many aspects of your experience. Schools located in major cities offer both a social life outside of their walls and part-time employment possibilities – as well as possible post-degree employment options.
A school’s location may offer a chance to learn another language and culture. Going abroad to school may offer a chance to work abroad, albeit at the potential sacrifice of local connections in your home country.
Quality of teaching of your LLM program
Of critical importance is whether a LLM program offers courses targeted to your needs. The great variety of programmes now on offer means that if you are able to travel to a program, you should be able to find something almost tailor-made with your needs in mind.
Teaching quality differs dramatically, even at schools of comparable reputation. Besides sitting in on classes, ask students how they rate the instruction they are receiving. Note that formal student course evaluations, which are published (often online) at some schools, offer a chance to judge the teaching in departments of greatest interest to you.
Be wary of schools with learning environments that are not hospitable to you. Do not put yourself through months of hell and the disappointment of performing poorly due to a bad match between you and the learning environment of a school. Some people do better in a collegial atmosphere than in a competitive one – and vice versa – just
as some do better in a highly participatory culture than a passive learning one.
The composition of the student body will have a major impact upon your learning experience and your enjoyment of the program. Ideally you should be able to learn from the other students, however they should not be so skilled, relative to your own level, that you will be unable to compete with them.
Make sure that their goals are compatible with your own. You may not want to be the only person aiming to work for a private firm upon graduation if all of your classmates will be returning to government posts. To make sure you will fit in with the typical students on a program, spend some time with current students or those who have recently graduated.
Some schools have a traditional closeness between students and faculty members: faculty members routinely invite students for coffee or drinks, join them for lunches and so on. These differences are not just found at the school level. In some countries, formality governs: professors seldom interact with students.
The more highly employers regard a law school’s graduates, the more job offers will flow. Specific offers depend upon more, however, than just a school’s general reputation. Check whether people get jobs that you would like to have. In addition, check what credentials they had. In general, distinguish between the job prospects of those at the top of the class and those at the middle and the bottom. The differences among schools become more marked as you work your way down their class rankings. To assess whether a school’s degree ‘travels’ to whatever area is of interest to you, consider both where recruiters come from and where graduates end up working.
Finding information about LLM programs
Establishing your criteria for choosing the best program is obviously important, but this tends to be insufficient unless you also gather good information about each of the programs you will consider. There are few good information sources in print or online.
Thus, reading about schools should be only a modest part of your research - you need to go beyond consulting school websites:
- Talk to graduates and current students at the law schools you are interested in to understand fully what their experience of the program has been like.
- Find out about the school’s network from its graduates – for instance, how supportive has the school been of their efforts to develop alumni clubs?
- Find out from potential employers how they value each program. Ask their human resource people most responsible for hiring at which schools they actively recruit. Have them explain why they choose these schools, their impressions of strengths and weaknesses of the respective programs, what types of people they choose from each, and how many they generally hire from each school.
- Talk to the career services department at each school to assess what they offer that will help you land the sort of job you intend to get upon graduating, as well as help you develop appropriate career management skills.
Visiting law schools
Nothing beats the opportunity to visit the schools you are considering. The visit brings to life a school that has heretofore been only an imaginary place fashioned by school websites, statistics, hearsay and so on.
Allot at least one open day, preferably more, per school. Attend whatever information sessions are offered, but do not stop with what are essentially school sales pitches. Arrange meetings ahead of time with individuals in areas of interest to you, whether professors, career services professionals, or financial aid officers. Compile in advance a list of questions you intend to ask at each school.
Perhaps most importantly, interact with current students as much as possible. Pay particular attention to those students who most resemble you in terms of their background and goals. Whenever you encounter someone who reminds you of you, dig in. Pump them, and their friends, for as much information as you can get regarding what they think the school does and does not do well.
Many applicants rely on law school rankings to help them decide to which law schools they will apply. Although this is by no means inappropriate, it can be tricky. For one thing, the ranking of law schools is hardly an art form, let alone a science. The organisations and individuals undertaking these rankings are confronted by daunting methodological problems. From an immense amount of information, a few factors must necessarily be singled out and calculated in order to provide ‘scores’ that allow readers to differentiate among schools. Even in the simplest of universes, this would be difficult. For more information, read the Rankings section.
Future prospects of LLM graduates
Ultimately, any of a number of law schools can give you a great learning experience and help your career prospects substantially, but it's up to you to take advantage of the opportunities afforded you at whichever school you choose.Find Your PERFECT LLM PROGRAM