Law Students

What Does an LL.M. Get You That a J.D. Doesn’t?
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Summary: Juris Doctorates are a required degree for an attorney but a master of law degree is not necessary for most attorneys.

A juris doctorate, a necessary degree for those wishing to be an attorney, except in a few states that allow those to join a state bar association who have completed a legal apprenticeship. What many may not realize is there are additional degrees that can further an attorney’s education and credentials, such as a master of law degree, according to U.S. News.


An LL.M. degree is also valuable for those that earned their law degree outside the U.S. Most bar associations require individuals to have a law degree from a U.S. school so an LL.M. can fill the requirement. Pursuing an LL.M. degree is not the right choice for everyone though. For many, it’s unnecessary and does not advance their legal career. To know if it is the right path for you, learn the difference between the two degrees.

J.D.’s prepare individuals to practice law. An LL.M. advances their training. Generally, those in law school to obtain a J.D. have little to no experience with the law. They are receiving their first introduction to practicing the law and all the skills and training required. Those pursuing an LL.M. are either foreign-trained attorneys or J.D. recipients mastering the skills of a specific practice area such as tax law. As Christopher W. Smithmyer, University of South Florida-St. Petersburg faculty member, said, “If you’re deciding to get an LL.M., you don’t do it for general practice.”

LL.M. take more of a theoretical approach than a J.D. since the students already have basic legal skills. J.D. courses focus on teaching the law and how to apply it while LL.M. courses focus on legal theory. Smithmyer explains that LL.M. programs challenge students in their understanding of the law and how the laws can be changed.

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An LL.M. can help an attorney stand out in specific practice areas where there are greater regulations such as environmental law. In these kinds of practice areas, the LL.M. gives the attorney credibility to clients and others in the industry. Stetson University College of Law professor Charles H. Rose III said, “LL.M. programs allow a student to focus on a particular area of study, developing a degree of expertise in a compressed period of time that would otherwise take years of practice and certification programs to achieve. In most jurisdictions, advanced LL.M. degrees are also approved as a credential that an attorney can use in their advertising.”

LL.M.’s are an optional degree. Former military lawyer Lt. Col. Michael Gilbert explained, “With few exceptions, LL.M.’s are completely unnecessary in light of what experience will each. Even my LL.M., it was an admission ticket to a government job. Most of the classes I was required to take were of very little value compared to what I learned in my first case in the new area of law.”

LL.M. programs require more rigorous coursework, including a thesis. Anna Urman was pursuing an LL.M. but did not obtain the degree because she did not complete a thesis. She said in an email to U.S. News, “Personally, I would not recommend pursuing an LL.M. straight out of J.D., but rather gather some real world experience first – because unlike a law school, where graduation requirements are to pass classes and take tests, the LL.M. program requires a thesis that must be defended. Because I pursued an LL.M. right after J.D., right after college, I didn’t feel that I had anything substantive to contribute – to pose a question, to build a thesis around, that would be relevant to a ‘real world’ practice of law, something more than just reading what others wrote and extrapolating my opinions.”

In some instances, an LL.M. can help an attorney make up for poor grades or attending a lower-ranked law school. They have the ability to shine in the program and turn their newly acquired skills into a selling point.

Do you think LL.M. degrees are worth it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about LL.M. programs, read these articles:



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