Master of Laws

From Academic Kids

The Master of Laws is an advanced law degree that allows someone to specialize in a particular area of law. It is commonly abbreviated LL.M (also LLM or LL.M.) from its Latin name, Legum Magister. (For female students, the less common variant Legum Magistra may also be used.)


Background on legal education in English-speaking countries

In order to become a lawyer and practice law, a person must first obtain the professional law degree. This degree, called a Juris Doctor in the United States and a Bachelor of Laws in other English-speaking countries, is a generalized course of study that exposes students to a wide range of topics. It is designed to provide the basic skills and knowledge needed to become a lawyer. As there are many required courses, it is difficult to focus on a particular area of law.

If a person wishes to gain specialized knowledge in a particular area of law, they can continue their studies in an LL.M program. The word legum is the possessive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "specific laws". When used in the plural, it signifies a specific body of laws, as opposed to the general collective concept embodied in the word jus, from which the words "juris" and "justice" derive.

International situation

In most countries, lawyers are not required to hold an LL.M degree, and nearly all choose not to obtain one. In fact, the education systems of most countries did not traditionally include LL.M. programs.

Historically, the LL.M degree is an element particular to the education system of English speaking countries, which is based on a distinction between Bachelor's and Master's degrees. However, during the past years, specialized LL.M programs have been introduced in many European countries, even where the Bologna process has not yet been fully implemented.

Types of LL.M degrees

There are a wide range of programs available worldwide, allowing LL.M students to focus on almost any area of law they choose. Most universities offer only a small number of LL.M programs. One of the most popular LL.M degrees in the United States is tax law. Other common programs include environmental law, human rights law, commercial law, and intellectual property law.

Many LL.M programs, particularly in the United States, focus on teaching foreign lawyers the basic legal principles of the host country (a "comparative law" degree). This degree may or may not qualify the foreign lawyer to practice in their host country. Some countries prohibit non-citizens from gaining admission to the bar regardless of their educational background.

The United States is a mixed case. The two major states for legal practice, New York and California, take different paths. New York allows foreign lawyers to gain admission to the bar once they have completed their LL.M. California, on the other hand, totally prohibits students who have not completed a three-year legal degree program (or, in very rare circumstances, an apprenticeship) from sitting for its bar exam. Most other states are similar to California in requiring a J.D. in order to take the bar exam. The ban on LL.M practice usually, but not always, applies even to lawyers who have practiced for years in New York or California and would therefore be knowledgeable about U.S. law.

Although some would doubtlessly explain the differential treatment between J.D. holders and LL.M holders as xenophobia, since lawyers holding an LL.M but not a J.D. generally are foreigners who received their first degree outside the United States, the more likely answer is less sinister. The state bars function not only as regulatory bodies, but also trade associations, and licensing is one form of market protectionism. By increasing the cost to become an attorney in the legal market by requiring three years' of legal study, many states effectively shield local attorneys from competition from foreign lawyers.


LL.M programs are usually only open to those students who have first obtained the professional law degree. Thus, it is an advanced degree for persons who are already lawyers, rather than for persons wishing to become lawyers.

LL.M programs usually last one year. LL.M programs are varied in their graduation requirements. Some programs require students to write a thesis, others do not. Some programs are research oriented with little classroom time, while others require students to take a set number of classes.

In the United States, the professional law degree discussed above is called the Juris Doctor (J.D.). Persons in the United States who obtain a LL.M sometimes do so after they receive their Juris Doctor. Thus, they receive their Doctorate degree first and their Master's degree second, which is the reverse of how degrees are typically awarded. This is because the professional law degree in the United States was originally called the Bachelor of Laws, abbreviated as LL.B. Though some U.S. law schools had granted the Juris Doctor to graduates holding a bachelor's degree, it wasn't until the late 1960's that the American Bar Association approved the change for all of its affiliated law schools. However, the LL.M name was never changed, resulting in a situation where a Master of Laws degree is actually a more advanced degree than a J.D. for U.S.-educated lawyers.

LL.M degrees in the United States are often earned by foreigners who have previously obtained a foreign law degree abroad. U.S.-educated lawyers, before proceeding to obtain an LL.M, generally have a total of seven years of education: four as an undergraduate and three to obtain a J.D. Foreign lawyers (who may have been trained in undergraduate institutions, giving the traditional name for the basic law degree, the LL.B) generally have a total of five years of education: four in their home country, and one in the United States as an LL.M. Although foreigners may obtain an LL.M after fewer total years of academic training than their U.S. colleagues, it represents a greater degree of achievement in legal education.

LL.M. Related Links :

nl:Meester in de rechten


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