Is an LLM worth it?
28 October 2009 | By Corinne McPartland
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A Masters in Law may not make you stand out in a crowded jobs market.
Recent research has shown that up to 40,000 of this year’s graduates will still be struggling to find work in six months’ time. This may cause a spike in unemployment figures this year as graduating students fight for jobs, and subsequently could help tip the number of under-25s who are unemployed over the one million mark.
In response to this, a separate survey of 55 of Britain’s top universities has revealed an avalanche of demand for careers services from jobless students and a big rise in the numbers applying to do postgraduate courses.
So it seems that legal education providers, who have introduced Master of Law (LLM) programmes over the past few years, will stand to benefit from the many desperate students looking for a way to give their CVs a boost.
But there have been some suggestions that law firms do not value LLMs, which begs the question as to why these programmes are being developed and, more importantly, what are the benefits of postgraduate study in law?
A traditional route has been taking an LLM immediately after a first degree. In addition to looking to enhance career prospects, students are usually taught and supervised by career academics and concentrate on case law.
There are a range of LLM programmes to cater for this, the majority of which are traditional, well-established academic programmes. Oxford University, for instance, offers a range of LLMs from banking and finance law to human rights law. This is an increasingly popular choice for those who may have gone to a lower-tier university and want more reputable institution on their CV.
For graduates of these programmes who then wish to follow a career in legal practice, they will still have to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Vocational Course (BVC).
Hannah Jackson, a senior consultant at Hays Legal, says she constantly sees CVs from students who have clearly taken an LLM to bolster their academic status.
“It has always been the case that students who may have a 2:1 or higher and are from less reputable universities go on to take LLMs at better institutions to make their CVs look better,” she explains. “But recently I’ve seen an increase in the amount of people opting to take postgraduate studies.”
However, not everyone takes LLMs just to increase their academic credentials. The newer, and developing, forms of LLM are looking to move away from the academic study of law to provide a more practice-focused approach. They are aimed at prospective and practicing lawyers who are looking either to develop knowledge and skills in new areas of law or enhance their knowledge and skills in familiar areas of law.
The motivation for providing these programmes is to offer opportunities for students and lawyers to invest in their career and personal development. These programmes, therefore, anticipate enrolment during or after the LPC or BVC. Earlier this year The City Law School introduced a new Maritime Law LLM, which students can study partly in Greece.
“The course is great for anyone who has an interest in maritime law but would obviously be a fabulous marketing tool for those students who know they want to specialise in shipping law professionally,” according to course director Anthony Rogers.
But Olswang graduate recruitment officer Sarmini Ghosh warns that students thinking about taking LLMs should only opt for the more focused courses if they are really keen on going into that area of law.
“When reviewing applications we take into account the candidate’s entire academic background,” she points out. “An LLM certainly demonstrates commitment to the law but it’s not something we’d specifically look for when reviewing applications”
Most recently BPP Law School has teamed up with SJ Berwin to launch a Master’s in Law and Business for the firm’s future trainees, which commenced in September. Such courses are looking to move away from the academic study of law to provide a more practice-focused approach.
Dean of the school Peter Crisp believes that these types of LLMs will make would-be lawyers stand out from the crowd.
“If you haven’t secured a training contract or pupillage yet, the extra insight gained from an LLM and the commitment demonstrated in completing the programme is attractive to firms and chambers looking for the best trainees and pupil barristers in what is a highly competitive environment,” he claims.
But at a cost of around £10,000 a pop, is it worth forking out the money in a recession for something that might only make a small difference to your CV? According to Michael Mansfield QC postgraduate studies are no substitute for work experience.
“You can spend years studying and you may be the best candidate academically, but unless you get out of the library and work in the real world, then nobody is going to hire you,” he claims.