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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 30, 2018

Is it better to earn a JD/LL.M at the same time or pursue an LL.M after practicing law for a few years?

Julie Q. Brush

A Master of Laws degree…or LL.M is a postgraduate law degree in a specialized area of law. It’s a one-year program with tuition costs that can reach in excess of $60k.  For employers, the value of an LL.M varies – as do the reasons lawyers and aspiring lawyers pursue the degree.

Once you’ve contemplated your desire to earn an LL.M, you may either choose to pursue the degree as part of a joint JD/LL.M program or earn it after a few years practicing law. So which path is better? It depends.

The timing benefit is different for each professional and will hinge on several factors. Below is a list of decision drivers for your two options:

1. Reasons to Pursue a Joint JD/LL.M Simultaneously

  • If you are currently attending a law school that has a top notch LL.M program, admission may be easier if you are already admitted to the law school. So it could make sense to capitalize on your current standing for entry to the joint degree program now.
  • Receiving an LL.M along with your JD can increase your marketability as a candidate for a summer associate and/or a first year permanent position. The specialty could provide a competitive advantage in market compared to others without it. This is especially true in the practice area of Tax.
  • If you have received an academic scholarship, it is possible that the law school will cover some or all the LL.M program costs as well. So taking advantage of the timing could be a wise move – as it would allow you to enter the professional world with less debt and more education to leverage in the market.
  • If you don’t like attending school and want to expedite the process, killing two birds with one stone in a joint degree program would be the way to go.
  • If you feel that the LL.M specialization would greatly enhance your law school learning and experience.
  • You’re uncertain as to what the future holds. If there is a possibility that after a few years taking a year off to earn an LL.M may not be practical or doable, it is probably best to earn the degree now.

2. Reasons To Practice Law A Few Years Before Earning An L.L.M Degree

  • If you attended a lower tier law school, developing great experience in your specialty with a quality law firm will increase your chances of being admitted to a higher ranked LL.M program – which can enhance your future marketability.
  • You don’t have the money. If you don’t have the financial resources to pay for an LL.M program now, practicing law a few years will provide you with the income…and opportunity to save for the tuition.
  • Practicing law and working in “the real world” will provide the added perspective with which to assess the substantive specialty you may want to pursue and assess the value of the LL.M for you and employers.

The examples above demonstrate that there is no one governing answer regarding the best time to earn an LL.M.  The best choice for each individual will depend on his/her beliefs, needs and circumstances.  So assess these factors and weigh them carefully.  And you’ll clearly see what your LL.M future holds for now…and in the future.

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