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The Master of Laws (LLM) Degree – A Guide

Are you a law graduate interested in more advanced training? Or a legal professional looking to specialise in a specific branch of judicial theory? You may wish to consider a Master of Laws (LLM).

We’ve put together a simple overview of the LLM on this page. You can read about course content, application requirements and find out whether a Master of Laws is right for you.

for advice on other qualifications, check out our full guide to different Masters degree types.

What is an LLM?

The LLM is a Masters degree in Law. Most are taught degrees, but some can have research elements.

Master of Laws (LLM)
Type Taught / Research
Subjects Law
Level 7 (NQF)
Length 1-2 years
Credits 180 CATS / 90-120 ECTS
Availability Worldwide

The term ‘LLM’ stands for Legum Magister, which is Latin for ‘Master of Laws’. The degree is a historic and well established legal qualification, recognised in higher education systems around the world.

An LLM isn a non-professional qualification. You don’t need an LLM to practice law, but the advanced training and expertise you’ll gain can make you more attractive to law firms.

Most programs are quite specialised, allowing you to study a specific branch of law in depth.

This can be useful if you wish to enter a specific area of legal practice – such as criminal law or family law.

Some LLM programs can also benefit careers in other fields. If you work in business or management, for example, you may benefit from a knowledge of relevant economic and corporate law.

What are the entry requirements for an LLM?

Most candidates applying for an LLM will have an existing Law degree. This could be an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) or a postgraduate Law conversion course such as a CPE or GDL.

Some LLM programs are designed for applicants from non-Law backgrounds, looking to study aspects of the law as it relates to other fields. These courses will normally require you to have another relevant degree and / or professional experience.

LLM programs aren’t conversion courses

Though you may be able to study a Master of Laws without an undergraduate Law degree, the LLM won’t qualify you professionally. If you wish to become a lawyer as a postgraduate, you should consider studying a conversion course such as a CPE or GDL.

Which countries award LLM degrees?

The LLM is a common international degree, but programs differ slightly between countries.

Historically the LLM is associated with Anglophone (English-language) university systems such as the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In these countries the LLM is an academic Masters degree, as described on this page.

LLM degrees and their equivalents are also offered in other higher education systems, worldwide:

  • In Europe the LLM is being recognised by the Bologna Process. Its status and purpose can vary however. Some countries award their own Masters-level Law qualifications. These may be academic programs (similar to the LLM) or they may form part of a professional training process.
  • In Asia the LLM is becoming more popular as universities adopt common western degrees. Most of these programs are academic, rather than professional.

Studying an LLM abroad

As an academic degree, the LLM is often highly transferrable. Whereas professional qualifications tend to relate to specific judicial systems, the legal theory studied on an LLM can be more widely relevant.

This makes the LLM an attractive option for postgraduate study abroad. Some programs take extra advantage of this by focussing on global topics such as international business, tax or human rights law.

The LLM – international variants

The traditional LLM degree is an Anglo-American qualification. Other countries may award their own Masters degrees in Law and these may have slightly different titles. Generally, if a program awards an academic Masters rather than a professional qualification, it will be equivalent to an LLM.

Who should study an LLM?

Though you may assume that an LLM has limited use outside of Law, the academic focus of these programs can make them surprisingly flexible.

At its core a Master of Laws offers you the opportunity to acquire advanced understanding of legal theory – and to pursue highly specialised aspects of it.

This may be valuable if you are:

  • Considering a career in Law – Combined with appropriate professional qualifications, an LLM can make you more attractive to law firms and other recruiters. Specialised courses can also allow you to enter branches of legal practice for which more general candidates may not be as well equipped. If you know that you wish to become a solicitor or barrister – and have the time and resources to complete an additional degree – an LLM can be a good investment in your career.
  • Looking to specialise in legal practice – You don’t need to be a fresh graduate in order to study a Master of Laws. Many students on LLM programs are already qualified solicitors or other legal professionals. Returning to postgraduate study can allow you to branch out into different areas of legal theory and practice, or ‘upskill’ yourself in preparation for more senior roles. LLM courses typically offer part-time or distance learning options to suit working professionals.
  • Using legal expertise in another profession – Solicitors and barristers aren’t the only professionals who regularly deal with legal issues. Many other organisations employ staff to deal with aspects of the law that impact upon their business or practices. For example, you might work in tax law for a large corporation or in human rights law on behalf of a charity. LLM courses can offer specialised training in these and other areas.
  • Interested in the academic study of legal theory – Your LLM doesn’t have to have a specific professional outcome. The study of legal theory, philosophy and history can be an interesting and important subject in its own right. An LLM is the perfect way to explore it. Like other Masters degrees it could also prepare you for a PhD - and perhaps an academic career.

Choosing the right LLM

Individual LLM programs are often designed with particular candidates in mind. Some are intended for qualified practitioners, looking for advanced training. Others are research programs, focussing more on academic legal theory. Some extended LLM courses even include professional bar training as well as advanced academic work. You can use our course listings to browse and compare different LLM programs.

What’s it like to study an LLM?

LLMs are usually taught courses (though some research programs are available). They follow a similar format to other Masters degrees such as the MA and MSc.

You’ll complete a series of individual modules on particular topics before proceeding to an extended research and dissertation task in the final part of your course.

Some programs will specify the modules you need to complete. This is likely if your course is more specialised. Others may allow you to choose from a range of options, according to your interests.

Teaching methods will include discussion-group seminars, lectures and practical workshops or case studies. As with other Masters degrees you’ll be expected to supplement course timetable with independent reading and analysis.

Assessment will normally be in the form of written coursework assignments. Examinations are unlikely for academic programs, but may be required if your LLM has a professional training component.

How long is an LLM?

A full-time taught LLM normally requires 1 year of study. This will involve two teaching terms, followed by a period of time for your dissertation.

Part-time and distance learning LLMs will often be longer, with courses up to two years.

Some full-time courses can also last longer than a year. This can be due to additional course content. For example, if your course combines the LLM with another component (such as a professional Law or Bar Practice qualification) its course length will reflect this. Some research-based LLMs are also longer

How many credits is an LLM worth?

LLMs are treated in the same way as other Masters degrees when it comes to credit weighting. This means that a full Master of Laws will normally be worth 180 CATS credits in the UK.

European LLM programs will use the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System and be worth up to 90 ECTS credits.

What is involved in an LLM dissertation?

Your LLM dissertation will require you to research and write a thesis on a legal topic of your choosing.

This could involve solving issues involved in professional practice, comparing different judicial systems or using case studies and legal theory to reflect upon each other.

You’ll be assigned a supervisor to guide your research, but will be responsible for planning, managing and completing the task using your own initiative and expertise.

LLM dissertations are normally examined as written work, but some courses may include an oral defence of your findings and conclusions.

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Last updated - 23/02/2016

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