Advice

Is doing a masters worth the cash?

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47

Avoid the real world for another year — and impress law firms in the process. Or maybe not…

Lead

In the first of our new series of career conundrums, a law student at a Russell Group University asks Legal Cheek readers for advice on whether or not she should do an LLM.

I am due to complete my LLB at a Russell Group University late next year. I am considering doing a commercial law masters before embarking on the LPC. My end goal is to obtain a training contract at a commercial law firm in London. Will a masters boost my CV sufficiently enough to warrant the cost and extra year of work? Do City law firm recruiters really care? Or are they more concerned about a strong undergraduate result and a good LPC?

If you have a career conundrum and are brave enough to face the Legal Cheek commenters, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

47 Comments

Anonymous

Do the masters. You will be working for a long time. Take a gap year as well if you can afford it.

(18)(4)

Anonymous

Apply for a few TCs and test the water. See what firms invite you for interview (if any), then decide whether your CV requires further work.

Also do some research into junior lawyers at your target firms. Do they have LLMs? If no, then chances are the firm isn’t that interested in them.

(15)(0)

Tulkinghorn

I was always told that a Masters (even a good one) won’t rescue a bad undergraduate grade and if you’ve got a good undergraduate, a Masters is just gilding the lily. On the other hand if you actually want to do a Masters, do it. You’re unlikely to get another chance.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Do a LLM and spend the year getting wasted. Put off the law career as long as possible.

(32)(4)

Anonymous

I’d definitely thing hard about it before you make a decision cos its a hell of a lot of money to spend. Do you actually want to do it? i always thought a masters was for people pursuing careers in academia and research, not legal practice. I think doing a year in industry or a year as a paralegal in another firm, for example, is a much more valuable (and cheaper) option

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Judging by your systematic abuse of the laws of the English language as demonstrated above, one presumes you have not pursued such a route.
A wise choice.

(29)(14)

Lord Jon

Lol no need to be such a cunt about it really…

(25)(3)

Lord Harley of Bollocks

Do the LLM. Don’t expect anyone to give you any more respect or credit for doing it though, it just gives you one tick box more than someone who didn’t do an LLM.

Don’t feel the need to rush your legal career though. Put it off until your mid 20’s if you can, because it will dominate your life from then on. Have fun not being a regulated professional for as long as possible.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

For the sake of ‘one more tick box’, an LLM is not particularly good value for money. If you have the money to pay for an LLM, you could spend it instead on supporting yourself for a year whilst getting a variety of voluntary, or industry work experience–you’ll likely get more ‘tick boxes’ for that.

If you’re interested in an LLM simply because you’d enjoy further study–why not?

(12)(1)

Anonymous

The answer to this is going abroad – doing an LLM in the Netherlands, France, Italy, or Germany is far more interesting than doing one in the UK, and significantly cheaper.

(10)(1)

Not Amused

I would urge all employers and the Bar to stop considering masters degrees at all. There is no realistic funding for poor kids in arts and humanities masters. If you start respecting masters degrees then you will, unintentionally, start selecting on the basis of parental cash – not necessarily academic merit.

This is increasingly clear, given the only known qualification for sitting most law masters nowadays is “can you self fund?”.

(24)(17)

Namby pamby little girl

BUT THE POOR KIDS!!!!!!

Give it a rest diversity consultant. Your working too hard.

(14)(18)

Grammar Police

You’re not you

(16)(1)

Anonymous

Your not you

(3)(5)

Anonymous

No – you’re, not your.

(9)(1)

Ethelwick

Thee not thou

(20)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t believe anybody emailed that question to Legal Cheek.

It’s just a quiet Friday.

(40)(2)

Anonymous

Given the £9k fee environment, if you graduated under the older £3k system it is well worth doing (it will distinguish you from many younger students who will now be unable to afford the degree.) That said, a Masters is only worth doing at a Russell Group institution, and obviously if you want to go into law – do it in law.

(8)(0)

Pantman

If you want to do a masters/postgrad course to improve your chances it is likely that the course that really does that is the BCL at Oxford. However, be prepared with deep pockets, the course/college fees come in around £18k.

(8)(1)

Anon

Might as well do it if you can afford it / managed to secure some funding for it (eg scholarship). However, don’t expect it to improve your position if your undergraduate degree grade is below par.

A lot of people do a masters hoping that firms will overlook a mediocre degree but they are wrong.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

You won’t get a great deal of credit from recruiters, but if you are interested in doing it then take the opportunity while you can.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

IF you have to ask this question, should anyone be giving you the money for the LLM?! For the avoidance of doubt, NO DO NOT DO THE MASTERS! You do not need it, you will not look more impressive, firms do not care. If you’re going to become a commercial barrister it’s an entirely different game. God these stupid questions are so annoying because if you don’t know the answer by now, what on earth are you doing with your time?!!!

(3)(8)

Tyrion

Only do a masters if you can afford it i.e. scholarships or family. I would urge people not to take out a loan and accrue further debt to fund one. If you want a training contract, then in most cases it will not help. However there are exceptions:

A top degree from a (very) low ranking University with a masters from a top 5 Uni does open some doors that may previously have been closed from a careers perspective, particularly if you do well on the masters also. It shows an upwards trajectory in academic performance, and gives you access to elite careers events.

If you are at a good university, have done well and have good relationships with professors, then it may help to stay for an extra year and be involved in high profile research and maybe publish/present. This will look impressive to many employers.

There are also certain sectors where a masters (graduate study) is very helpful either for entry or early on in your career: shipping, aviation, IP, public international law, competition law, construction. There are lots of jobs for example with NGOs and International Institutions that state masters required in PIL for example. It also helps in Tax but is not required as such.
If you want to be a corporate/finance/commercial solicitor in the UK then you are wasting your time unless the first point applies to you.

(19)(1)

Tyrion

Also a two year part-time masters whilst working in a related industry role would look attractive to a future employer e.g. LLM in shipping law in Southampton/London whilst working as a paralegal at a shipping boutique there or an LLM/MSc in Construction whilst working as a contracts officer.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

You realise my version was shorter, simpler, and generally applied to most students daft enough to ask the question. Yes, there are exceptions but how often do you find someone from an average university getting into a top one for their masters?! It’s not that common – nor is the idea that someone’s going to do an LLM full time and work part time. Those people you’ve both mentioned will do just fine without LLMs anyway, it’s another class.

(1)(10)

Tyrion

No your comments were rather broad and unhelpful hence why i decided to add my more constructive points (as have others on this thread).

You will find also that many students from lower ranked universities get on masters programs at top Unis. In fact it almost seems like that is partly the selling point of masters in the UK as the students from the higher ranked Unis go straight into jobs. Often those students will have first class degrees in their LLBs and are looking to add the prestige of the LSE, UCL or even Oxford if they can get in, to boost their attractiveness to top employers to look past poor A-levels and also to have access to a top careers center and high profile events.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

My earlier comments were based out of sheer annoyance – yes broad, but straight to the point and they were comments that apply to almost everyone doing the LPC/wanting to become a solicitor.

Perhaps you are right about those students – if by which you mean students with 1sts from average universities doing masters at better universities… then again, forgive me, but I only know students at top universities, and many did masters, all fully funded by grants… So I guess I’m not used to such a concept, and so I won’t doubt your point.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly – the reality is that said 1st class kids don’t usually go from average university to Oxford because they don’t get in. If you look at junior crimnal barristers with LLMs, almost all have gone to an above-average/russell group university for their undergraduate degrees – making going to a top university much easier.

Furthermore, (and going back to my original point) many recruiters at law firms are not remotely interested in masters, as other commenters have pointed out – it’s your ALevels (unfortunately), your degree and your answer to competency based questions. That’s the whole ballgame – get those right and you don’t need an LLM. I hate to sound like NotAmused, but we really cannot perpetuate any kind of myth that an LLM is helpful – it’s a lot like those deluded youngsters who think that self-funding the LPC is a good idea… when it’s obviously not.

LLMs are for specific areas of law, generally speaking are far more useful for those intending to be barristers (and even then, there’s fierce debate over its usefulness outside of commercial law), but not for people wanting to become solicitors. All of which, IMO, is a good thing.

(0)(7)

Tyrion

To say first class students from low ranking Unis don’t get into Oxbridge/LSE/UCL masters is not correct. I have worked with people that have the BCL and graduated top of their class from a low ranking Uni. They didn’t get distinctions on the course, but they completed it and it has elevated them to a higher level. Do a google search and you will see.

Secondly I don’t think giving annoyed responses qualifies as being constructive.

Thirdly you said earlier that i proposed people complete a full time LLM and work part-time. What I did suggest was a 2 year part time LLM but you obviously chose not to read that properly.

Fourthly an LLM is an expensive endeavor. It is important to consider it properly, however you cannot dismiss it for everyone. I have personal experience of the many shipping boutiques in the City where the salaries are pretty good. They do not auto-filter poor A levels as they recruit on CV-Interview, and i have been told specifically that they look for candidates who demonstrate an interest in shipping law either by doing an LLM or previous experience.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I took a year out after university to fund an LLM in the Netherlands, in a subject I was particularly interested in. LLMs are less than 2000 Euros, and living costs are comparable to the UK. I wasn’t interested in TCs at the time, but knew I wanted to do law in some capacity and would enjoy another year of study.

When I came round to wanting to become a City solicitor, I found that the LLM did not in itself get me my TC. What did get me my TC was my wide range of overseas legal work experience that I had gained as a direct result of my LLM. It was a huge benefit, just an indirect one. In many countries, an LLM is the de facto basic requirement for internships and unqualified legal jobs. It opens up a lot of opportunities.

I have found since coming to the City that my LLM is a huge advantage in working life. I was lucky that the course was quite practically driven, and genuinely made an enormous improvement to my drafting, presentation, and communication skills.

Anyone who says ‘definitely do an LLM’ or ‘definitely don’t do an LLM’ doesn’t really know what they are talking about. I loved mine and it got me into the Magic Circle. Many people do them because they don’t have any other options. That’s not a good approach.

Is it the best choice for everyone? No, of course not. Is it a great choice for some people? Absolutely.

(23)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you for this response it was very helpful. Out of curiosity what did you do your masters in? And at what institution

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Go do a masters in a nin law area like surveying and then immediately become a surveyor to save yourself from a career in law.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

As far as the large City firms are concerned: it is of limited value.

Deciding who gets a first round interview is a scoring system, where your degree gets some point, your answers to the essay questions get you more points and so too do A-Levels, languages and LLMs. LLMs don’t get you nearly as many points as you might expect, but if your “describe a time when you rose to a challenge” game is a strong as it’s going to get and you’re still missing out on interviews, it might make the difference. Be realistic though about how much you might be missing that interview threshold by- I wouldn’t be surprised if it was much more valuable anywhere than the difference between a 1st and a 2.1.

Once you’ve got that training contract interview, your LLM will at best be seen as a mildly positive demonstration of keenness, more likely a slight eccentricity and in the worst case a sign you’re too academic for commercial law. That’s not nice, but I think it’s accurate. It won’t help with the questions, as the questions are designed so non-law students can answer them too.

As regards usefulness- again, the value is limited. It might help in some seats, but your seat choice is fairly limited by firm policies (which generally try to spread you around, rather than specialise you) and so at best it *might* help you for 12 months out of 24. After that, qualification is very dependent on how good a 6 months you had and which departments have places.

I have the King’s post graduate diploma in competition law (and so too do lots of my fellow competition lawyers). We study for this part time once qualified. It’s been very useful and you can turn it into a Masters with some extra study. But hardly anyone does, because it’s not that useful in our careers (writing a thesis and presenting a big case are two very different things). IP and tax are similar, as is litigation with higher rights. If there are useful things to study as a postgrad for your legal specialism any half decent firm will pay for you to study them.

Your mileage may vary. I can certainly see the value in focussing on an area of law for an LLM and then applying for a TC with a boutique firm that specialises in that area.

(7)(1)

Boh Dear

Don’t do the LLM but put it on your CV anyway, along with a raft of ridiculous and temporally impossible qualifications and accolades. If you have (or even don’t have) a couple of patents for fanciful WW2 weapons then bang that on there too, it all counts. Who knows, it may take quite a long time before the SRA catch up with you…

(13)(1)

Anonymous

Please for the love of God don’t fund your own LPC.

Apply for some training contracts, do something different in the meantime. This can be something to enhance your CV if you feel it is required, or just something enjoyable (but beneficially, I’d recommend teaching English abroad.)

Admittedly going back to do the LPC after a few years out of education takes some getting used to, but hell the £15 odd thousand of sponsorship more than balances that one out.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

The masters being one of the things you could potentially do. If you can enjoy life for a year and you can afford it then why not. It’s not purely a financial decision.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

The only two times LLMs may be smiled upon are:

(A) If you are a genuine academic high-flier and the firm you are looking to join understands that you have a specific interest. They may – in certain circumstances – defer a training contract for a year so you can do this. This is a rarity and generally happens in situations where your LLM will be directly linked to their areas of expertise (I can think of two LLMs at one firm where that happened).

(B) As a sort of extension to (A): if you are considering becoming a legal academic.

Generally though: firms don’t view them as useful and think that people doing them are doing so to ”get another bite” at the training contract cherry. Anyone who is doing an LLM without a TC lined up already is likely to be viewed poorly, I’d say.

If you want to do it – and can afford to – fine but I doubt it will add much to your CV.

(2)(1)

Sandman

Anon at 2.12pm identifies a couple of exceptions. Here’s another – when you are a solicitor practising in an off-high-street firm in a provincial cultural wasteland where your clients are actually impressed by the number of certificates hanging on your wall. – the Saul Goodman reason.

Lawyers I know who have Masters degrees tend to be third-rate lawyers who think their Masters gives them some additional credibility. It doesn’t.

I am also aware of somebody who failed the GDL, yet managed to get onto an LLM course with the aim of qualifying to do the LPC. I don’t know if this worked out in the end.

If I were recruiting I would be very suspicious of candidates studying for Masters degrees. I would be thinking:
1) Why have they been unable to think of anything better to do?
2) What weaknesses are they trying to mask?

(0)(4)

The Marquess of Grimsby

My Masters Degree involved a thesis in the jurisprudential nature of botanical gardens (in particular the leafy and lush groves in the Belgium’s vivacious, academic gem – Leuven). This knowledge informs all legal advice I offer to clients and is the envy of all the gentlemen at my Club. Once, in the Gladstone Room, Rupert Swiftworth (a man of great integrity) exclaimed – “how dare you hold such a vast array of knowledge as to botanic science and legal theory?”. This is an exemplar of the jealousy the pervades my life as a consequence of my Masters Degree.

Knowledgeable regards,
The Marquess of Grimsby

(9)(4)

Anonymous

Geoff, your meds are ready. And the District Nurse said not to worry about the plastic crown you got from the charity shop – you can sleep in it if you want, it’s not likely to make your head blisters worse. Just don’t scratch.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

With regards to legal practice, I don’t think a Masters is particularly helpful; My LLM has only given me the edge in more niche matters. And to be honest, I undertook the LLM so as to forge a potential career in academia one day, when I’ve had enough of practice.

That said, if there is an area of law you wish to practice but have yet to come across in your undergraduate degree, a Masters will help. It will also help if you’ve come from a lower-ranking university, or obtained a disappointing final classification.

But be wary of how expensive the courses are – I busted my ass for a year in a pawn shop to pay for mine.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Over and over again.

I’ve been chasing that sweet LLM

Thinking back, if not later, then when?

It’s taken me all of my life.

It’s taken me all of my life to find you!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What if you’re already qualified and competing with everyone coming through the system who suddenly seems to have an LLM? Is it worth doing then?

(0)(0)

Proudboobs

Lord Harley apparently did a DPhil at Trinity College (unspecified but he says Oxford University on Facebook and is photographed wearing an Oxford rugger top) before he went to Huddersfield Poly for an LLB. An amazing man. What a talent.

(8)(0)

Alan Clough Blacker

What a cunt too.

(3)(1)

Lord Jon

I’m sorry but this is a question everyone asks. It’s literally “Law 101” all it would take is a bit of a google, a search on TheStudentRoom or something…

Whoever emailed this into Legal Cheek should probably have done their research on this. If you can use WestLaw but not Google then I’ll be damned….

Like at least research if you’re bent towards a legal career mate.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Nobody emailed them you idiot. Alex ran out of article ideas in a Friday and tried to get a Q&A thing going. It was a fake question.

(5)(0)

Frankie

I’m doing an LLM. I understand what everyone is saying about it being worth the money – but if you want to do one don’t let that deter you – I was granted a scholarship for mine that covered my course fees and has contributed to about half of my living costs. I am enjoying the course and for me it was the right decision. Don’t let money be the reason you don’t pursue this course.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.