How Valuable Is an LLM? |

How Valuable Is an LLM?


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There is no question that an LLM degree in a particular discipline can be quite prestigious, but let's tackle the issue of whether obtaining one will meaningfully increase your chances of obtaining a better position.
How Valuable Is an LLM?
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
LLM degrees are not for everyone. But they can be beneficial to some attorneys. For foreign lawyers who have obtained their law degrees in other countries, obtaining an LLM degree may be the only way that they will be able to get licensed in certain states. We have seen a marked increase in the number of foreign attorneys who have come to the United States hoping to find meaningful work opportunities here once they have received their LLM and passed the bar in a particular state. Sadly, not all of these attorneys have fared well in the job market here. However, without question, if they are interested in returning to their native country with their U.S. LLM in hand, these attorneys are likely to be highly regarded and may even have a strong shot at being hired by a US firm doing business with an office in their own country.

For attorneys in this country, an LLM degree may or may not be a suitable choice, depending upon the practice area. For instance, an experienced civil and white-collar criminal trial lawyer without a technical undergraduate degree may not benefit from obtaining an LLM in intellectual property law. Intellectual property law in the areas of copyright and trademark, as well as technology and licensing have recently been badly hit by the collapse of the tech sector, and consequently, many attorneys in this area have been hard pressed to find work, despite their strong credentials and expertise in this practice area. For recent law school graduates, particularly those with little to no practical hands-on work experience in the area of intellectual property law, obtaining an LLM may not be a suitable choice at this juncture in their career.

Not all LL.M. degrees are created equal. One of the most respected LLM degrees to receive is in the area of tax law. Indeed, many firms make it almost a prerequisite that their tax attorneys have also gone on at some point in their career to obtain an LLM in tax, regardless of whether their practice area is corporate and partnership tax, international tax, or even ERISA and employee benefits. Consequently, many graduating law students, particularly in this market and especially if they are not graduating from a top tier law school, may find it useful to go right on for an extra year of study in order to have the added cache and prestige of an LLM in tax.

Tax law is obviously not for everyone. But it is a specialty that will always be in demand and many tax lawyers are capable of handling a number of transactional business matters in addition to their tax counseling and advisory work. Very few corporate transactional lawyers can say the same for being able to also do the quite complicated tax aspects of a business deal. In the areas of ERISA and employee benefits law, so few lawyers have this expertise, that the added cache of an LLM makes them an attractive candidate to virtually any quality law firm, even if the attorney did not originally graduate from a top-tier law school.

The same cannot necessarily be said of other practice areas. While there is no question that an extra year of specialized law studies in a particular practice area, whether it be international law or intellectual property, or health care law, will certainly enhance one's resume, it is unlikely that an LLM will in and of itself make the difference in your job search.

Not all LL.M. programs are created equal. US News and World Report publishes a yearly report on the best law schools in the United States. Resources such as these are available to help you research what law school excels both across the board, and with respect to certain specialties. In considering an LLM program, do your due diligence and speak with the school's placement office and find out the number of recent graduates who received job offers upon completion of their studies. Find out which law firms came on campus to the school to actually recruit for attorneys from the program. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, bear in mind that, with the exception of a few truly top ranked law schools such as Columbia or N.Y.U. which probably have a number of law firms from several parts of the country recruiting on campus, most LLM programs only attract indigenous law firms. Consequently, if you want to practice as a healthcare attorney in Florida, don't go for an LL.M. in healthcare law in Ohio. No matter how successful that particular school's placement record is in Ohio, there is little chance a Florida firm will be knocking on your door.

Learn the benefits of an LL.M. degree here.

Conclusion. While an LLM can be a prestigious credential for some attorneys, it is not a panacea, even in a poor economy, for recent law school graduates with little to no work experience in that practice area. The most notable exception to this is in the tax arena. For experienced attorneys seeking to jump-start their careers or change practice areas, an LLM may prove useful, provided the practice area is in demand and provided the school they choose has a good track record.


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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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