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What is an LL.M Degree? An Overview of the LL.M Degree

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In order to practice law in the United States, most jurisdictions require a candidate to have a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school. However, many law schools also offer an advanced law degree called a Master of Laws (LL.M) that allow students to specialize in complex practice areas or bolster their professional resumes. In addition, internationally trained lawyers–those who earned their law degree outside the U.S.–may opt for an LL.M degree that allows them to sit for a bar examination in some U.S. jurisdictions.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an LL.M?

While some programs vary, most LL.M programs are designed to be 24 credit hours that may be completed in one full-time year of study or longer in a part-time program. For most LL.M programs, students take a total of eight courses to complete their degree.

What Will I Study in an LL.M Program?

The Master of Law program is either a general LL.M focused on the study of U.S. law generally or a specialized LL.M program that covers a complex, narrow field of law such as tax law, health care law, human resources, or environmental law. The general LL.M program is designed primarily for international law students who either aspire to practice law in the United States or seek a better understanding of the legal principles governing the U.S. On the other hand, specialized LL.M programs tackle the most complex areas of legal practice. Specialized programs vary from school to school but tend to focus on legal fields with heavy demand as well as additional expertise in complex areas of the law.

Can I Earn an LL.M Online?

Unlike almost all Juris Doctor programs that require residential coursework, many schools do offer the option to complete an LL.M degree completely online. Since the LL.M degree requires a Juris Doctor as a prerequisite, most law schools recognize that many LL.M candidates are practicing attorneys who rely on the flexibility of online learning to complete their degree while also balancing their careers.

Does an LL.M Degree Require a Thesis?

Each LL.M program is different. However, unlike most J.D. programs which do not require a thesis, many LL.M degrees do contain such a requirement. This advanced writing requirement allows LL.M candidates to do independent research on a topic related to the area of focus. On the other hand, there are many LL.M programs that do not require a thesis for students who prefer a different path to earning their LL.M.

Is an LL.M Worth It?

The LL.M degree is particularly valuable for international students who wish to sit for a bar exam in the United States. It is also extremely beneficial for students who wish to pursue a highly specialized field such as tax law. While there is no evidence that lawyers who earn an LL.M make more than those with just a J.D., there is evidence that specialized legal fields such as tax law, patent law, or environmental law all have higher salaries more general practice areas. Finally, LL.M admissions are not as competitive as Juris Doctor programs. This allows students who attended a lower-ranked law school to earn a degree from some of the highest-ranked law schools in the country. This can boost a candidate’s professional resume.

Additional Resources

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