"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!