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LLM (Master of Laws) Application Process
Finding the LLM program that’s perfect for you is not the end of the process: you still have to get accepted onto it. Don’t assume that this is a formality; the application process can be tricky and you will have to get it right to succeed.
Getting onto an LLM program will require time, care and preparation – start by researching the law schools and the programs that you are interested in, and make sure that you fit its requirements. If you don’t meet these, for instance in terms of first-degree grades, then you will be wasting your time. You also need to craft a fantastic LLM personal statement.
Stating your case to ensure admission
Effective marketing requires that you not only maximise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses, but also show that you will fit in at the school well, while also standing out as a unique individual. Start by learning as much as possible about the LLM programs best suited to your needs, then consider what these schools look for in their candidates. When applying for an LLM, you have the opportunity to present your objective data – academic credentials and relevant experience – in their most favourable light.
You will also need to include important additional material for the admissions committee to look at:
- Essays demonstrate not just your interests and desires, successes and failures – they can also reveal your writing skills and ability to sustain a tightly reasoned argument.
- References are of paramount importance as these reveal the extent to which you’ve impressed people with whom you have worked and studied.
- Interviews show not only your oral communication skills, but also your personality and interpersonal skills.
Market yourself on admission forms
Pay attention to how you present yourself in the basic admissions forms and data sheets, including those where you describe your career and educational history, and give considered responses to short-answer questions. Take care that what you say here is consistent with how you are presented in the essays, interviews and references.
Don’t overlook the opportunity to advance your case by demonstrating the steady increase in your responsibilities and accomplishments. Show, for instance, that you are now taking major depositions on your own rather than providing back-up for a senior partner.
Get tips from alumni
Get in contact with alumni from the LLM course and find out what they considered were the important factors in their acceptance to the course. This is especially helpful if they have graduated recently and it's easily done through the law school you are applying to, as all law schools want prospective students to get in touch. Or you might be able to find alumni groups on social media that you can connect with.
Essays are important
Don’t be fooled into thinking that your numbers – undergraduate GPA, TOEFL, IELTS (or other language exam) scores, salary, etc – are all you need to gain admission to a high-quality LLM program. Many LLM applications require that you write one or more essays as part of the application proces, with at least one requiring you to explain where you are headed in your career, why you want to do an LLM and why you have chosen their particular program. This is usually referred to as your personal statement.
These essay questions are the heart of applications. In fact, the better the law school, the more likely it is that your essays will heavily influence the final decision. Your essays can serve multiple purposes. Use them to reveal your honesty, maturity and uniqueness in addition to your understanding of what the LLM program offers and requires, and how well you would contribute to it. Your personal statement should show who you are, how you are unique, what you have accomplished, why you want an LLM and where you are heading.
Find the right referees
Law schools generally ask for references from at least two referees, and at least one should ideally be from a professor. If you have substantial work experience, by all means have your supervisor or manager write on your behalf, too, as this can be a useful addition to a professorial reference. If you have been out of university for a long time, consider obtaining both references from employers rather than from former professors, who will likely add little to the picture that emerges from your university transcript if they hardly remember you.
There are three cardinal rules for choosing your referees:
1. Choose people who know you well. Don’t choose referees who are famous or important if they won’t be able to discuss your candidacy and performance in detail. Choose ones who can make the reference credible by illustrating their points with anecdotes that show you at your best.
2. Choose people who genuinely like you – they will take the time to write a polished, carefully considered reference.
3. Choose people who can address more than one aspect. If you are limited to one or two referees, choose ones who can address more than one of the key subjects: your intellectual ability, your leadership potential, your personal attributes, and your career plan.
It’s worth scheduling a formal meeting with your referees and providing them with written information about your goals and details of your accomplishments. Explain why you want to gain an LLM, why you have chosen the law schools you have, and your strategy. You might also give them an outline of what you want discussed, including the examples that you think best demonstrate your capabilities and performance.
Interviews provide law schools with the ideal opportunity to learn much more about you. Some aspects of your suitability will not necessarily be apparent without a face-to-face meeting – such as your charm, persuasiveness, presence and business manner.
Interviews also provide an opportunity to probe any areas that were insufficiently explained in the application. Although only a minority of LLM programs interview applicants, the interview can often be a make-or-break situation for them.
Meet the deadlines
Most applicants underestimate the amount of time that a successful LLM application requires, thinking that they can do one in a long weekend. It is important to ensure you meet the application deadline and the reality is that many of the necessary steps are very time-consuming – for example, contacting a referee, briefing him or her and allowing time to write a reference will take weeks (or months) rather than days. Timing is even more important when applying to several schools rather than one, and this is especially true if you are planning to study your LLM abroad. If you can, begin the application process at least a year before you would like to start your LLM program – so, if you hope to start a program in September, you would be wise to start getting yourself organised the summer of the preceding year.
Law schools generally require that applications be submitted from five to ten months before the start of the program. Apply as early in each school’s application cycle as you can, some law schools offer an early-bird application discount – and some offer places based on a first come, first served basis, as long as the candidate has the necessary qualifications. However, do consider waiting if you expect your credentials to improve dramatically later in the application period.
LLM admissions tips from law school experts
Here are the top tips from those in the know – people that work in admissions departments in US and European law schools.
Advice from US law schools
“Applicants should be careful to select a recommender who knows them well and is willing to communicate honestly and candidly with the admissions office. The most helpful recommendations are those that can provide the admission officers with information about a student’s potential for success in graduate study. A recommender is reporting on his or her observations of applicants, and his or her thoughts on their educational or professional development.”
Timothy J Stanne and Kenneth Kleinrock, NYU Law
“You should apply early in the process, because the early birds’ files are likely to get a more thorough reading when there are fewer applications, but only once you have all the ingredients for a strong application in place.”
Judy Horowitz, Duke University School of Law
“One of the application items that we care most about is an interesting, authentic personal statement, and far too often our LLM candidates fail to appreciate (its) significance.”
Sarah Zearfoss, University of Michigan Law School
“Applicants should emphasise work experience, it’s the major differentiator among applicants. They should also consider explaining the nature of their undergraduate institution to overcome any unfamiliarity we may have. They can also usefully discuss what they plan to do with their degree once they have it.”
Don Rebstock, Northwestern University Law School
“CVs should generally be just one page and definitely not more than two pages. Our program emphasises the ability to communicate in a professional, business-like manner, so we hope candidates can express themselves succinctly, cutting to the chase rather than giving us lengthy narratives or superfluous information.
Don Rebstock, Northwestern University Law School
Advice from European law schools
“References play a big part in our admissions process and the positive views of a colleague from another university can often be the deciding factor which leads an offer. Because of this it is imperative that the referee really knows the student and can speak knowledgeably about the academic skills which they will be bringing to the programme”
Steve Webley, University of Birmingham
“It sounds obvious, but it is vital that you actually read the question carefully and answer the actual question - do not simply cut and paste a previous personal statement which you think will suffice.”
Angie Raymond, School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London
“The letters of recommendation are fundamental to get to know a candidate applying to an LLM programme. Take the time to select your recommender. Find someone that knows you and who is able to describe your strengths and weaknesses. Give enough time for your recommender to write a letter with high-quality content, that mentions your achievements, specific projects and communication skills.”
Cristina Santo, IE Law School
“We take academic excellence as a given, but we are looking for more than that. We are interested in applicants who are committed, motivated and engaged. Tell us about what you would bring to our community of scholars through your previous experience, whether academic or in employment.”
Norma Martin Clement, School of Law, University of Leeds
“Applicants should make sure that they have fully consulted the application guidelines for the specific discipline within the university that they are applying to, as well as checking the generic central application information. Some disciplines have separate specific criteria for applications, and potential students should ensure that they have familiarised themselves with these before submitting their application.”
Anne Michelle Slater, University of Aberdeen
How to avoid unnecessary application mistakes
Finally, here's a quick checklist for you to refer to, to help avoid unnecessary mistakes when applying for your LLM program:
- Draw up an initial checklist
- Keep an eye on application deadlines
- Use correct grammar and spelling
- Tailor your application to the individual law schools
- Review your application before submission
- Include all necessary documents