As a lawyer, you have already been through a lot of formal post-secondary education, first as an undergraduate student and then in law school. Before you invest more of your time and money into yet another degree, you want to know that having a Master of Law degree will benefit you. You should know that, for lawyers in most situations, it isn’t a matter of choosing between the Master’s of Law degree and Juris Doctor (JD), but rather, weighing whether the specialized, theory-heavy coursework in a Master’s of Law degree will improve your career prospects. The answer depends on what you would like to do with your legal career.
The Difference Between a Master of Law and a Juris Doctor
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Earning your Juris Doctor degree was a vital step – arguably, the single most important step – toward becoming a lawyer. This education is the foundation that prepares you to practice law and qualifies you to sit for the bar examination. Master of Law degrees hold a different place in career training, especially for candidates who are already attorneys. On their own, these degrees will not allow you to become an attorney. Instead, they can help you delve deeper into advanced study of the law. This could mean immersing yourself in a specialization of legal practice, such as business and commercial law, intellectual property law, cybersecurity law, criminal justice and civil litigation. The curriculum of a Master’s of Law degree also places more emphasis on the theoretical underpinnings of law, as opposed to the skills and knowledge needed for professional practice, according to U.S. News & World Report.
There are different types of graduate degrees in law and legal studies, so it is important that attorneys considering going back to school choose the option that best meets their needs. Generally, established lawyers should look for a Master of Laws, or LLM, degree rather than a program with the title Juris Master (JM), Master of Science in Laws (MSL) or Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program, the Law School Admission Council reported. These non-LLM master’s programs in legal studies are interdisciplinary programs intended to provide non-lawyers with a legal foundation.
Both LLM programs and non-lawyer master’s programs in legal studies can often be completed in just one year of full-time study.
What a Master of Law Can Do for You
Generally, a Master of Law degree is optional. You can have a lifetime of career success as a lawyer in many different fields and work environments without ever feeling that you have missed out on an opportunity because you didn’t have a Master of Law degree. The exception is if you studied law and became a practicing attorney in a country outside of the United States and Canada but later decided to immigrate to these countries. The LLM is the typical step required for international attorneys to meet the qualifications to practice law in the United States and Canada. Barring this situation, pursuing your LLM is completely voluntary – but that doesn’t mean earning the degree isn’t worthwhile.
In the United States and across the globe, having your LLM degree is associated with a greater likelihood of being promoted to partner, particularly at large international law firms. It can also function as a stepping stone into certain competitive career roles, like government jobs, according to U.S. News & World Report. It may seem that an LLM degree is all about moving up to higher-level roles, but in fact, there are numerous reasons to consider an LLM program. If you have academic interests in the law, pursuing your LLM can offer you research opportunities that you wouldn’t have as an attorney engaging only in traditional legal practice. The curriculum specialization is what most appeals to many LLM students. You might choose to get your master’s degree so you can branch out into a new specialization that interests you or simply become more adept at handling cases in your current specialization.
Will you make more money by earning your LLM degree? This question remains a subject of debate. Salary reporting websites like PayScale report a difference in average salary as high as $45,000 per year between workers with their LLM and those with their JD. However, the site also reports an average wage for JD holders – $88,000 – that is much lower than the $120,910 median, or midpoint, wage reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Ultimately, while getting your LLM degree may improve your earning potential, the advanced degree is more likely to help you climb to high-paying senior-level roles than to increase your earning potential in and of itself.
A non-lawyer degree like a Master of Legal Studies can help professionals in many fields move into senior-level roles, such as senior contract negotiator, human resources manager, senior business analyst, compliance director and operations director.