Why get an LL.M. if you already have a law degree?

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The legal profession has grown in popularity in the U.S. over the past decade. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of working litigators increased approximately 15% to more than 1.3 million, per research from the American Bar Association. Law school enrollment has gone up over the same span, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, meaning the field will likely continue to expand into the future, as 7,000 new lawyers finish law school annually.


Two attorneys review information on a computer


While these are certainly positive developments for legal professionals, they also establish the foundation for increased competition in the field. More lawyers means more competition for clients. With this in mind, legal professionals must seek out new strategies for differentiating themselves among their peers, lest they get lost in a sea of bar-certified litigators. How can they do this? Earning a Master of Laws degree, or LL.M., is among their options.

Some lawyers might ask the question, “Why do I need an LL.M. when I already have a J.D. or LL.B.?” LL.M. degree programs can allow legal professionals to expand their skill sets and move into specialties that make it easier to carve out niches in an ever-growing marketplace. Here’s how:


Unpacking the differences

The J.D. degree is perhaps the most popular graduate law credential and is often considered the be-all-end-all legal studies diploma — and for good reason. Three-quarters of the people who earned such degrees in 2017 managed to gain full-time employment in the field within 10 months of graduation, analysts for the ABA discovered. However, the J.D. is not the only degree available to those pursuing the legal profession. The LL.M. is another option. Each of these degrees is wholly unique.

The J.D. is designed to give legal professionals the baseline knowledge they need to practice law in general litigation settings. For this reason, J.D. curriculum is typically tactical by nature — ideal for direct application in a courtroom. Conversely, the LL.M. covers more theoretical ground, allowing legal professionals to engage with larger statutory concepts — constitutional law and tort law, for example — and cultivate specialized expertise with which they can serve specific client bases.

The J.D. is ideal for lawyers looking to pursue more traditional legal careers, while the LL.M. is the best option for those interested in becoming subject-matter experts within specific areas of the law, as well as for litigators who were trained overseas and need to familiarize themselves with the U.S. legal system.


Understanding the LL.M. curriculum

What exactly does an LL.M. program look like? Most of these offerings encompass courses that center on several legal specialties, including:

  • Constitutional law: This niche deals with the U.S. Constitution and its application in everyday matters of local, state and federal governance. Courses covering this subject often touch on essential constitutional topics, such as the relationship between state and federal laws and interpretations of Articles I, II and III.
  • Contract law: Legal agreements constitute the cornerstone of the modern marketplace, creating the groundwork for collaboration while ideally protecting all parties involved. In the age of the service-level agreement and the terms of use, the knowledge gained through courses on contract law can prove valuable.
  • Property law: Property comes in all shapes and form nowadays, from private items and raw acreage to intellectual assets like designs and copyrighted content. This legal avenue deals with the various statutes related to these items, and those who study it can develop skills that can aid virtually all clients.
  • Tort law: Helping individuals get redress for civil wrongs is among the foundational functions of legal professionals. The courses covered in specialized courses centering on torts help lawyers optimize their skill sets in this area and give them the power to turn their full attention toward helping victims get the indemnities they deserve.

In addition to these specific areas, LL.M. programs tend to offer additional insight into subjects addressed in J.D. tracks — most notably, the American judicial system and legal writing and research. On top of this, these programs normally close with some sort of thesis-based course wherein students are required to explore one or more critical statutory topics in depth and discuss their finished work with peers and faculty members.

For legal professionals looking to stand out among their colleagues in a crowded field, the LL.M. curriculum can give them the expertise they need. For foreign-trained lawyers attempting to build careers in the U.S., the academic experience helps them connect with American legal concepts, such as the common law system and the adversarial litigation model.


Pinpointing career opportunities

The career opportunities for legal professionals with LL.M. degrees are numerous and include:


Intellectual property attorney

The protection of intellectual property has become a major issue due to mass digitization. The internet, while generally considered a net positive for society, is the best tool for IP infringement. Now, organizations and individuals must work diligently to defend their IP rights against bad actors. Attorneys within this niche are essential in this fight and are compensated well as a result, per PayScale, which pegged the median salary for an IP lawyer working in the U.S. at $135,000.

Corporate lawyer

Large business entities are perpetually involved in legal entanglements, whether it is an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim filed on behalf of an employee or the machinations of a merger or acquisition. Corporate lawyers help companies address these issues and arrive at an acceptable conclusion, and they are paid well for this work, as the median salary for this role sits at around $100,000, according to PayScale.

Government attorney

Local, state and federal agencies employ countless legal professionals who do everything from work on regulatory enforcement teams to prosecute criminals standing trial for serious charges. Like their counterparts in the private sector, they receive quality compensation packages, taking in a median salary of $108,000, analysts for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found.


Finding the right LL.M. program

Many LL.M. programs are available to attorneys looking to move into niche fields to fend off competition or foreign legal professionals intent on building careers in the U.S. However, few can rival Hofstra Law’s online Master of Laws in American Law. The 24-credit online program offers numerous skill-development opportunities and can prepare lawyers for success in multiple legal specialties.

Are you interested in enrolling in the online American law program with Hofstra Law and earning your LL.M. within two years? Connect with an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

What is a master’s capstone?

Why you should consider an online degree


Hofstra Law

American Bar Association

National Center for Education Statistics

American Bar Association

PayScale – Intellectual Property Attorney Salary

PayScale – Corporate Attorney Salary

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Lawyers