‘Is an LLM worth delaying my Magic Circle training contract?’

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By Legal Cheek on

47

Future rookie seeks advice

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, a TC holder weighs up deferring their start date in order to do a masters.

“I have accepted a training contract offer from a Magic Circle law firm, I am a final-year law student at a non-golden Triangle Russell Group university. I am considering asking to defer the TC for a year in order to pursue an LLM at LSE.

I have strong academics, on course for either a high 2:1 or a first (68%+) and strong extracurricular activities (mooting and law review). Is it worth the investment (both time and monetary) of doing a specialised LLM in commercial law and will I be damaging my career by delaying it by a year?

Any general advice and guidance would be much appreciated.”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

47 Comments

Trainee at SC Firm

In case it has any effect on your decision, once you start your TC absolutely nobody at your firm will care that you have a specialised LLM.

Another View

This is true. However, it’s also true that 20 years in, your career won’t be any stronger for the fact that you commenced it one year earlier.

Most people prefer their time at university to their time in the workplace. But there are a few exceptions. What camp do you think you fall into?

If you enjoy your life at the moment, I say do it.

US 3PQE

Nobody will care about the LLM in itself. But they will care if you are a better lawyer.

We can debate whether LLMs make you a better lawyer. I did one, and I think it did. I was more confident during my TC as a result. Being a year older when starting my TC helped too.

Amidst the cynicism about credentialism, we forget that qualifications can actually teach us something and make us better lawyers as a result.

Cez

Totally second that.

No one cares about LLMs during the recruitment process but it did help me stand out from my trainee cohort during the TC itself. You’ll have better understanding of your LLM area of law which means you should be able to pick up slightly more advanced tasks than the typical trainee ones and even with the “trainee tasks”, you’ll have a better understanding of the context you’re working in and hopefully broader implications for the client. It’ll also help you talk more competently about the area of law with the fellow lawyers which should translate into better chances of qualifying into the preferred department and better quality interactions overall.

Keep an open mind though – I loved competition law from the academic aspect during my LLM but not so much during my competition seat and ended up ultimately qualifying into something else.

LLM is a great experience in an of itself though.

LLM Hater

But haven’t you contradicted yourself?

Saying an LLM helps you in the qualification process – but then qualifying elsewhere?

Don’t think it’s worth sinking money into an LLM when you could just work harder during your seat…

Associate

Unless you want to be an academic or the bar (in which case, why have you applied for training contracts), this is a mad idea.

It’ll cost loads, add absolutely no value to your career, and make the firm think you are distinctly odd (this may be a benefit at Slaughters).

Slaughtered

Slaughters only seems to care if you’ve done the BCL, other LLMs don’t get much credit.

Associate

More that oddness might be a benefit at S and M…

Anon

Three points:

1. No one at the firm will give even the slightest hoot if you’re 25 when you qualify rather than 24.

2. No one at the firm will give even the slightest hoot that you have an LLM.

3. You will not look back in 10 or 20 years time and think “If only I’d started my TC earlier I could have had an extra year as a partner/GC”. The time windows over which career steps happen widen as you get more senior and depend a lot on factors outside your control, such as the market and senior retirements in your team.

Do the LLM if you want to do it. Go straight to TC if you’d prefer that. Have a year travelling if that appeals more. Whatever you do, no one else will care about it, so do what you want.

Went to university

You will be more distinctive referring to your uni as a ‘non-golden triangle Russell group university’ (whatever tf that is) than having a LLM at an MC firm.

DWF Trainee

The list of universities considered to be members of the golden triangle varies between sources, but typically comprises the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, King’s College London, the London School of Economics and University College London.

Mathematician

Strange. A six-sided triangle.

Geometry Associate at LineLinkers LLP

Pretty sure the “triangle” refers to lines you can draw from the 3 cities.

I think it’s an absurd term (and hadn’t heard of it until this point) but surely it’s not hard to work this part out.

Plons

I generally agree with the above comments that LLM won’t add anything. Once you’ve finished TC no one in the city asks about your qualifications, and 50% of solicitors don’t have an LLB never mind an LLM.

I would add one caveat – I have found outside the UK having an LLM does carry some weight. And LSE has brand recognition globally.

So if you think I’m 5 years you might want to relocate to Dubai etc then LLM might be worth doing.

Sugondese

I don’t think an LLM would move the dial for a move to Dubai, which is a step down from MC in London.

21st century job market

Let’s do this in two bits.

1 – will it damage your career? No. Delaying TCs is fine and most firms are chill about it, especially when the reason for the delay is a respectable one like the LLM. But it also will do nothing to benefit your career as discussed below.

2 – Is it worth the investment? On the assumption that you’ll be taking out a student loan to pursue your LLM, absolutely not worth the investment.

The truth is that LLM’s have absolutely no value aside from the bragging rights they bring if you pursue a career that is not either in academia or a very niche area of the bar. You’ll feel smart and good about yourself for sure, but almost know one giving you work will actually care. As such you’ll have a piece of paper that won’t leverage you better pay or work, but with extra load on the amount of student loans you’ll need to repay.

US 3PQE

“You’ll feel smart and good about yourself for sure, but almost know one giving you work will actually care.”

Feeling smart and good about yourself – in other words having self-confidence and self-belief – is hard to overestimate as a positive and useful quality for someone embarking on a TC. If an LLM gives someone that, when they did not have it before, it may be worth the money.

Retired siolicitor

Agree with the above will not help your career at all. Nobody cares. The reality is when you qualify you will end up specialising in something quite narrow in which you will obtain a deep knowledge and will learn more in a year about that discrete area then you would ever learn in an llm which will be about as much use as what you know about the Tudors

Former MC

No

Anon

From a career point of view it’s a waste of time and money. However, life isn’t just about having a career. If you have the money and fancy another year as a student then it won’t do you harm.

But for 20-30k course fees there must be more fun and more interesting ways to spend a year.

Anonymous

Why not take the TC and do an LLM part time or later on?

Anon

In my opinion, the only reason someone should do the LLM, if not for aiming for the Bar or an academic career, is for genuine passion for researching the law at a higher level.

It’s a big commitment, don’t do it just because ‘you might as well’ since you already have the TC. Like others have said, nobody at the firm will necessarily care unless you’re having a nerd-off about what you both studied at university. Do it for you. It may be harder to do this when settling into your career down the line so weigh that into it as well.

F

No one cares either way, if you are the really academic type, do it, just know it’s likely to benefit you for your knowledge…everyone else is unlikely to care

Big Cheese

1st world problems

US associate

What the hell is a golden triangle university?

L

The type of people using that term are the same type who would delay their TC for an LLM in commercial law

I See Meh People

I believe it is indicative of someone holding on to the dream that they are somehow special when they are not.

i suppose also a golden triangle attendee

it means they didn’t go to oxbridge

Don’t do it

The only benefit an LLM will bring will be that 5 minute dopamine hit when you do a humble-brag graduation post on LinkedIn just so you can get likes and comments from law school students.

Pratik

You will not get the opportunity later once you start earning and lifestyle gets accustomed to the cash flow.

Do the LLM, pursue excellence in the course. You will acquire new skills and build your self assurance further. You already have an offer from a MC firm that can be deferred for a year.

The investment will also be an asset if you wish to move globally which you should aspire to.

Best wishes.

Commercial Barrister

Hi, I did an LLM after signing a TC. In the end, the LLM gave me a further year in which to think about my career, and get my ducks in a row to apply for a Bar course scholarships and pupillage. That is what I did in the end so it was very much the right thing to do for me.

On the whole, I agree with what most people are saying: commercial law firms (unlike commercial sets) care little for LLMs, but it does – including outside of law – allow you to say that you graduated from LSE, which is better than nothing, and you may well want to do it because you enjoy the course.

RG

I don’t think commercial sets either care hugely for non-BCL LLMs (or at least,
the benefit is relatively minor).

Less of a law nerd

Agree with RG. Lots of the clever BA Law graduates from Oxford stick around for the BCL, but only because they’re genuinely law nerds and want another year at university. They happen to then take up a lot of commercial pupillages, but it’s more the fact that they’re evidently clever law nerds who did well in their degrees rather than because the extra masters degree actually helps their applications.

Tom

If you have the money to pay for LLM and the interest in studying, then go for it.

These days pretty much everyone has a postgrad. It doesn’t help career wise, but it’s nice not to feel left out.

If you don’t do it now, I doubt you will want to take a career break to do an LLM later in life (though some people do).

Recruiter

Unless it is Oxbridge or Ivy League LLM don’t bother because no one will give a hoot about your effort and sacrifices. LSE/UCL will most certainly give you no competitive advantage. Non-Oxbridge RG Universities are with all due respect marketing gimmick – you’d be better off backpacking around the world or starting a year early.

A desperate non-law grad

Does it really make a difference if one has an Oxbridge BCL/LLM or their specialist corporate/finance law postgraduate degrees (MLF/MCL)?

I got most of my applications rejected at the initial application stage and am now considering applying for those programmes to boost my CV.

Thanks.

Reality cheque

An Oxbridge specialist program should improve the attractiveness of your resume slightly but is not the same as LLM/BCL.

A bit of honest advice for you.If you have not passed initial screening your rejection is recorded on the firm’s system and thus the chance of your securing an interview following LLM remains low.

Anon

You make a good point, but actually this is not entirely true – I graduated from a non-RG uni with a first, and then completed an LLM at a top RG. Before my LLM I was rejected at application stage from all firms I applied to, after my LLM/while completing it I was offered multiple ACs from the same firms that had previously rejected me, and secured a TC offer. This is not to say that this was down to studying for an LLM at a top institution, as my applications of course improved, but I do think it was a contributing factor at least in my experience.

Anon

My advice would be to think seriously about why you actually want to do an LLM.

On one hand, if you’re worried your undergraduate degree from a “non-golden triangle” Russell Group university won’t stack up against your high-achieving peers, or hoping to bolster your academic creds before you start at your future firm – this is a) ridiculous, and b) NOT a good reason to do a specialised LLM!

It might be hard to imagine while you’re in the thick of it, but nobody cares what university you attended or what grade you got once you’re actually in the door. In the decade since I graduated, I’ve discussed my degree classification with my colleagues precisely zero times. You’ll set yourself back tens of thousands of pounds for no real benefit to your career.

On the other hand, if you have a deep-seated love for commercial law and really want to spend another year studying it – and your firm doesn’t have an issue with you deferring – then go for it! You’re a long time working and a year really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. As others have said, it might help you narrow down the area of law you want to specialise in in future, or persuade you to pursue a different career path altogether.

Hope it helps!

Non-TC holder

If I do not have a TC and have finished my law degree, is it a good idea to apply to take the LLM/ BCL at Oxbridge and study commercial law modules to boost my acad creds as I am from a Russell group uni? I would presume that it would be easier to get my foot into law firms if I have a prestigious postgrad degree?

Ex-BCLer

The typical person who gets into an Oxbridge postgrad from an RG undergrad (other than Oxbridge/LSE/UCL/Durham), would normally be ranked in the top 5 of their cohort and/or have won multiple academic prizes.

If this is you, then your academics should already be enough to land an interview at any City firm. If you are still getting rejected from places, this is almost certainly due to non-academic factors – e.g. poorly written application form, poor performance at interview, etc. A prestige postgad would therefore do nothing to address the weaknesses in your application and would at the same time cost you $$$$$$$.

If this is not you, then you almost certainly won’t get an offer for Oxbridge postgrad anyway which renders the issue moot.

Anon

Harsh but spot on – LLM is overrated and adds no value to your chance of securing a TC.

Herb

A range of interesting responses. I will answer purely from a professional development perspective (as there is obviously intrinsic value in doing a Masters for personal development)

I don’t share the view that an LLM (or indeed, any other postgraduate qualification) makes no difference to your practice – on the contrary, if you pick the right qualification, it can elevate your practice, enhance your opportunities and your earning power.

A general rule of thumb is this: the more specialised (and uncommon) the practice, the more leverage your LLM will have in that subject. For instance, Magic Circle sets do commercial law all the time, transactional, contentious and advisory. It is the bread and butter of their practice, and you will learn quite quickly on the job (through exposure, drafting correspondence, research etc). Realistically, an LLM would not really differentiate you from others in the pack. Neither would an LLM in Employment/Labour Law – again, another bread and butter practice across the City.

However, public international law is far more specialised, and forms a very niche aspect of practice that you wouldn’t ordinarily come across as a trainee in many City practices. However, if you are a trainee with a strong LLM in public international law, you will be first in line for that type of work at the firm (whether it is investment treaty arbitration, business and human rights consulting, sanctions, litigation before international tribunals etc). See Freshfields and Clifford Chance in particular.

Ditto for intellectual property law (the Oxford IP Diploma seems to be the go to for IP solicitors nowadays), environmental law (UCL’s course is very well regarded), data protection, tech and internet law (IAPP, LSE, QMUL), tax law (any good university really), competition, construction (Kings College) etc.

As an aside, I also do not accept the view that unless you are doing a BCL, then you are wasting your time. The BCL has a prominent yet niche prestige for the English Bar – particularly the commercial/public law sets. But it isn’t the be all and end all of legal practice, and it is certainly not the go-to masters in all areas (as indicated above).

For example, if you want to ditch the City entirely and pursue a career in the international human rights field, then York and Essex are top of the field. More generalist public international law? Go to Cambridge or UoL.

As explained above, different unis have different strengths at the post-graduate level. And once you step outside the UK/Aus/NZ axis, very few people will care about your BCL per se – the fact that you have an LLM is sufficient proof that you have brains.

I’d have a good think about the stuff you are least likely to learn about ‘on the job’ during your TC, and then choose an LLM course that you are motivated about and which will leverage your practice in the long run. All to play for. Good luck!

Likeitis

You are going to be meh with or without the LLM. LLMs in the US or the BCL are potentially useful if you are in the top top tier, but for everyone else LLMs are useless.

Bizarre

TLDR

Don’t do it. The content of the LSE Commercial course will be of no assistance to a commercial Solicitor. It is barely of use to anyone wanting to go to the Commercial Bar. Not because it’s not a good and highly regarded degree – but because it’s extremely academic and theoretical. The only point of doing it would be (a) genuine interest is overwhelming enough to justify delay of TC because you are interested in the course for its own sake, (b) to enhance a CV to try and get a TC or pupillage (you already have a TC).

Someone with an LLM

The very fact that you are asking this question, makes me wonder if you have the good judgement to be a solicitor. That may sound harsh, but I’m afraid that sometimes the unvarnished truth is what is required. You have been offered a contract with a prestigious firm, which if followed through, will give you a lifetime of prosperity. Contrast that with an LLM, which guarantees absolutely nothing. Sadly, universities in the UK have watered down their qualifications so much in the interests of ‘widening participation’ they are fast becoming: pointless. The LLM, specifically, has lost much of its credibility as universities have started to award top ups to the LPC, as a marketing tool. The days of the intense LLM are over, other than in a handful of universities. In any event, they are academic qualifications. They offer nothing of practical value. Sure, there are some practise focused LLMs, but they are no substitute for actual practice which is generally completely different to the idealised world of university. Take the training contract.

Oxbridge and TC Reject

Does the majority opinion on this post differ at all if it was an Oxbridge LLM (BCL or MCL)?
Interested in everyone’s opinions

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