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Master of Laws LLM | Context - Context
Master of Laws LLM
Master of Laws LLM In Context

Lawyers perform a fundamental role in the American justice system. Legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions in a court of law on behalf of laymen and women, lawyers ensure that those who find themselves involved in a legal or civil conflict are properly represented and receive a fair hearing.

Today, there are more than 1 million licensed attorneys in the United States. Every day, they unravel the complexities of the law and help their clients to understand them and use them. In order to be able to do this, specialized education in law is required.

For many of these professionals, achieving a JD or undergraduate law degree is enough to satisfy their professional needs. For others, it is only the initial step on the path to their ultimate career aspirations, with a Master of Laws (LLM) representing another fundamental rung on the legal ladder.

The role of the LLM

The world as we know it has changed dramatically over the last few decades, with globalization a defining social and commercial movement. As a result, lawyers from around the world are now finding that degrees that can provide them with international credibility are an invaluable asset. [1] This perhaps explains why an increasing number are choosing to complete an LLM.

The LLM is an advanced law certification that is recognized across the globe. A perfect next step for those who already hold a JD or an undergraduate degree in law, it has two main functions:

  • It can provide students with global credentials to help advance their careers both within the United States and abroad.
  • It can help JD graduates who desire to advance their legal studies develop an area of enhanced expertise.

For this reason, the LLM is popular with both foreign and U.S.-based lawyers.

The benefits of completing an LLM

The LLM is a highly functional degree with numerous professional benefits to offer those who are considering earning a secondary or supplemental legal qualification. These include:

  • International recognition:
    Unlike a JD or its international equivalents, LLMs are internationally recognized. This can benefit not only domestic lawyers who may one day wish to practice in another country but also foreign students who earned their degrees outside of the United States and now wish to practice in it. In may even suffice to qualify the latter group for their bar exam. [2]
  • Expertise:
    For American students, an LLM can perform the dual role of helping them to specialize and develop an area of expertise. With regard to future employment, this is a highly effective way of setting yourself apart from the competition, particularly in the most competitive legal sectors.
  • Earnings:
    Earning an LLM can help to enhance your earning potential significantly. Recent graduates with minimal work experience and an interest in taxation can enter the Chief Counsel Honors Program. Those with an LLM enter as a GS-12, Step 4 earning approximately $68,311. Those entering their position with only a JD enter as a GS-11, Step 8, which earns less on average. [3] [31]
What do lawyers do?

Lawyers perform a fundamental role within the American legal system. In its most general sense, this usually requires the advising of clients, drafting of documents, and representation of clients in both legal negotiations and court proceedings.

Lawyering encompasses the work of a variety of professionals, including lawyers or attorneys at law, barristers, solicitors, and civil law notaries, and the ability to work in any one of these professions is conditional upon admission to the practice of law, specifically admission to the bar of a certain state or territorial jurisdiction.

The learning and career outcomes of studying an LLM

The Master of Laws is a natural progression from a Juris Doctor (JD) degree for those who wish to study in the United States. Lawyers from around the world have discovered that an LLM degree is an invaluable asset in the quest for career advancement and international credibility. [7]

The term LLM, derived from “legum magister,” directly translates as ‘master of laws’ in Latin. A perfect explanation in itself of the level of education with which it can imbue students, the LLM is designed to provide lawyers with a more advanced professional skill set, and is held in high esteem across the globe.

An ideal means of earning international recognition, an LLM can not only advance the careers of those who earned their degree outside of the United States and wish to practice within its borders, but also can help to make those who study it experts in their chosen area of law.

Such benefits and career opportunities for those who earn an LLM and can help increase boost earning potential.

Differences between the LLM and the JD

There are an assortment of degree majors related to law and legal studies, each of them designed for professionals with an eye to a career in legal support, academia, business, or research. Of these, two are specifically designed with aspiring attorneys in mind:

  • Juris Doctorate:
    The JD is the initial post-secondary law degree. For those who wish to take the bar examination and work as a lawyer, it is necessary first to complete such a program. It takes around three years of full-time academic study to finish, and once completed, qualifies students to take their bar examination.
  • Master of Laws:
    Functioning as a secondary degree for lawyers who have completed their JD and bar exam, the LLM helps students to develop a particular specialization within the field. Ideal for international students aiming to gain global credentials as well as for JD graduates who want to expand on their educational achievements, the LLM takes around one year to complete. Unlike the JD, it does not qualify international lawyers to take their bar exam.
Common areas of practice

An LLM has many benefits to offer those who choose to study it. It is far more than just a degree: It can be your pass to a better career, a higher salary, and a more fulfilling life.

Those who hold a degree in law will primarily work in private and corporate legal offices, although some will also be employed by federal, local, and state governments, large companies, consulting firms, and nonprofits.

With employment for lawyers projected to increase by 6%, in line with the countrywide average, competition for jobs remains fierce. [9] This issue is expounded by the fact that more students graduate from law school each year than there are jobs created. The LLM can help you gain an advantage in your job search.

Things to consider

Before settling on an LLM program, there are a couple of factors that are important to consider. Your preference on some of these topics will likely help guide you as you decide which program you’d like to enroll in.

  • Asynchronous or synchronous:
    Asynchronous programs, or those that allow you to work and study on your own schedule, are often better for those with professional or personal obligations. Synchronous programs require that you attend classes at an established time and tend to be better for those who prefer a rigid structure. Hybrid degrees that combine the two may also be available at some schools.
  • Cohort or non-cohort:
    In a cohort model, you stay with the same group of students throughout the entirety of your program. Non-cohort models tend to introduce new classmates each course or each semester.
Master of Laws Career Advancement

If you wish to earn an LLM, chances are you’re not doing so simply to enhance and improve your educational qualifications, but because you hope to advance your career, grow your earning potential, and improve the overall quality of your professional life.

Luckily, an LLM can help you to achieve this. With rising caseloads and an improving economy, there’s a 6% job growth projected amongst attorneys from 2014 through 2024, with the need for skilled legal professionals rapidly increasing. [17]

The career benefits of earning an LLM

An LLM can open many career paths and benefits in law, including the following:

  • International recognition:
    Unlike a JD, LLM degrees are internationally recognized. This makes them an ideal means for both foreign lawyers who wish to practice in the U.S. and domestic students who want to specialize and gain global credibility.
  • Licensure:
    In some states, an LLM can also qualify you to take the bar exam and gain entry to the bar, ensuring that you can earn a license to legally practice law within the US. [18]
  • Expertise:
    Completing an LLM can present the additional benefit of qualifying you as an expert in your chosen field of law. This can make you a more attractive candidate for employers in search of professionals who can help to enhance their business offerings.
Areas of demand

There’s a projected job growth of 6% within the legal profession over about the next decade, [20] and those who hold an LLM may find themselves in demand throughout the United States and Canada.

However, certain practice areas are more likely to advertise additional jobs, including: [21]

  • Litigation:
    According to a recent survey, 33% of U.S. attorneys suggested that litigation is the practice area likely to offer the greatest number of job opportunities in the next two years. Average salaries of between $101,000 and $130,500 per year are offered to those employed in this field.
  • Commercial law:
    Due to renewed business activity, legal employers are also adding more law-based jobs to support the growing number commercial transactions. Typical salaries within this field range from $80,500 to $138,500.
  • Health care:
    Compliance activities linked to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are currently generating increased workloads for law firms specializing in health care, catalyzing a mounting need for experts in the field.
  • Intellectual property and real estate:

    The intellectual property and real estate practice areas are also crying out for professionals with specialized expertise.

There are numerous businesses that may be willing to hire an LLM graduate with expert knowledge in a field relevant to their professional activities. Some popular avenues to explore include:

  • Law firms
  • Consulting companies
  • Government organizations
  • Nonprofits
  • Top-100 companies
Master of Laws Curriculum

The majority of LLM programs are formulated with flexibility of content in mind. For most schools, the aim is to enable students to pursue the topics that best meet their professional and academic interests, so, with the exception of a small number of core courses, you’re likely to have an opportunity to select the courses that most interest you.

Curricula often will help you gain proficiency in a number of topics, including:

  • An advanced understanding of the United States’ legal system
  • A comprehensive knowledge of the substantive and procedural law relevant to your field of interest
  • A strong grasp of U.S. legal discourse, case analysis, and legal reasoning
  • The ability to conduct legal research
  • The ability to market yourself to U.S. and international employers.
  • Core courses
    The LLM curriculum can vary widely depending on the specific program that you choose, but common core courses include:

    • Constitutional law
    • Legal research and writing
    • U.S. legal system
    • Professional responsibility
    • Trial advocacy
    • Negotiation
    • Laws and methods

    In addition to these topics, students are free to choose the remainder of their topics from a list of electives.

  • Electives
    The primary focus of LLM programs is to help you develop specialist knowledge of a particular field relevant to your career aspirations, which is why students have the opportunity to select their preferences from a range of elective courses. [24]
    Often completed by foreign-trained lawyers hoping to prepare themselves for the challenge of global practice, these programs can give you the opportunity to choose from a wide range of U.S.-based legal topics. Common choices include:

    • Tax
    • Bankruptcy
    • Banking/financial services
    • U.S. law (for foreign attorneys)
    • Environmental law
    • Corporate law
    • International law
    • Constitutional law
    • Human rights law
    • European law
    • Intellectual property law
    • Information technology law

    Most schools will help you make this selection by furnishing you with detailed information on the courses available to you, as well as giving you the chance to meet with professionals who can help you construct an optimal study plan to achieve your individual goals.

  • Concentrations
    LLM degrees provide students with the opportunity to select topics that cover virtually every area of the law. In addition to offering the chance to specialize in a particular field by concentrating classes in a set area, some schools may also allow you to pursue a formal concentration. Common concentrations include:

    • Banking and finance
    • Business
    • Competition law
  • Criminal law
  • Employment law
  • Family law
  • Human rights
  • Intellectual property
  • International business practice
  • Religious law
  • Taxation

The correct concentration can help increase both your starting salary and your long-term employment prospects.

  • Online vs. campus-based programs

    While online programs are different in nature than campus-based ones, it’s important to realize that they are quite similar in many important respects.


Cost: Many people erroneously believe that online programs will cost less to complete, but this is not true. Where schools offer a choice between the two, they will usually be priced the same.

Difficulty: Both types of program are designed to educate students to an identical level, which means that they are equally challenging. The difference is that online programs tend to work better for students with a high degree of self-discipline, whereas campus-based ones work best for students who prefer a rigid schedule.

Degree designation: Schools that offer both online and campus-based versions of the same program usually don’t distinguish between the two when awarding their degrees.

Availability of student services: It is often the case that online degrees require more independent study from students. Although most online programs provide many of the same services as their campus-based counterparts, it’s important to ensure the services available to you match those offered on campus.

  • Program culmination: thesis or capstone

    For students who choose to earn an LLM, a survey of online LLM degrees reveals that many programs culminate in a high-level scholarly project that is intended to demonstrate competence in your chosen specialization. The specific form this takes will usually be determined by the program you choose.
  • Selecting a degree program

    Important factors that you should take into consideration when selecting your program include the caliber, reputation, and student experience provided by a school or program. But you should also assess:


  • The core competencies and specializations available as part of the program
  • The school’s academic infrastructure and resources
  • Faculty experience
  • Breadth of coursework
  • The program’s alignment with your professional goals
  • Electives, specializations, and areas of focus

    Should you choose to earn your LLM, you’ll likely have the opportunity to specialize in a particular field of law.The purpose of the LLM is to help you build upon the legal knowledge you already possess so that you can expand your expertise and broaden your professional horizons. Concentrations available through this degree provide you with a unique chance to match the areas you study to the field in which you wish to work, whether that area is criminal, business, or banking law.
  • The professional implications of your specialization

    Those considering working toward an LLM may ask themselves what a master’s degree could do to advance their career prospects. Enabling you to become an expert in a particular legal field, the degree has two primary benefits:
    It can make you a more attractive employment prospect. Upon completion of a master’s degree, you should have a strong understanding of your area of expertise. This can make you an incredibly attractive prospect for employers, especially those who specialize in your concentration.2.
    It can help you to earn a higher salary. Entry-level professionals with just a LLB, or Bachelor of Laws, earn approximately $43,750 per year. [25] The average LLM holder can boast an entry-level salary of $80,000. [12]
  • Areas of demand

    Those who obtain an LLM are likely to find that they are in demand throughout the United States and Canada. Thanks to rising caseloads and an improving economy, competition for skilled legal professionals is rapidly increasing, and many law firms are adding positions, with experts in their fields particularly sought after. [13]Practice areas that are most likely to grow in the coming years include litigation, commercial law, health care, intellectual property law, and real estate law. [14]
  • Experiential learning opportunities

    LLM programs are created to help you gain expertise in a real-world professional field, so it can be very useful to hone the practical skills you will use in the workplace while you’re still studying. Many schools will offer you the opportunity to do this through experiential learning such as internships, externships, teaching assignments, or field placements.Engaging in such activities can help student-lawyers gain a richer understanding of the law, which they can later apply to real-world scenarios in their area of expertise.

    Experiential learning opportunities may also include:

    • Clinical programs
    • Simulation courses in which students can study legal theory and methods through the issues raised by hypothetical clients.
Internships and Field Placements

Students may be encouraged by their school to complete an internship while earning their LLM. These are increasingly essential in the modern professional sphere, with competition amongst law graduates utterly fierce. [15]

Such educational experiences are recommended even for foreign lawyers who plan to return to their country of origin, as an internship at a law firm or international organization can be an invaluable experience for anyone hoping to improve their CV.

Ideal places to which you can apply for an internship include:

  • Law firms
  • Consulting firms
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Charities
  • International organizations (e.g., Human Rights Watch or the International Bar Association)

Your law school should be able to help you explore internship opportunities.

Typical field placements may include:

    • Civil field placements:
      Civil field placements will typically take the form of working for nonprofits and government agencies under the supervision of an attorney. These can offer experience in multiple fields, from civil rights to consumer protection, employment, and even health law.
    • Judicial externships:
      Alternatively, students may wish to take the opportunity to work with local, federal, or state judges and chambers.
    • Criminal field placements:
      This type of placement may include criminal legal work for nonprofits and government agencies under the supervision of an attorney.

The benefits of completing these types of educational opportunities include:

    • Developing a greater understanding of the legal system
    • Gaining invaluable professional experience to feature on your CV
    • The potential to be paid for your work
    • An opportunity to network and make contacts
Master of Laws Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

How many courses are required?

LLM programs will typically require between 22 and 28 credits. [23] Your program’s composition will vary, but likely components of the curriculum include required or core courses, elective courses, and a capstone or experiential learning option.

Even within a particular school’s degree program, the number of courses required may vary based on the concentration you choose, your prior work experience, your number of transfer credits, or other such factors.

Master of Laws Admission Requirements

While each program will set its admission requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Master of Laws Alternative Degree/Field of Study Options

Before you commit the time and money necessary to complete an LLM, it’s important to understand your options. There are several similar degree programs available with similar paths and outcomes. Some alternative degrees include:

  • Master of Arts in Law:

    Based on a survey of various online Master of Arts in Law programs, this degree is ideal for professionals who are interested in law but do not intend to practice law. Earning a Master of Arts in Law does not qualify you to sit for any state bar exam.
  • Master of Legal Studies:
    Those who are interested in studying a law-based master’s degree may also want to consider MLS programs. Formulated for non-lawyers, this degree can be ideal for those who want to enhance their legal knowledge without wishing to practice law or become an attorney.

  • The different paths to achieving your LLM

    If you would like to pursue an LLM as opposed to one of the alternatives outlined above, there are various paths to help you achieve this certification.Although most people will have a gap after completing their JD or the international equivalent, some would-be students start researching LLM options even before beginning their initial degree. It’s possible to study the two degrees consecutively.

    Some schools even offer concurrent programs that allow you to work toward your LLM and JD simultaneously.

Master of Laws Accreditation Overview

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Specific accreditation overview

In order to be eligible for a place on an LLM program, applicants must have earned a JD or its international equivalent, and this must have been accredited by either the American Bar Association for domestic students or a similar national body for their foreign counterparts.

Without this accreditation, your law degree will not qualify you to complete a master’s in the United States, nor will it qualify you to sit for your bar exam, should you wish to practice law. [29]

A list of the 205 United States law schools that have earned their ABA approval can be found on the American Bar Association website. [30]

Master of Laws Licensure and Certification

In order to practice as a lawyer within the United States, candidates first have to obtain a license, and to do this, they must apply for bar admission through a state board of examiners. [16]

Those who wish to do so must satisfy the criteria for eligibility within their state. Typically, this will require candidates to hold a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a school that meets the necessary educational standards. A JD earned at an ABA-approved law school will satisfy this need in every jurisdiction in the United States.

For those who do not meet this criteria, there is one other way to qualify for the exam in certain states: through the acquisition of an LLM.

Although a master’s degree in laws can be a way for international lawyers to enter the American Bar Association in areas like New York, it will not be sufficient in the majority of jurisdictions. If you hope to practice within the U.S., you should contact your state board of examiners if you require further clarification of your eligibility.

Alternatively, certain states will allow those with an LLM to qualify as a Foreign Legal Consultant instead, which gives them a limited license to practice.

Master of Laws Historical Overview of Law and Legal Studies

Although distinct legal systems emerged relatively early in the history of civilization, no documented legal profession existed in ancient times. There wasn’t a great need: The law was less complex and easier for the layman to understand than today’s incarnations, so specialist services were simply redundant during these times. [4]

As time went on, the profession spread across the globe. Its beginnings in America were shaky, and during the colonial period, those who practiced were few in number and often ill-received, being widely viewed as “servants of government.” [5]

This attitude changed dramatically following independence. As Robert Stevens explains in his book, Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s, “Without a monarch or a clearly defined aristocracy… the new nation was almost inevitably bound to rely on lawyers to perform a wide variety of functions. Lawyers became the technicians of change as the country expanded economically and geographically.” [26]

After American independence, private law schools began to emerge across the U.S., the most renowned of which was Litchfield Law School in Connecticut, established in 1784. [32] By 1817, Harvard Law School was formed, the oldest law school in America to have never ceased operating. [33]

By 1840, there were nine law schools affiliated with universities in America and, by the 1850s, law was being seen as a professional choice of study, cemented with the founding of the American Bar Association in 1878, which put forward standards and ethics for the study and practice of law. [27] [28]

The first graduate LLM program was established at Columbia University in 1863, with Harvard following suit in 1873. [2] Since then, the graduate program has been offered at an increasing number of universities, and about 6,000 international students were enrolled in U.S. programs in 2014. [19]

Today, the profession retains an essential role as one of the fundamental tools of justice. The layman’s key to unlocking the legal system, it boasts an estimated population of more than 1.3 million lawyers in the United States alone. [6]

Master of Laws Tuition and Fees Overview

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Loan forgiveness opportunities
An alternative way to fund your study is to explore loan forgiveness programs. Some such programs exist that allow law students to repay the amount they’ve borrowed by performing low-paying legal work in public advocacy. [8]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A Master of Laws, LLM, is an internationally recognized advanced law degree for students who already have their Juris Doctorate (JD) or first law degree equivalent. [34]

LLM stands for “Legum Magister.” It is the Latin translation for Master of Laws.

In order to practice law in the U.S., a JD (Juris Doctorate) is required. This degree is often referred to as the first degree in law. Upon earning a JD from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited school, students may sit for the bar exam.

The LLM degree, on the other hand, is a post-JD law certification with global recognition. International students with JD equivalents may apply for an LLM. However, earning an LLM does not allow qualify international students to sit and take the bar exam. [34]

Most LLM full-time programs take one year to complete.

Federal or state funding is available to U.S. citizens only. Some law schools may offer full or partial scholarships or teaching assistant positions. Please check your program’s website for more information. Some government agencies, employers, and federal organizations may provide additional funding via grant or scholarship to those that qualify.

In order to enroll in an LLM program, you’ll need to have a JD or international equivalent.

Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, typically schools follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

No. In order to be eligible for an LLM program, all candidates must have their Juris Doctorate (JD) or international equivalent.

first degree in law is required for admission to LLM programs. U.S.-educated applicants must have a JD degree before applying. Internationally educated applicants must have a first degree in law from their country of origin.

No. The LSAT is required for admission to U.S. law schools when students are earning their JD. Because the LLM is a post-doctorate program, it is not necessary to sit for the LSAT [34].

If English is not your first language, most schools may require you to take an English proficiency exam, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The LSAT is not a prerequisite for applying to an LLM Degree program.

Any work-based credit or work-experience credit that is available to applicants is at the discretion of the program. Please check with your school to learn more information.

Many LLM programs are 100% online. Many online LLM programs are asynchronous, which means students have the opportunity to complete their coursework at their own pace. Other online options include hybrid or accelerated campus programs.

When researching and applying to LLM programs, it is important to to consider factors such as the faculty, school specialties, available resources, joint degree options, curriculum, learning formats (online, hybrid, asynchronous, etc.), academic support programs, reputation, and career services.

Most LLM programs are concentrated programs for specific industries and allow you to specialize in a certain area of law. LLM programs can provide post-JD applicants in-depth knowledge of specific practices of law. Popular LLM specializations include tax law, environmental law, constitutional law, dispute resolution, energy regulation, immigration, criminal law, corporate law, business law, media and entertainment, health, banking, finance laws, human rights, international law, intellectual property, and more.

Many applicants seek to become specialized experts in their field of law or are interested in a shift to a new area of practice. Some LLM candidates embark on the degree in order to conduct research for publication or to help prepare for careers as legal educators. Many international applicants aspire to learn the legal systems of other countries. [35]

Dependent upon your area of focus your courses will vary. Generally speaking, students can anticipate courses that will focus on policy, theory, and industry law.

LLM students can expand on their research, legal analysis, case briefing, advocacy, and legal writing skills. They also stand to gain greater insight into a specific area of interest dependent upon the concentration on which their program focuses.

Most full-time LLM programs take one year to complete and often recommend that students do not work full-time while enrolled. For part-time programs, completing an LLM degree can be a two or three year commitment. Many online programs recommend 20-25 hours a week dedicated to each enrolled class.

If you are an international student, the LLM does not make you eligible to sit for the bar exam. In order to practice law in the United States, you must pass the bar exam, which is available to those who have successfully earned their JD.

Graduates of some specialties may be interested in pursuing further certifications. For example, those with an LLM in tax law may be interested in earning a tax preparer’s license. Sometimes students may seek a second or third LLM to continue their study and expertise.

Many U.S. states limit the eligibility of LLM-degree graduates to sit for the bar examination if their first degree in law was earned outside of the United States. Each of the 50 U.S. states sets its own criteria for bar admission. International lawyers are responsible for contacting the appropriate state’s board of law examiners directly to obtain specific information. The website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners offers a listing by state of U.S. bar admission offices.