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When I was at law school the first time around, I couldn’t wait to get out – the whole degree seemed to take so long. So I’m probably the last person you’d expect to decide to go back to law school to get an LLM! If this is something you’re considering doing, here some thoughts from a (formerly) reluctant LLM candidate.
Why do it?
Given the significant investment of time, effort and money that goes into doing an LLM, you should think carefully about why you want to do one. I did an LLM because I thought it would be valuable for future career opportunities, help me get a job overseas and for the experience of living in a new city. I didn’t want to wait too long before doing my LLM, so I chose to do it after four years of working full-time. Some of my classmates did the LLM to kick-start an academic career, pave the way for working overseas or change their career focus (for example, from corporate law to international human rights). The only thing I wouldn’t recommend, is doing the LLM just because you don’t know what to do next. You don’t have to know precisely what you want to do after the LLM, but you should have a rough idea, because the LLM is just too short to magically produce an answer as to what to do with your life.
Where to do it?
I was determined to do the LLM in the U.S. because I wanted a law school experience that was different from the one I got in New Zealand (living in New York also doesn’t hurt). However, there are again many factors to consider when choosing a school and location. First, there’s the cost: if you’re going overseas you’ll have to quit your job, and tuition (especially in the U.S.) is eye-wateringly expensive (i.e. it will probably wipe out your savings and plunge you into debt). You should evaluate the financial cost against what you think you’ll get out of the LLM – I knew I would regret turning down the chance to study at Columbia University, and that I had enough work experience to get a decent-paying job afterwards.
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[Every LLM student after paying their tuition]
On the other hand, you might consider studying in the U.K., which is cheaper (but still not cheap) and provides the opportunity to study areas of the law that are similar or the same as in NZ. While what you study in the U.S. is fascinating because it is so different from what you are used to, what you study in the U.K. can be a lot more applicable to your actual work. If you are solely interested in studying international law, you could also do the LLM at a European university, which can be even cheaper. You could also do the LLM closer to home – either in New Zealand, or in Australia, where it’s easier to fund and part-time study options are available. While doing this doesn’t have the immediate prestige of going overseas, it’s an affordable option if you want to do the LLM as a gateway to academia or just want more expertise in a specific area of law.
Another factor in your choice of school is what you want to study and where you want to work afterwards. Do your research into what areas of law schools are known for (for example, New York University and the University of Cambridge are particularly well known for international law). Some schools may also be better gateways for certain jobs. For example, being in New York is an advantage in breaking into the New York market, and studying at Oxford or Cambridge is almost a pre-requisite if you want to qualify as a barrister in the U.K.. Also, think about what location you will enjoy the most. I chose Columbia University in New York because I wanted to live in a big city that is also a legal hub. Others chose universities with campuses further from the city because they didn’t want the distractions of the city.
What’s it like?
If you’ve worked before going to study, you will initially be pleasantly surprised by the relative flexibility you have again (there’s nothing stopping you from napping in the afternoon or going out until 3am on a Wednesday night). Enjoy your spare time while you can though – the LLM can have a surprisingly heavy and difficult workload. I know many people who used to work 12+ hour days at their previous law firms who still found the LLM workload stressful!
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[You'll have many moments like this during your LLM]
You should also try to make the most of your experience (without taking on too much) because most LLM programs are very short (a mere 10 months!). Another highlight of doing an LLM is your classmates, who usually hail from around the world and have incredible professional and personal backgrounds. You might learn as much from them as you do from your professors.
Ultimately, you’ll need to do some soul searching and think about why you really want to do an LLM. Although I recommend talking to others who have (and have not) done an LLM, the decision is yours, and you shouldn’t be overly swayed by what others say (or what online discussion boards say). For example, I had people tell me I wouldn’t get into the top U.S. schools (I got into all the U.S. schools to which I applied) and that I wouldn’t be able to find a law job in New York after the LLM (which I did). Good luck with your applications!
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[This could be you!]