Tuesday, July 25, 2006

LLMs Part 3

I am getting a lot of hits to my recent LLM posts (here and here) and a lot of comments too, so clearly a number of people want to know more about the advantages and disadvantages of LLMs. So it seems another LLM-focused post is in order. A comment today to my last post provides a good launching point. That comment, redacted as appropriate, reads as follows:

"Thanks for the very informative blog. You mentioned that you obtained your MA degree abroad in international econ and that it was was a natural fit. I am considering an LLM in international trade law because I would like to specialize in that area of the law and get out of my current field of mass torts litigation. I graduated from University of Pennsylvania undergrad and Temple Law School. . . . While it was relatively easy to find jobs, they were only limited to litigation. You mentioned that you thought that international trade law was one of the areas where a specialty LLM could be useful. Would you also agree that an LLM from a foreign school in international trade law would be 'a natural fit' and thus equally apealling to potential employers? Some specific schools I am looking at are Univ. of Amsterdam, Univ. of Leiden (both in the Netherlands) and London School of Economics."

Let's take this point by point, since it raises a number of issues worth addressing.

1. First, the disclaimer about my masters degree: an MA in international econ was a great fit for me--but this primarily was because I was interested in graduate international economics and wanted to teach someday. I can honestly say that any advantage on the private practice job market was marginal at best. It might have helped more in seeking a governmental position (i.e., with the DOJ in antritrust enforcement, since a lot of the MA was focused on EU competition policy, or with the USTR perhaps), but that is conjecture. And I can also say that it was not directly beneficial to my set of legal skills in private practice--although it was enormously beneficial to have studied abroad when I was dealing with foreign clients, which I did regularly in practice. So what I am trying to emphasize here is that an MA in international econ was a natural fit for me not because it made me significantly more attractive to law firms, but rather because it allowed me to pursue an area of personal interest and improve my prospects on the teaching market.

2. I also said in my previous posts that an LLM in international trade law could be a good way to specialize in that area of law, and as previously noted I have seen people use that approach to great effect.

3. The interesting question posed by the above comment is whether a foreign LLM in international trade law would be as attractive to US legal employers as a US LLM in international trade law. I have cogitated on this question on and off all day. While I have not completely made up my mind on the matter, my initial response is no, a foreign LLM in international trade law would not be as attractive to the average prospective US employer. I am actually somewhat reluctant to say this, since I think there would be enormous academic and personal benefit from a foreign LLM, and living abroad is to my way of thinking a good experience per se. But as a strategic decision to improve your standing in the US legal job market? I think it is a second-best strategy.

I reach this conclusion for several reasons.

First, while it is an international trade law LLM, in many cases--most cases, really--the focus will be on regional law. So an LLM in Europe, for example, generally will focus on domestic country and EU law. In some cases there also may be some level of knowledge about these legal systems that is presumed, which US students are less likely to have. In other cases there are LLM programs geared toward foreign students that do not presuppose such knowledge, but they are still typically geared toward non-US trade law.

In contrast, a US LLM in international trade law is far more likely to give you a grounding in international trade law from a US perspective. And if you are trying to land a job in the US market, that is inherently of more value to US employers. You may take comparative and foreign law courses, but it will not be at the expense of understanding US trade law.

Second--and frankly this is a different way of stating point #1--much of international trade law is comprised of national laws. These laws either implement rules of international regimes like the WTO, or they fall outside such regimes. So on average, it might be better to get a US LLM that is more likely to have such a US trade law focus.

Third, let's not discount the name factor. Imagine you are going into an interview with a US lawyer who went to a US law school, and during the interview you say. "I have strong qualifications, including an LLM from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands." Now pretend instead that you say "I have an LLM from Georgetown." Which is likely to have a more positive connotation for the average US lawyer? Georgetown, of course. You're really trying to play the numbers, and the odds are that Georgetown gets more recognition than foreign LLM programs. Sad perhaps, but true.

Fourth, part of the benefit of an LLM is also being able to relocate to the job market of your choice. Imagine that you want to practice international trade law in NYC. Do you go to NYU, or Paris? While at NYU you can interview, and possibly even clerk at a firm. You also can develop relationships with professors who can give you good and meaningful letters of recommendation. Lawyers at firms in NYC will know who these professors are (or at least know the law school), and this means these recommendations will carry more weight. These advantages are not as readily available if you are studying abroad.


Can you tell that I am somewhat uncomfortable giving this advice? As a dedicated internationalist and someone who has lived and studied abroad, I think studying abroad is an absolutely fabulous thing to do. So I would really like to say, "Yes, I think an LLM in international trade law from abroad is every bit as useful in the US market as a US LLM." But I don't think I can say that right now, given the current state of the US job market. There will be exceptions, of course. Imagine that the lawyer you are interviewing with is Dutch! You will be in like Flint--but these are exceptions.

So that is my general advice. Now the question is, when can you break this general rule? Here are some thoughts.

First, you might be able to break this rule when the particular firms you are interested in either have a lot of foreign lawyers in the US or do a lot of business in a particular region of the world. In such cases, a foreign LLM might be just as good, or in some cases even better. There are a number of blue-chip firms out there that fit this bill, including my old firm, Baker & McKenzie. Just do your homework carefully beforehand.

Second, you might break this rule if a US law school has an LLM program that includes study abroad. You could kill two birds with one stone with that approach--US training, and fun abroad.

Third, some foreign programs have cache in the US market. Most people know Oxford and Cambridge, for example.

I am sure there are people out there who disagree with me on this subject, and I am ready and quite willing to be convinced I am wrong on this one. But this is how I see matters right now. Any comments/questions/rants in response are welcome!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response to my original comment.

As you noted in your response, your choice of foreign MA in International Economics was a great fit for you. I wanted to keep my inquiries as general as possible, but I think I should probably explain why I think the foreign LLM is a natural fit for me.

1. I am a dual citizen (Netherlands/U.S.).
2. Interested in working in the E.U. (no issues with employment visas as an E.U. citizen)
3. Tuition can be much cheaper (and even cheaper for E.U. citizens).
4. Parents are in Holland.

Generally, I think that tuition is a consideration for some people in addition to the overall “studying abroad” experience.

I don’t know whether I will find work as a J.D. with an LLM from the Netherlands in the E.U. I have been given some conflicting feedback about the job prospects. Given your experience at Baker & McKenzie, any thoughts on job prospects for J.D’.s with/without foreign LLMs
in Europe?

Coming back to the U.S. after obtaining the degree is a definite possibility.

I understand the drawbacks of obtaining the foreign LLM. but I have not specifically compared U.S. and foreign curricula with respect to trade law programs. My feeling is that the name and reputation of the educational institution outweigh all other factors. Even with these drawbacks in mind, I am leaning towards the foreign LLM because of the reasons stated above. As an E.U. citizen, the LLM degree will cost me less than $2000 at the University of Amsterdam. I understand that it will be more beneficial to obtain the LLM from a Georgetown or NYU, when my ultimate objective is to switch my practice field in the U.S. But for the price, I think it’s a low-risk investment for me…

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Your reply is an excellent example of why general advice does not always fit specific examples. As the saying goes, "All generalizations are bad!" (That's one of my favorite sayings.)

I said in my post that I was ready to be convinced otherwise, and I am pleased to say that you present a compelling case for pursuing a foreign LLM instead of a US LLM. Cost is a huge factor. In fact, my MA in the UK cost less--including travel--than my first year of law school in the US. And I paid foreign student rates, which were not cheap. Sad but true. In your case, the cost differential is absolutely huge.

Second, being a dual citizen lends credence to a decision to pursue a foreign LLM in that country. In fact, if you intend to pursue, say, a career as a corporate lawyer with a focus on US-EU deals, the foreign LLM from an EU country is a nice fit. What you then have is a clear strategy and goal in mind, and formal legal training in 2 jurisdictions.

Finally, if you are really thinking about working in Europe, then definitely do pursue the foreign LLM in your particular case. I am not as familiar with US JD holders getting training in foreign jurisdictions and how advantageous that may be; the typical model is for foreign law degree holders to come to the US and obtain a US LLM, which helps them in the US market and also at home (since US law is such a large force in international business). That being said, however, I would expect that having (1) a US JD, plus (2) a foreign LLM in the relevant market, plus (3) legitimate reasons for returning to that market (which you have) is a very good package.

Plus, as you say, it is a relatively low-risk investment. And even if it does not pay off, you have had a fun year!

So thanks for sharing more information and getting me to switch sides with respect to your particular case. It is probably obvious from the tone of my comments that I much prefer giving this advice to saying "No, don't study abroad." I still stand by that broader advice as a general matter, but happily there will be a lot of exceptions to that general rule. Again, all generalizations are bad.

knee_bone said...

Great posts on LLM's. I am beginning my first year at a "regional" law school and have been debating on where to go for an LLM after I complete school. There are definitely many factors to consider and as someone beginning my journey into the world of law, I appreciate an honest, open discussion.

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Knee bone--Glad you've found the posts helpful. That's what the blog is all about. Thanks for reading, and good luck in law school. Greg

Leroy Jenkins said...

Not sure whether this comment will be stale, given the date of the original posting, but I found your site to be incredibly helpful and your LL.M. posts extremely useful as I debate whether to undertake an LL.M. study. Although you touched upon other degrees - say an MA, etc., you did not discuss MBAs. How valuable are these, in general (I know you hate generalizations!), to a law firm/government versus, say, an LL.M.?

And how valuable is an LL.M. from a regional school, like a University of Denver or UMKC school with a regional degrees? As opposed to a regional JD with a national LL.M.? No question a national LL.M. would be better, but how much would it really matter?

I know these questions are vague and opaque but I think your comments would be very helpful.


Gregory W. Bowman said...


Good questions. I'm glad you've found the posts helpful; my apologies for my delay in responding.

An MBA can be a great option. In many cases, an MBA might be as helpful, or even more helpful, than an LLM--for example, if you intend to practice corporate law. It can help you understand your clients' activities better, and also give you the vocabulary and educational background to more easily connect with clients. Clients who like you and bond with you are clients who are more likely to pay, and that is very important.

By contrast, if you are wanting to specialize in a particular area of law, such as international trade, or IP, or health care law, an LLM with a clear focus on that subject matter might be better. That being said, some LLM programs are pretty open-ended, and amount to taking a year's worth of electives. So do your homework when deciding what degree to pursue.

As for regional versus national, my general view is that national is better, especially when the LLM is not clearly subject-specific. An LLM of that type from Harvard is generally far more valuable than its counterpart at a regional school. But an LLM from a regional school with a clear focus might be very good, depending on the school. Vermont, for example, is a national leader in environmental law, so an environmental law LLM from there is good. Also, in some cases a regional LLM might carry significant weight in that regional market (but less elsewhere)--so if you plan on staying in that market, it might make sense to stay regional with your LLM.

But all in all, names and pedigrees do count. We might not like that (or we might), but those are the current rules of the game.

SOFIA said...

Hi. I have also found your post extremely helpful. I will be starting an LLM at Penn this year. I am deciding which courses to take. I want to work in the US after the LLM. I have a strong background in IP in Colombia (South America) and wonder if the LLM should be focused only in IP. I would like to practice IP in the US but also Corporate law. If I choose subjects regarding IP and Corporate law would I have more chances of getting a job in the US?
Thanks for your advice.

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Sofia, thanks for your question, and apologies for not responding sooner. Were I in your shoes, I would take some US IP law classes during your LLM course of study, and also take business law courses as well, including corporations/business associations and one or more securities regulation courses. I'd also consider taking US Administrative Law, since it is so prevalent in all facets of US law practice.

This approach will give you a better background in US business-related law. That of course is useful for your marketability, but it also will be useful for working with and talking with US-based clients, IP-focused or not.

Good luck with the LLM at Penn, and thanks for reading!

Jeff said...

What about the LLM in Admiralty at Tulane? Do you have any thoughts on this program, employment and practicality?