Is the LLM worth it?
Some might dread the thought of spending yet another year at a university, doing even more reading, writing even longer essays and sitting even tougher exams. They would rather go on into practice as soon as possible and learn law the proper “hands-on” way. Others might be eager to engage in some further study, left unsatisfied with the lack of in-depth coverage of their favourite law subject during their LLB, whilst the remainder might see a LLM as something to give their CV more clout.
On whichever side of the fence you are standing (hopefully, you are not sitting on it – lawyers need to be opinionated people!), I could honestly say that no one really “wins” in this debate. It all comes down to answering the simple, yet difficult, question of: “What is it that I want to get from LLM or why do I want to do it?”
Why should I do a LLM?
One thing is certain: if you are planning to do it solely to postpone the nightmare of job hunting then think again. It’s a costly gap year: you might as well use your money to travel or as a “maintenance grant” to fund legal volunteering or unpaid internships to bulk out your CV.
Otherwise, if you possess a clearer idea of your future, LLM might actually prove quite useful. For instance, a master’s degree is quite welcomed in the barristers’ circles. Whilst it is not a prerequisite, it might strengthen your application as it exhibits an intellectual mind and genuine passion for law. There is a tendency for future (or current) barristers to undertake a Human Rights or International Law-oriented master's degree.
Would-be or qualified solicitors tend to opt for a more commercially-oriented LLM. This type of LLM might be more beneficial if you are seriously thinking about seeking a training contract at one of the commercial law firms. At this study level, the LLM is a great opportunity for in-depth study of a narrower area of law. Greater emphasis is placed on lateral thinking and putting legal elements into a wider current affairs-context.
Finally, doing LLM is a must if you want to pursue a legal academic career or if you are considering working for some of the NGOs or international organisations, like the UN or the EU.
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Things to bear in mind…
There are three matters here that need to be elaborated upon. Yes, there are more scholarships on offer for the LLM, than the LLB. Yes, there is some chance of your LLM results raising your overall academic ability if your LLB did not go as planned. And finally, yes, having an LLM degree might strengthen your CV when applying for training contracts or (in particular I hear) pupillages. Nevertheless, there are a few “buts”.
First of all, though there are many more scholarships offered to prospective LLMers, these are available primarily for research rather than taught programmes and few are aimed at students from the UK. Students granted such scholarships often have outstanding achievements and have already made a successful attempt of publishing some of their undergraduate work. It is particularly difficult (if not impossible) to obtain funding from Cambridge and probably the same goes for Oxford.
Secondly, unfortunately, your excellent Master-level results might not make up for that 2.2 you got for your LLB. Sometimes, there is actually no space to type the individual postgraduate results in your training contract/vacation scheme applications.
If your undergraduate results are strong and you are thinking of doing an LLM, you might have your eyes set on a higher ranking university than your current one. Of course, that’s brilliant and much encouraged; however you need to objectively assess your chances of getting in.
To get into Oxford, Cambridge or LSE, depending on the type of LLM course you are considering, you will need to have obtained a first-class degree, whilst UCL, Queen Mary, Warwick, Edinburgh, King’s College might be satisfied with a 2.1. In addition to very good academic results, you need to have some record of other achievements like scholarships, some voluntary or work experience, or anything that shows you are a rounded individual.
I studied an LLM at Cambridge, after completing a LLB at the University of Kent. The course was extremely demanding and of a high standard. Most of my fellow students were much further in their legal career than me. Accordingly, they set the level in class. Following from here, as the final exams or your written work will be compared with those more experienced students, getting a high mark on your LLM will be far more challenging.
Postponing your LLM…
It might be better to wait a little, gain some legal experience or start practising first and then go on to do LLM. You’ll be able to get more out of the course and it’ll be a welcome career break. Of course, there’s always the danger that by putting the LLM off, you’ll never get round to doing it at all.
The LLM certainly adds more flavour to your CV. Nevertheless, if you are planning a great career in some fancy MC Law firm, then LLM in Human Rights or equivalent won’t really impress. I have heard from some commercial law professionals that your LLM (no matter how commercially-oriented) only really has any impact if it has been read at a top-notch university, like Oxford, Cambridge, LSE or UCL.
An LLM won’t make up for a lack of legal work experience, and might even count against you. Your work experience needs to be very robust and strongly law and business oriented for you to convince the interviewers that you did LLM in International Law, or even European Law, out of pure and genuine interest, not because you thought it’d look good on your CV.