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Preparing for your LLM (Master of Laws) degree: Our 10 Step Plan

So you’ve got a place on an LLM program. Before starting your studies, there are some things that you will need to consider and arrange. Once you have been accepted onto an LLM program, you will almost be ready to start it. Before racing off to law school however, there are a range of things that you’ll have to do, along with some that you should already be in the process of doing, to make sure that you are fully prepared for your time studying.

Preparing for your LLM program

Here's our step-by-step guide for what to do:

Reserve your place

Once you are accepted by your top choice, be sure to send in your deposit to reserve your place in a timely manner. If you are accepted by one of your secondary choices before you have heard from your number-one school, you may face a dilemma if you are required to send in a deposit immediately. Feel free to ask the school that has accepted you whether you can delay sending your deposit for a short time, and also ask your first-choice school to speed up its decision-making, being sure to do so politely.

If you are still a law student

If you still have a few months left of your last term, do not assume that it is harmless to neglect your courses and party the rest of your time away. Make sure you graduate with the best grades possible. It is not unlikely that prospective employers in the future will examine your first law degree results with as much care as your LLM performance.

Parting with your employer if you're currently working

Leaving your current job may fill you with joy, sadness or a mixture of the two. No matter which, it is important to resign in a highly professional manner. Once you have decided to leave, step carefully. Do not pop into your boss’s office and wax lyrical about your new-found freedom. Instead, think about how much notice you should give. You will obviously give at least as much as is called for in your employment contract. Whether you should give more (and take the risk of being asked to clean out your desk immediately) depends upon such factors as your relationship with your boss, how the company has treated others at your level who have resigned, and whether the firm knows that you have applied to LLM programs. Consider requesting a final review of your work (which you may later use to advantage when potential future employers look to understand how well you performed in your prior job), but only if your boss is not angry about you leaving. Make every effort to remain on good terms with your former employers and colleagues. Remember that they can be your future referees or clients.

Academic Preparations

If you have not performed very well in your first law degree program, this would be a good time to analyse why. Having done so, you can then address whatever problems emerge. So if your writing of research papers was sub-par, consult the best legal writing instructors available to you as well as former or current professors for hands-on help. Seek their advice regarding appropriate readings and exercises. If you are pursuing an LLM in order to change fields (or legal systems), try getting a jump on your upcoming studies by doing appropriate preliminary readings. Contact your new school, as well as appropriate professors at your prior law school, for suggestions.

Immigration and visas

If you are going to study in a foreign country, you may need to get a student visa. Your school should send you the necessary forms and contact details to begin the application process. You may need to provide an enormous amount of detail about your personal history, financial capabilities and so on. In this time of international tension, the immigration authorities can take a long time to sort through this information, so by all means start the process as soon as possible as this shouldn't put you off studying abroad. Don’t try to enter the country on a tourist visa in the expectation that you will be able to change your status during your stay. This is difficult to accomplish. Once you arrive at your new location, make sure you follow the local requirements for registration with the police and so on.

Health matters

Find out whether you will be covered by the law school’s or country’s health insurance. If not, make arrangements to extend your own coverage. If you take prescription medications, be sure to get an adequate supply to bring with you. In addition, make sure that your current doctor provides you with documentation that you can present at customs, if necessary, to justify your possession of these medications. (This can also form the basis for a new prescription from a local doctor.) If you face any ongoing medical issues, by all means register with a doctor upon arrival.

Accommodation Matters

Once you are accepted, the school should send an information package containing details about the accommodation available. The school may:

  • Provide accommodation, whether on or off campus
  • Help you find accommodation, either in advance of arrival or upon arrival
  • Not provide or help you find accommodation, leaving you on your own to find a home.

An early visit to the school may be necessary to determine whether to live on or off campus, share a large flat or house with others and so on. Keep in mind that private housing can be difficult to find in some places, particularly at the beginning of the school year (early September or October). Do not plan to arrive at the beginning of your programme without having sorted out your housing well in advance.

Money matters

Before you leave for your new country, you need to make sure that you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and other fees as well as living expenses for the duration of your course. Obtaining extra funds may be very difficult once you begin your course. Be sure that you have a means to transfer your funds cost-effectively before you set out.

What to bring with you

Consider carefully the climate you will be confronting, then pack appropriate clothing. If you intend to work part time as a lawyer during the program, make sure to bring a suitable selection of professional clothing. Before packing any electrical equipment, make sure that it is compatible with the operative standards (voltage, plugs, etc) in your new location. Although you may well need to bring some of your old law books, try to limit the number you take with you. The law library should have what you require. If you intend to bring your car, you may need to register (and insure) it in your new location. In many places, this will mean a safety and pollution inspection. You may also need to acquire a local driver’s licence, particularly if you plan to stay for more than 12 months.

Give yourself time

Given the importance of your forthcoming postgraduate program, leave as little as possible to chance. Arriving early allows you to perform at your best from day one.

Find and move into your new apartment, and get it stocked and organised before classes begin. Take care of all other life-in-a-new-location business before the start of classes as well: have your telephone (mobile and/or landline) hooked up, open a new bank account, and familiarise yourself with your new campus and its facilities. Don’t be living out of a suitcase in a student hostel and looking for an apartment and some furniture during the evenings when you should be doing your class assignments.


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