The rise of the LLM (Master of Laws) degree is a subject that has not come without debate, but as many question the value of this qualification for domestic graduates, there is little doubt of the benefit it presents to international students across the globe.
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As the legal profession evolves to meet the demands of an increasingly globalized world, more Asian graduates and lawyers are looking West to hone their skills and increase their employability. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, in the academic year 2013-14, 25 percent of students enrolled in UK law programs came from overseas.
The demand for these programs is not restricted to the UK; according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), in the academic year 2012-13, there were 9,995 international students enrolled in legal courses throughout the US. The following year the figure stood at 10,872, showing a 9.2 percent increase in demand for these programs.
For Asian lawyers and law graduates, the benefits of pursuing an LLM in the West are manifold. Some want to specialize in a specific area, others want to ground themselves in the host country’s legal system, while more want to add themselves to a global legal talent pool that is meeting the demands of an increasingly complex international legal environment.
Whatever their ultimate ambitions, most international students pursuing LLMs in the US and the UK find very favourable environments, with relatively small class sizes, an excellent range of specializations, and faculty and courses that encourage students to think quickly and learn to analyze legal problems from a practical perspective.
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According to the American Bar Association’s website, there are 360 different specialized LLM programs in areas such as Tax, American Law, Intellectual Property, Corporate Law and Human Rights; and with certain global events, such as the creation of the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Partnership and cross-border tensions over intellectual property rights, many budding lawyers are keen to specialize their skills.
Colombian-born Juan Jose Diaz-Granados, an LLM specializing in International Law at Stetson University’s College of Law, says one of the attributes the LLM has given him is a universal outlook that he otherwise wouldn’t have gained.
“It allows you to get a deep knowledge about a specific field of law in which you want to practice,” he says. “I really appreciate the fact that you can specialize in on a specific field of law, seeing the international perspective.”
He adds: “The LLM program experience has prepared me for life after law school because it allows me to understand the cultural legal differences that exist between the different legal systems.”
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The significance of the LLM often depends on the lawyer or graduate’s background, as well as where they want to work. Freshfields, for example, a large German firm with more than 500 lawyers covering all areas of legal advice, is one organisation that actively recruits LLM graduates.
“We are interested in those who have studied in the US, the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand,” says Heidi Ruth Osenberg, Human Resources Manager at Freshfields, Hamburg.
“The main things are English-language skills and the intercultural experience.”
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The figures back up this claim: 30 percent of new hires at Freshfields in Germany are in possession of an LLM from one of these English speaking countries.
Osenberg goes on to explain that the experience students’ gain from a year studying abroad makes trainee lawyers more aware of the difficulties and differences among the legal systems of various nationalities; something that is considered “very helpful” at a firm that deals with transnational deals and international clients on a daily basis.
For promising trainee-lawyers, specialization is just one of a handful of reasons to pursue an LLM; an international program can greatly improve language skills and enrich students’ with a global perspective that is universally coveted.
Read on to learn more about some of the Law Schools offering world-class courses…
COLLEGE OF LAW, STETSON UNIVERSITY – USA
Stetson University College of Law is ranked #1 in Trial Advocacy and #2 in Legal Writing by the prestigious U.S. News & World Report. Located in a safe and friendly campus in beautiful Tampa Bay Florida, Stetson’s LL.M. in International Law is a one-year course that leads to an advanced legal degree in International Law. Stetson’s program accommodates the specialization needs of both experienced practicing attorneys and recent law school graduates. The curriculum prepares graduates to enter the global marketplace thoroughly prepared for positions in business, government, teaching and international law practice or related professions.
SCHOOL OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER – UK
The University of Manchester’s School of Law has continued its dedication to providing high quality legal education for over 140 years. Today, surveys confirm us as one of the UK’s leading law schools, with teaching rated as “excellent” in the latest Higher Education Funding Council for England and student satisfaction results consistently above 90%. As well as qualifying law degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, the School also offers courses in criminology, healthcare ethics, bioethics and medical law, making its range of specialisms one of the broadest in the country, and the expertise of its staff is sought across the world.
SCHOOL OF LAW, GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY – USA
GGU Law has trained savvy, creative, and socially responsible practitioners for more than 100 years. Its dynamic urban setting in San Francisco’s legal district offers its students unmatched access to courts, law firms, and key government agencies. Students are taught by an accomplished, diverse faculty who practiced law before teaching. They are experts in a wide range of legal areas — from litigation to labor law, corporate law to criminal law, property development to public interest law, environmental law to entertainment law, international law to intellectual property law — and much more. Its student-to-teacher ratio is 19:1, and its professors are committed to being accessible to students.
LAW SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF STRATHCLYDE – UK
The Law School at the University of Strathclyde ranks 14 out of 97 UK Law School in the 2015 Complete University Guide. And in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the School was ranked joint first in Scotland. Academic research underpins all that the School does. These results are testament to the high quality, research-led teaching that is reflected in its high teaching standards. The School offers unrivalled experiential learning opportunities that allow students to put theory into practice. With real-life legal and courtroom experience before they even graduate, a Strathclyde Law School graduate’s CV really stands out from the rest.
HASTINGS COLLEGE OF THE LAW, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – USA
UC Hastings is steps away from every manner of transportation, from streetcars and cable cars, to ferries and BART, San Francisco’s subway. Its urban campus is comprised of three buildings containing classrooms, offices, an award-winning library, conference space, student apartments, and numerous amenities, such as the Law Café, the Skyroom, several lounges and study spaces, a basketball court and fitness center. The College offers the breadth and depth of a curriculum that enables students to master the complexity of contemporary legal doctrines and evolving lawyering skills and gain the theoretical tools necessary to re-conceptualize entire fields of law.