LL.M. Degree Provides New Outlook on Career
Colin T. Darke
Colin T. Darke recently received an LL.M. degree in banking and financial law from Boston University School of Law. He is an associate in the Debtor-Creditor Rights & Bankruptcy Practice Group at Bodman LLP in Detroit, Michigan. Contact him at cdarke@bodmanllp.com.
New private practice attorneys are experiencing a difficult time in the current legal market. Law firms are downsizing at an alarming rate and are not hiring new attorneys. Because of this trend, some attorneys are grasping whatever legal positions that they can—including jobs in areas of the law that they do not like with firms at which they are not happy. To these attorneys, I say: Go back to school.
Consider getting an LL.M. degree. I know the last thing you want to think about (especially if you are a recent graduate) is reliving the experience of law school. (You did it once, conquered it, so now onward and upward.) However, I recently received an LL.M. degree and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. What follows are my observations on why another degree may be right for you.
It’s Not Law School
Many LL.M. degree programs differ from the familiar J.D. programs. Often faculty members are experts practicing in the particular field of law rather than law school professors. As such, the curriculum is focused on the practical rather than theoretical aspects of law. These programs typically are only a year long and offer you the opportunity to focus on an area of law that interests you, as opposed to law school’s broad overview of many areas of the law. In addition, with your experience gained in law school (or in practice) you now have a better understanding of what areas of law interest you. A good starting point for exploring different LL.M. programs is www.llm-guide.com.
With an LL.M. degree, you take control of your career. Often attorneys spend their entire careers in a field of law they simply fell into following law school. This works for some attorneys, but not for others who eventually become dissatisfied with the practice of law. An LL.M. degree is an opportunity to retool and change your specialty.
Another advantage of an LL.M. degree is that you gain expertise in a specific area of law. For attorneys new to their careers, this offers a unique opportunity to market expertise to potential clients, employers, and referrals. In addition, these programs often require that you write a thesis, which hones your writing skills and produces a publication-quality paper that adds to your credibility as someone with specialized knowledge in your practice area. Finally, when attending an LL.M. program you will meet and become friends with the real experts in your chosen field, who become a ready resource to call on when you’re stumped.
And the additional specialization may help drum up work for your firm. Because law schools often offer these programs on a part-time basis, your current firm may be willing to pay for the additional education as it makes you a more valuable asset to both the firm and its clients.
General Observations
Here are a few more advantages to acquiring an LL.M. degree:
  • an expanded professional network (e.g., classmates worldwide)
  • the chance to explore a new city and/or a new law school
  • scholarships available through the schools for LL.M. students
  • many prestigious law schools offer LL.M. degrees in areas as diverse as bankruptcy and intellectual property law
  • networking and employment resources offered through the school for LL.M. students.
Although the very thought of going back to school may give you a headache, I hope these observations provide an inkling of the benefits that an additional degree can offer.
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