As competition in the legal market intensifies, many students are looking into alternatives to the traditional route into the profession. One of these options is a postgraduate masters degree, normally the master of laws (LLM). For those unsure of their next step after graduation, the LLM could provide the best option to specialise in the increasingly diverse legal profession.
What is an LLM?
An LLM is a postgraduate academic degree, often focusing on a specialised area of law. It offers students a chance to build upon their knowledge from undergraduate level and hone in on an area of law that you found interesting. Specialised areas include public or private international law, international business law, and environmental law. They can be studied part time or full time and normally take one or two years.
How do I get on to an LLM?
To get onto an LLM, most universities require an undergraduate level degree in law or a related field of study. Further requirements depend on the university, with academic necessities varying from a 2.2 to a first class degree. Universities often take into consideration other factors, such as work experience, when making the admissions decision. The application process is normally relatively straightforward; requiring a form, motivation letter, previous transcripts and one of two references.
The other challenge related to studying an LLM is overcoming the financial hurdle. LLM fees regularly cost around £10,000 and are not covered by the traditional student loan system. However, a myriad of scholarships are available, and as of last year the government is offering postgraduate loans of up to £10,000. Furthermore, British students are increasingly pursuing masters degrees abroad (as I am currently doing), as tuition fees are often subsidised for EU students or more funding options may be available.
What is unique about studying an LLM?
What makes an LLM different to other courses is the focused academic rigour. By refining your studies to one area of law, you will become well versed in all of the issues related to the chosen topic. Different levels of LLMs are even offered by some universities, with advanced LLMs offering an even more specialised programme for those with more experience/knowledge. At the end of the course, there is usually a dissertation (sometimes called a thesis), providing an opportunity for students to conduct their own research into a subject of law that fascinates them.
An LLM does not lead to qualification in the same way as the LPC or the BPTC. In fact, it may not fortify a training contract application. However, if a student wishes to pursue the topic of the masters in their career as a solicitor/barrister, then the qualification may help an application. Moreover, for a career in some fields such as international law, a masters degree is essential. Finally, a masters degree is a necessary step for anyone considering a career in academia, as the precursor to a PHD.