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Postgraduate Law Options

Postgraduate law optionsThere are various postgraduate degree law options - and the option you choose depends, in part, on where in
the world you choose to study your postgraduate law degree.

The standard second degree in law is an LLM (Magister Legum in Latin). Years ago, a number of other degree titles, such as a Master’s in Taxation, were fairly common, but they have largely given way to the term “LLM.” This means for example, that the former Masters in Taxation is now likely to be called an LLM in Taxation.

Postgraduate law: the path to studying an LLM

In most countries, to be eligible for an LLM, the applicant is required to have completed a first degree in law, such as an LLB (Bachelor of Laws or Legum Baccalaureus in Latin) or, in the United States, a JD (Juris Doctor). However, in the UK and some other countries, a different qualification may be accepted in lieu of a first law degree.  For instance, someone with a degree in accounting who wishes to develop their knowledge of the legal aspects of international taxation would be considered by many LLM programs to have suitable qualifications.

Those wishing to get a more advanced degree than the LLM could opt for a PhD in Law or, especially in North America, an SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science). These two degrees — a PhD and a SJD — are roughly equivalent: they're the highest degrees in law generally on offer in their respective regions. Applicants for a PhD in Law may or may not be required to have an LLM or equivalent to apply; applicants for an SJD are almost always required to have one.

The progression of degrees for an English law professor might therefore be: LLB, LLM, and, finally, PhD in Law. Find out more about studying an LLM in the UK. The American equivalent would be: BA (in a subject other than law, typically, given that the first American law degree is open only to holders of other university degrees), JD, LLM, then SJD. Find out more about studying an LLM in the US.

Postgraduate law: other options

However, the degrees listed above are not the end of the story - variations on them are not uncommon. At the masters degree level, for example, a school might offer a Master of Comparative Law, or MCL. In general, however, in most countries the LLM is becoming the accepted generic term for a second degree in law, whatever the title given to a specific course or program.

Up until recently, in England and Wales someone who completes a degree in a non-law subject could do a conversion course to become a lawyer. This is variously termed the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL). Then, after completing either type of initial law degree, an LLB or CPE/GDL, further formal education was still necessary to qualify to become a solicitor or a barrister. Initially, one must complete the one-year full-time, two-year part-time, Legal Practice Course (LPC). After this, the would-be solicitor or barrister serves a two-year apprenticeship. Then, the would-be solicitor needed to complete a Professional Skills Course, whereas a would-be barrister needs to complete a Bar course – formerly Bar Professional Training Course. These various post-LLB courses are considered vocational adjuncts to the initial degree, and are not classed as LLMs. This process has now been replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will see the phasing out of the LPC, although the GDL and other new postgraduate law courses will continue to be offered.

Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is being phased in during 2021 as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.

Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:

1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.

2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.

3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).

4. Demonstrate suitable character.

The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.

Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.


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