LLMs are intellectually tough, time-consuming and not all law firms like them, warns LegalAware
Students often look on an LLM as something they can do to pass a year while they look for a training contract or pupillage, boosting their CVs in the process. But the reality is that a masters degree in law is no easy option. And simply by enrolling onto an LLM doesn’t mean that students will definitely graduate with one – contrary to what many expect.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the LLM is harder than the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC), mainly because you’re spoon-fed much less and you have to do more independent research. The substantive law is also often harder, as masters degrees frequently require consideration of how lawyers operate in more than a single jurisdiction.
Often with LLMs, you also have to decide for yourself how many modules you are capable of studying (and, more importantly, passing in the final assessments). This can be hard to assess. You therefore have to be meticulous about organising your own time, and have an accurate assessment of your true ability. Students who have trouble doing this will struggle.
Nor does an LLM necessarily get you a job…
My LLM, which was in international commercial law and took me about 30 months to complete, has conferred no advantage on me in terms of finding a training contract or vacation scheme placement. Indeed, my experience is that having an LLM can even count against you in the hunt for a training contract.
During my course, I learnt a lot about drafting, preparing pitches and legal research, as well as the substantive international commercial law relating to six big practice seats. This exercise is not ectopic to my general legal training, demonstrating a range of competences relevant to being a City lawyer, including attention-to-detail, pro-activity, problem solving, communication, and, of course, commercial awareness.
Certainly, what I learnt was much more relevant to an international corporate law training contract than the GDL. Indeed, I think it was possibly more relevant than the LPC. Yet I’ve been interviewed by partners in magic circle firms who have been preoccupied by the ‘academic’ nature of the LLM, and who seemed to show almost a contempt for the rigorous nature of further studies done in a higher education environment. They fail to grasp the simple concept that an ‘academic’ LLM can be very practitioner-focused, too.
City legal recruitment agents can be similarly narrow-minded about the value of an LLM. In my particular case, the LLM complements very nicely the MBA which I completed at BPP Business School, enabling me to understand international transactions from the perspective of both the client and the lawyer. But for some reason the benefits of these courses are a hard-sell to the gate-keepers of the City legal profession. Perhaps in spite of their rhetoric about the importance of graduates’ intellect, corporate law firms are looking for a certain personality type rather than just good qualifications.
LegalAware is the head of the BPP Legal Awareness Society, and a keen and devoted legal blogger.