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Ways of studying an LLM program – the research option

Many LLM programs are to be completed by coursework only; others by a combination of coursework, exams and thesis. A minority of programs offer the opportunity to skip the coursework entirely and complete the degree via a thesis.

An LLM by Research is intended to develop the student's legal research and writing skills by directing them towards planning and executing a large piece of academic research – usually around 30,000-40,000 words – on their chosen field of law. Although this dissertation will be completed under specialist supervision, the student will be expected to demonstrate the ability to work independently. The LLM by Research will develop the student’s ability to present legal arguments by utilising various legal sources and other academic literature.  Although the thesis is the main form of assessment for qualification, many universities also offer the opportunity to participate in taught courses as well, offering the chance to broaden your horizons in the legal fields.

Advantages of studying an LLM by Research

Studying an LLM program by Research is a great option to choose if you want to continue with your legal education to a postgraduate level, especially if you are considering going on to study a doctoral research in law (PhD). It is also a good option if you want to continue working while studying part time for your Master of Laws.

Being part of research community, and meeting eminent researchers, thereby gaining invaluable skills and experience, are other benefits when choosing the research option. As well as developing your research skills, you will also develop other transferable skills that will aid your legal and/or academic career.

Another advantage of a research-only program is that you may be able to do most of your work elsewhere – wherever you have a suitable library or internet connection, for instance. Although many programs have formal residency requirements, they are often not enforced. Make sure you check your eligibility to study, as recent legislation by the UK Border Agency, can affect overseas students in the UK, making them only eligible to apply for full-time study.

Applying for an LLM by Research

Although all universities have different application procedures, if you are applying to do an LLM program by Research, you will have to submit a decent research proposal. This should include the title of your proposed research, a concise introduction, intended methodology, benefits of the research to the wider community, overall summary, as well as details of any supporting supervisors.

There are several factors you will need to consider when choosing where to do your LLM by Research. Obviously the institution’s reputation, specialist fields, and attached professors/specialist researchers will all play an important part in helping you make your decision. Other factors to consider are the funding opportunities available at the law school and, of course, its location.

Almost all of the law schools offering LLMs by Research can be found in current or former British Commonwealth countries: Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.

In the United States, although a handful of schools offer so-called ‘LLMs by Research’, the typical program, such as that at the University of Michigan, requires one semester of coursework and one of research and writing. The University of Wisconsin is nearly unique in offering a degree that does not require coursework.

Unlike most other types of LLM programs, LLMs by Research often allow students to start at different times of year. The University of Bristol, for example, is not unusual in allowing students to start in January, April or October. There are several other LLM by Research programs available in the UK, for example at the Schools of Law at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, as well as the Warwick School of Law.


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