What is a "Master Of Laws" degree?

While reading the thread on the use of the title “Doctor”, this question occurred to me.

Is it an honorary degree, or some other kind of genuine law degree? I thought the standard degree was the JD. What could I do with a Master Of Laws degree?

At my own graduation ceremony at UCLA, a handful of these degrees were passed out, but most law grads there get the JD.

I’ve understand the LL.M. degrees are for people from outside the U.S. studying the law or for other holders of graduate degrees who want an advanced degree in law. Most schools seem to have different requirements for this degree.

Some schools also offer a real high falutin SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science), which is primarily aimed at students from countries outside the U.S.

In addition to international students, LL.M. degrees are offered for lawyers (J.D. holders) who want to focus in a specific area. The most common is probably taxation. To its J.D. students a law school may offer two or three tax law classes. In order to receive an LL.M. in tax, you must complete about twelve courses in tax. There are LL.M. programs covering other substantive areas as well.

The UK version:

A Law Degree is (normally) a three-year course in the UK. If you originally graduated in a non-Law subject there is also an additional one-year ‘conversion’ course to take. Then, depending on whether you want to become a Barrister or Solicitor, you take the appropriate one-year vocational post-grad course. Then you move into supervised, on-the-job-training before finally qualifying. That’s the basics

A Masters Degree is an additional course of one or two years that is optional, primarily research based and targeted at an area of law in which you have a particular interest. You’d normally take it either before or after the vocational year. Looks good on the resume and can be very useful if your chosen area of practice is a little tricky.


Degree Abbreviations
LLM = Master of Laws
MCJ = Master of Comparative Jurisprudence
MLS = Master of Legal Studies
MCL = Master of Comparative Law
JSM = Master of the Science of Law
JM = Master of Jurisprudence
SJD/JSD/DJS = Doctor of the Science of Law
DCL = Doctor of Comparative Law

To find opportunities for in-depth specialization or comparative legal study, foreign-trained lawyers should look to US graduate law programs. Short-term training programs offered by US law schools can also provide appropriate options for international lawyers and advanced law students.
About one-third of the law schools approved by the American Bar Association offer graduate degree programs. Most law schools will consider admitting graduate applicants who have earned the equivalent of a JD in countries other than the United States, though some programs with a specific focus on US systems do not. Many others require knowledge of a system that is based in English common law (also known as civil law).
In the US, graduate law degrees are various permutations of the LLM, the MCL and the JSD. These degrees are post graduate to the JD which is after the undergraduate degree. The LLM is a one-year Master’s degree for American lawyers and for foreign lawyers and/or law graduates from common law countries. The MCL is a one-year Master’s degree for civil law lawyers and graduates. The JSD is a doctoral degree, and generally law schools will only consider candidates for a JSD if they already have an LLM degree from that same law school.
The most appropriate programs for foreign lawyers are the Master of Comparative Law (MCL) and the Master of Comparative Jurisprudence (MCJ). Recognizing that legal systems in many other countries differ from common law as practiced in the US, these programs acquaint lawyers from other countries with US legal institutions and relevant specialties of US law. Another possibility is the Master of Laws (LLM). During the period of study, foreign lawyers receive opportunities to observe courts and governmental agencies in the United States. Law schools arrange for foreign lawyers entering graduate study to attend an orientation to American law given by:
The International Law Institute
1920 N Street, N.W., Suite 430
Washington, DC 20036 (202) 223-2602

In general, higher graduate law students are qualified lawyers with several years experience. Some law schools will not consider applicants who do not have a law degree, even though they may be qualified to practice law in their own country. Other American universities do not require a law degree as long as the applicant is qualified to practice in a common law country and, in some cases, has a few years of post-qualification experience. American law schools do not usually give financial aid to foreign students for post-graduate study.
A Master’s degree in law requires one academic year of course work and usually a thesis. Courses are normally selected from the curriculum leading to the first American law degree, the JD, with additional seminars designed for advanced graduate students only. Students may specialize in any area of law in which the university provides courses, or they may choose not to specialize. Some areas of specialization are energy law, environmental law, banking and finance law, intellectual property law, and maritime law.
Generally, but not always, the LLM is geared towards students with a Common Law background, while the MCJ or MCL is intended for students with a Civil Law background. Students are urged to consult law school catalogs for complete information on the programs offered at each institution.
Doctoral programs in law are generally intended to prepare graduates for academic careers. They most commonly award the Doctor of Juridicial Science (SJD) or Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD). There is no difference between the courses of study required for these two degree titles.
It is difficult for a foreign-educated lawyer to gain direct admission to a US doctoral law program. Some schools admit only those students who have already completed that particular school’s master’s program in law. All are likely to expect the equivalent of a master’s degree in law to have been completed somewhere. Exceptionally strong academic and professional work are required.
The minimum residence requirement for doctoral programs in law is usually one academic year. The remainder of the program involves independent research working toward the dissertation, which may take one to three more years. Most programs also require an oral examination.

In the States, my understanding is that an LLM in general areas of law (contract or tort) looks good but is pretty useless in terms of competitive edge. Certainly in my field (trial law) an LLM is superfluous. And in academics, an LLM is not sufficient, except as a stopping point on the way to getting a Ph.D. in law. (Just as a professor in another field probably needs not just a Masters but a Ph.D. to succeed.)

That said, LLMs are a good idea, and in some cases are almost required, for certain specific areas of law – notable taxation. All the lawyers I know who aspire to do high-level tax work have done the fourth year’s work necessary for the LLM in Tax, and some tax firms will not hire attorneys who do not have an LLM. I believe that admiralty is another highly specialized area in which an LLM is desired, but I could be wrong. I do know that people desiring to do comparative international law (an extremely narrow field) will often go to the US (if from the UK) or the UK (if from the US) – or to India or Japan or wherever – to get an LLM and learn about the law in that other jurisdiction.

It’s a bit confusing because a Masters in other fields is usually a first graduate degree you can get after completing undergraduate work. In law, the first (and usually only) graduate degree is the JD, and a Masters comes after that. In other fields, a Masters usually requires three years of course work and/or field work and a thesis or masters examinations. In law, because the US-conferred JD degree already represents three years of course work and exams, the Masters can be obtained (usually) by an additional one year’s specialized study, and a thesis or exams (usually a thesis).

I’ve often thought I would love to go to the UK for a year and get my LLM, but I since it’s so unnecessary to what I do, I can’t seem to justify or rationalize the expense, no matter how hard I try. :slight_smile:

Just to clarify: in the UK, the first degree in law is (IIRC), the LLB. The LLM is the “extra” as London_Calling said.

Since I hold a couple of LL.B’s and an LL.M., I thought I’d chirp in.

The historical sequence of degrees in England was LL.B., LL.M., and the LL.D. - Bachelor, Master and Doctor of Laws, respectively. However, that logical sequence has been disrupted.

The LL.D. long ago became an honourary degree. For real work, it’s been replaced by either the JSD or DCL, as King Rat mentioned.

In the United States, the LL.B. was replaced with the J.D. (“Juris Doctor”) when the powers that be decided to make it a graduate degree (i.e. - you could only apply if you had a bachelor’s degree of some sort, like a B.A., B.Sc., etc.)

However, in Canada and England, and I believe other Commonwealth countries, the LL.B. is still technically not a graduate degree. You can, in theory at least, be admitted to the LL.B. program without a prior degree. For example, in the common law provinces of Canada, you need at least two years of university work, but technically you don’t need a degree (as a matter of practice, few students get in who don’t have a previous degree, but it’s not required). In Québec, you can get into the law program out of CEGEP, and in England straight out of the equivalent of high school.

That leaves the LL.M. As stated, it can be an opportunity to specialise in a particular area of law, or it can be a stepping-stone to the doctorate program - the University decides to take you on for one year and see how you do, before admitting you to the doctoral program.

Hey matt, just out of interest have you got one ?

Jodi - you could do it via ye olde computer but I guess that pretty well defeats the object.

As an aside, it is actually quite a good idea here to begin with a non-law degree and then do the conversion course. Having a sound background in, for example, chemistry or languages can stand you in good stead further down the road.