Summary: Will getting an LL.M. improve your marketability as a lateral law firm hire?
I am often asked whether pursuing an LL.M. will increase one’s marketability in the lateral hiring market. My answer is that experience has shown that LL.M. degrees are not beneficial to everyone, though they can be beneficial to a select group of attorneys. For foreign lawyers who have gained their law degrees in other countries, obtaining LL.M. degrees may be the only way that they will be able to become licensed in certain states.
Unfortunately, not all of these attorneys do well in the job market here as many U.S. firms seek candidates with J.D.s obtained in the U.S. However, if the foreign attorneys are interested in returning to their native countries with their U.S. LL.M., these attorneys are likely to be highly regarded and may even have a good chance of being hired by a U.S. firm doing business with an office in their own country.
For attorneys in this country, the one area where we have really seen an LL.M. help is in the area of tax law. Many firms actually make it nearly a prerequisite that their tax attorneys have also gone on at some point in their careers to obtain an LL.M. in tax, regardless of whether their practice area is corporate and partnership tax, international tax, or even ERISA and employee benefits.
Certainly, not all LL.M. programs are created equal. Keep in mind that with the exception of a few top-ranked law schools such as Columbia or NYU, which probably have a number of law firms from several parts of the country recruiting on campus, most LL.M. programs only attract local law firms. Accordingly, if you want to practice as a health care attorney in North Carolina, it would not be wise to enroll in an LL.M. program in health care law in Florida. No matter how successful that particular school’s placement record is locally, there is little chance a firm in another state firm will be very interested.
So, while an LL.M. can be an impressive credential for some attorneys, it is not the be-all answer, even in a poor economy, for recent law school graduates with little to no work experience in that practice area.