Post-Masters of Law(LL.M.) Career Options
A masters of law (LL.M.) from an American law school can expand your horizon and change the direction of your legal career. When applying to LL.M. programs, you should consider the career path you want to follow post-LL.M. as your choice of school can affect your post-LL.M. opportunities. As an LL.M. applicant, one of the first questions you must ask yourself is whether you want to practice law in a law firm in the U.S., work for an international organization in the U.S. or another country, or return home to practice law.
"Optional Practical Training" in the United States
If you want to work in the United States for one year or less, and then return home, there are several options.
First, students on F-1 visa status are entitled to one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT), during which time employment is authorized in the United States. In many law schools where there is an LL.M. program for foreign law graduates, receptions or other meetings will be held so that students can learn more about practice options in that metropolitan area. If you want to take advantage of this OPT year, you should research the law firms that hire "foreign associates." How do you decide which firms to target? A first step is to research whether the firm has clients or an office in your country of origin. If so, that firm may be more likely to need a foreign associate with your particular legal background and languages.
Some LL.M. programs also have "internship programs" whereby LL.M. graduates can obtain unpaid internships with law firms, corporations or judges to see the law from a practical perspective that enhances their academic training. When evaluating such programs, however, a prospective LL.M. student should look closely at the nature of the specific internship program. Although some LL.M. programs indicate that their students or recent alumni have obtained internships with top legal employers, many programs note that these internships are not necessarily available every year, are not guaranteed and that, if offered, the internships are granted on a competitive basis only. Only a very small number of LL.M. programs for foreign law graduates have internship programs that actually offer each LL.M. student the opportunity of an internship during the summer following graduation. Although usually unpaid, these internships provide invaluable experience and can sometimes lead to other employment. These "practical training" internships can be especially important for those LL.M. students who want to return home after their LL.M. program finishes, or are required to return home in accordance with particular grant or fellowship obligations.
Practicing Law in the United States
If you want to practice law in the United States, you must obtain a license to practice law. In order to obtain a license to practice law in the United States, all candidates must apply for bar admission through a state board of bar examiners. Although this board is ordinarily an agency of the highest court in the jurisdiction, occasionally the board is connected to the state's bar association. The criteria for eligibility to take the bar examination or to otherwise qualify for bar admission are set by each state.
In order to sit for the bar examination, most states require an applicant to hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school. For those individuals who have not earned a J.D. degree from an ABA-approved law school, bar admission authorities have developed varying requirements and criteria to ascertain if such individuals meet the minimum educational requirements for bar admission. In most U.S. jurisdictions, individuals who lack a J.D. are ineligible to take the bar exam. In some of the remaining states, however, graduates of foreign law schools who possess an LL.M. from a U.S. law school are eligible to take the bar exam. A few other states recognize with regularity the sufficiency of a specific foreign legal education. Finally, a number of states offer an alternative limited practice mechanism known as a Foreign Legal Consultant which allows one to give advice only on the foreign law where one is licensed. Currently, eighteen states in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, allow foreign law graduates with additional education at an ABA-approved law school to take the bar examination. However, state bar admission rules vary widely, and LL.M. applicants who want to take a bar examination in the U.S. would be well-advised to contact the state board of bar examiners in the state(s) in which they are interested in being admitted to ascertain its requirements to sit for the bar examination.
If you want to practice law in the U.S., you should be looking for an LL.M. program which will give you the most access to take some of the subjects that are tested on state bar exams. Some LL.M. programs, due to J.D. student course requirements, limit the ability of LL.M. students to take "core" J.D. classes, i.e., those that are tested on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and individual state bar exams. These "core" courses – Contracts, Property, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Evidence, and Torts – are taught at all U.S. law schools. To take a bar exam in a particular state, there is no requirement that you attend an LL.M. program in that state. You, however, would be well-advised to take a post-graduation "prep" course for the particular state bar exam you plan to take. Information on these prep courses is available in every law school.
Post-LL.M. Employment: General Considerations
Another factor you should consider when applying to LL.M. programs is which program will give you the attention you need and want so that you can excel in your area of interest. For example, for some students, attending a smaller LL.M. program is advantageous because the opportunity to receive individualized attention, as well as stronger faculty-student interaction, can result in post-LL.M. opportunities. The reason for this is that, in a smaller program, faculty members have a greater opportunity to get to know you, your skills and talents. Based on your interaction with them throughout the course of the year, faculty may be more willing to assist you in achieving post-LL.M. goals.
Another factor to consider when choosing an LL.M. program is whether you are required to complete a "thesis" and whether LL.M. faculty in that school will assist you in publishing your thesis paper in a legal journal. A publication credit in a well-regarded legal journal can have a positive affect on your career.
If you plan to work for an international organization or to return home to practice law, you should look closely at LL.M. program faculty and alumni. Often, it is LL.M. faculty or alumni who have contacts with or have worked for particular international organizations or law firms that can open doors for you.
Finally, in considering any LL.M. program, it is most important to remember that simply having an LL.M. from an American law school means little unless you use the contacts, resources and networks that the law school makes available to you to achieve your goals.