Business law covers any legislation that affects commercial enterprises, the agencies and regulations involved with them, and their impact on the economy, whether this relates to large multinational companies or small-town enterprises (although, at LLM level, the stress is often on the former). The term commercial law is often used interchangeably and the two disciplines are very similar, but a master’s in commercial law may put more emphasis on trade and transactions. The main elements in both areas are: the regulation of commercial affairs on a local, national and global scale; financial and tax management; expansion; joint ventures; and generally maximising efficiency, profit and growth.
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The majority of universities in the UK that provide law courses or have a law/business school run LLMs in some aspect of business or commercial law. This gives you a great deal of choice – over 50 possibilities, depending on where you prefer to study and if you want to specialise in a particular field. Most master’s in business/commercial law are ‘taught’ (ie attendance at tutorials, lectures and seminars is necessary). This field in particular has an extensive amount of published work around it. For example, every member of the academic staff at Nottingham School of Law is engaged in high-quality research and are authors of several major treaties on international commercial law. Research LLMs are available at a few universities, such as Dundee, and various London colleges. All LLM programmes demand a final dissertation, which can range from around 10,000 words (eg at the University of Aberdeen) to 20,000 words (as at De Montfort and Northumbria Universities). Contact time with teaching staff is often higher than for other LLMs, as much as 12–15 hours at some institutions.
Students often possess a bachelor’s degree in law, but, with some exceptions, such as Kingston and Strathclyde Universities, most courses are flexible on whether they will accept graduates of business- and finance-related disciplines.
IELTS (or equivalent) scores of 6.5–7.0 are usually needed.
Most master’s in business and commercial law run for one year and a September/October start date is common, except for a few universities where you can commence in January/February. Part-time courses are widely available, especially over two years, though a number of LLMs in this area can be studied for up to four years. Distance learning is an increasing possibility, particularly at the following universities: Aberystwyth, Robert Gordon, Northumbria and De Montfort, and the University of London’s External LLM Programme, through which you can concentrate on a number of subjects relevant to the banking/tax area.
All LLMs in commercial or business law have a global content, whether or not they include the word ‘international’ in the title. The following core subjects are common to the majority: investments, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, corporate governance and company law. Many also cover securities, arbitration/dispute resolution, contract, insolvency and tax; competition law and intellectual property also feature in most programmes of this kind. Beyond this, you can choose from a variety of options, some more general (such as employment law), others specialised or unusual (Environmental Law for Business at Strathclyde University, Oil and Gas at Aberdeen University or Industrial Property at Bangor University).
This area is very wide and there are many other LLM courses that may also interest you, including those covering corporate governance (Portsmouth University’s includes the chance to qualify as a company secretary) and banking/finance (see the article on banking and financial law for more information). Numerous ‘general’ LLMs will give you the chance to take a business/commercial pathway, eg the University of Leicester’s programme or the new LLM at the College of Law. This is very much focused on business and commercial applications and may be available through distance learning.
Find the perfect LLM
Several universities offer joint programmes, typically LLMs in business and commercial law, but some more unusual options are Swansea University’s International Commercial and Maritime Law and Queen Mary University of London’s Insurance Law, as well as E-commerce. This is offered as a specialist LLM at a few universities, with the University of Hertfordshire, in particular, offering a number of courses on this topic. Then come variations like Sheffield Hallam University’s LLM in Corporate Law and Strategy, the LLM in Business and Corporate Law at the University of Central England, and the University of East London’s LLM in International Law and the World Economy. There are also several courses taking world trade as their theme, including Buckingham and Oxford Brookes Universities (International Trade and Commercial Law LLM and World Trade Organization LLM). Finally, as an alternative to the LLM, Swansea University’s Master of Business Laws course is worth further investigation.
The LLM qualification is respected in most countries as an indication of high academic skills and legal expertise. A master’s in business or commercial law will give you an overview of subjects that are at the heart of many legal transactions, whether you intend to work in a small-town or large-city practice, within a government organisation, or if you hope to find a job as a lawyer or a business executive with a commercial firm. If you wish to practise law in the United Kingdom, remember that an LLM cannot qualify you to do this. It may help you to find work here if you are qualified as lawyer in your own country or after you have undertaken the Legal Practice Course/Bar Vocational Course in England and Wales (or the Scottish equivalents).
‘I found the long essays and the dissertation quite daunting at first, but it was really exciting to study a subject that looked at real-life issues that were changing as the course continued. In the end, my dissertation was about a British business entrepreneur and the way in which he worked, so it was fascinating to research.’
Ravi, India, studied a LLM in business law in the UK
Boyle and Birds' Company Law, A J Boyle and J Birds
Blackstone’s Statutes on Commercial and Consumer Law, F Rose