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LLM (Master of Laws) in Common Law

Have you ever heard of a common law husband, or a common law wife? The term refers to couples that live together long-term, share financial responsibilities, and possibly raise children together, yet they have never formally married. Common law will, in some cases (through not very often!), recognise them as married and afford them the same spousal rights. This is the simple way to illustrate the concept of common law: it is a recognition of how custom and practice in society can become constitutionally valid. Often, past decisions in court set a precedent for future judgments on similar cases. This is the basis of common law. Common law can be applied to all kinds of legislation: family law, business law, criminal law, etc. 

Within a common law system the legal system adheres to common law, on the basis that it is only fair that similar facts or issues be treated the same rather than differently in different occasions. If parties disagree with a decision then previous cases will be looked at and the previous decision will then either be upheld in the new case, or if found to be slightly different a new precedent could be created and this will be legally binding. An LLM in Common Law will look at these aspects of common law and how it places such importance on court decisions. 

Common law is an alternative to civil law as the system a country uses in its jurisdiction. The UK uses a common law system, meaning it looks to past judgements for precedents for contemporary jurisdiction.

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LLM in Common Law – who's it for?

Common LawCommon Law is often associated with the country of practice, so it would be a useful ‘top-up’ for anyone who has trained as a lawyer and then got a job in a different country. Lawyers may also find this masters degree helpful if they didn’t cover common law in their main degrees. And as any LLM provides a lawyer with a specialism, as well as demonstrating ambition and the ability to multitask, gaining this qualification may help lawyers looking for promotion, partnership or more general career advancement.

Where can you study an LLM in Common Law?

Graduates wishing to study an LLM purely in Common Law will have very narrow options, and will need to look outside of the UK for their options.This can be an enriching opportunity, though, as it will provide the opportunity to compare legal systems in your original place of study and your new country of study. In Canada, The University of British Columbia offers this program, as does the Chinese University of Hong Kong also delivers this course.

People hoping to study in the UK, while unable to take an LLM completely in Common Law, are likely to find common law included as a smaller module within a general Law LLM, such as the University of Dundee’s module on Private International Law (Common Law Perspectives).

What qualifications do you need to study an LLM In Common Law?

To study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, entrants need to have a degree in law, or to have a degree in a non-law subject but have significant experience in legal environments. They require a TOEFL score of 88 or above (on the internet test) for anyone whose first degree was not studied and assessed in English. To study at The University of British Columbia, there is an entry requirement of a TOEFL score of 100, and a degree in law or a legal subject. To study any LLM at a UK, US or European university with a Common Law component will usually require the student to have a Grade 2.1 bachelors degree in law or a relevant subject. Graduates whose first language isn’t English are required to have high IELTS (or equivalent) scores of 7 or above or TOEFL: 107 or above. Because of ongoing changes in the law we advise international students to regularly check the UKBA website to make sure they can fulfil the necessary requirements. Most individual institutions also have useful information on the Tier 4 requirements for international students, and can offer assistance in terms of student queries about their specific English language requirements. Click here to find out more about English Language requirements for International Students.

Student case studies

Celine Verdez a student of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) – appreciates the perspective gained from studying an LLM in Common Law. She says it is particularly helpful as her background is in Civil Law. Alex Ye another student from the Chinese University Hong Kong enjoys the breadth of knowledge gained from the course, and the opportunity to compare the workings of different countries' legal systems.

An LLM in Common Law advances careers in...

High court judge

Civil law lawyer

Common law lawyer

Academic lecturer

Officer of government

5 Fascinating Facts About Common Law

Common law originated in England and became commonly accepted in many of the countries colonised during the British Empire.

Everyone is equal in the eyes of common law: no person has an inherent advantage, no matter what their professional, educational or ancestral status.

When a case has no local precedent, judges may look abroad (e.g. to Australia or Canada) to take guidance from their decisions.

51% of Brits incorrectly think that living together grants you the legal rights of a “common law marriage”.

An anagram of “LLM in Common Law” is “Ill Man Clown, Mom”.

Recommended reading

Understanding Common Law Legislation by Francis Bennion

Principles of the Common Law by Michael Arnheim

The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Turning Points of the Common Law by Lord Cooke of Thorndon KBE

The Common Law Constitution by John Laws

Tort Law: Scope of Protections by Walter van Gerven

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