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The Master of Laws is an advanced academic degree, or research degree (as opposed to a professional degree in law, such as the Juris Doctor), and is commonly abbreviated LL.M. (also LLM or LL.M or M.L., [in Tamil Nadu]) from its Latin name, Legum Magister. (For female students, the less common variant Legum Magistra may also be used.)

Background on legal education in common law countries

To become a lawyer and practice law in most states and countries, a person must first obtain a first law degree. While in most common law countries a Bachelor of Laws (or LL.B.) is required, the U.S. requires a professional doctorate, or Juris Doctor, to practice law.

If a person wishes to gain specialized knowledge through research in a particular area of law, he or she can continue his or her studies after an LL.B or J.D. in an LL.M. program. The word legum is the genitive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "of the laws". When used in the plural, it signifies a specific body of laws, as opposed to the general collective concept embodied in the word jus, from which the words "juris" and "justice" derive.

The highest research degree in law is the S.J.D. (or J.S.D., depending on the institution), and it is equivalent to the Doctorate of Philosophy in Law (PhD or DPhil depending on the law school in UK) or the Doktor der Rechtswissenschaften (Dr.iur.) in Germany. There are also variant doctoral degrees, such as the D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law) degree bestowed by McGill University in Montreal. Most schools require an LLM before admission to a SJD or a PhD in law degree program. Like the PhD, the SJD degree generally requires a dissertation that is graded (often by two graders), orally defended (by an exam known as Viva) and then often published as a book or series of articles.

"Doctor of Laws" (LL.D.) degree in the United States of America is usually an 'honorary' degree. The real research doctorate in the field of law in the United States of America is called "Doctor of Juridical Science" or in its Latin expression-"Scientiae Juridicae Doctor" (S.J.D.), which is the most advanced degree in the field of law in the United States of America.

International situation

Most countries do not require an LL.M degree to become a lawyer, and most lawyers choose never to obtain one. In fact, the education systems of most countries do not traditionally include LL.M. programs.

Historically, the LL.M. degree is an element particular to the education system of English speaking countries, which is based on a distinction between Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Over the past years, however, specialized LL.M. programs have been introduced in many European countries, even where the Bologna process has not yet been fully implemented.

Denmark and Switzerland requires a masters with an additional two years to become a lawyer. A person with "only" a LL.M is called a jurist.

In Finland an LL.M is the standard graduate degree required to practice law. No other qualifications are required.

To be allowed to practice law in the Netherlands, one needs an LL.M degree with a specific (set of) course(s) in litigation law. The Dutch Order of Lawyers (NOVA) require these courses for every potential candidate lawyer who wants to be conditionally written in the district court for three years. After receiving all the diplomas prescribed by NOVA and under supervision of a "patroon" (master), a lawyer is eligible to have his own practice and is unconditionally written in a court for life but he/she will need to continually update his/her knowledge.

Types of LL.M. degrees

There is a wide range of LL.M. programs available worldwide, allowing students to focus on almost any area of the law. Most universities offer only a small number of LL.M. programs. One of the most popular LL.M. degrees in the United States is tax law, sometimes referred to as an MLT (Master of Laws in Taxation). Another developing area is bankruptcy law and environmental law. Some law schools allow LLM students to freely design their own program of study from the Law School's many upper-level courses and seminars, including commercial and corporate, international, constitutional, and human rights law. In Europe LL.M. programs in European law are recently very popular, often referred to as LL.M. Eur (Master of European Law). Other common programs include environmental law, human rights law, commercial law, intellectual property law, information technology law, estate planning (as a sub-specialty of tax), international law, maritime law, trial advocacy and insurance law. Some law school offer innovative LL.M.'s in concentrated courses such as Prosecutorial Sciences. One particular Prosecutorial Sciences program is open only to active prosecutors with at least five years experience. Space and Telecommunications Law is one type of LL.M. offered and is only offered by one school in the United States. Some LL.M. programs, particularly in the United States, focus on teaching foreign lawyers the basic legal principles of the host country (a "comparative law" degree).

Moreover, some programs are conducted in more than one language, give the students the opportunity to undertake classes in differing languages. Most LL.M. programs require a thesis.


LL.M. programs are usually only open to those students who have first obtained a degree in law. There are exceptions to this but an undergraduate degree or extensive experience in a related field is still required. Full-time LL.M. programs usually last one year and vary in their graduation requirements. Most programs require students to write a thesis, some do not. Some programs are research oriented with little classroom time (similar to a M.Phil.), while others require students to take a set number of classes (similar to a taught degree or M.Sc.).

LL.M. degrees are often earned by students wishing to develop more concentrated expertise in a particular area of law. Pursuing an LL.M. degree may also allow law students to build a professional network. Some associations provide LL.M. degree holders with structures designed to strengthen their connections among peers and to access a competitive business environment.


In Australia, the LL.M is open to law graduates. However, while the majority who enroll are legal practitioners, this is not a prerequisite for entry. The shortage of graduate program/articles places has resulted in some LLB graduates proceeding directly to an LL.M course prior to seeking graduate employment.


In the United Kingdommarker, an LL.M programme is open to those holding a recognised legal qualification, generally an undergraduate degree in Laws or a CPE. They do not have to be or intend to be legal practitioners. An LLM is not a sufficient qualification in itself to practise as a solicitor or barrister, since this requires completion of the Legal Practice Course, Bar Vocational Course, or, if in Scotland, the Diploma in Legal Practice but is an opportunity to gain specialist knowledge of a particular area of law and/or an understanding of the legal systems of other nations. As with other degrees, an LLM can be studied on a part-time basis at many institutions and in some circumstances by distance learning.

Some institutions allow those without legal qualifications onto their LLM programme although there are still minimum educational requirements, such as an undergraduate degree, or evidence of substantial professional experience in a related field. Examples of such institutions include the University of London External System which has been offering LLM studies to both LLB and non-law graduates since 1925 [54511],the University of Edinburgh (LLM degree by distance learning [54512]) and the University of Leicester [54513]. In addition, Queen's University offers an LLM suite, accessible to legal and social science graduates, leading to specialisms in sustainable development, corporate governance, devolution or human rights.Northumbria University offers an innovative approach to an LL.M qualification to students starting the Masters programme as undergraduates. Students completing this four year programme graduate with a combined LL.M and Legal Practice Course professional qualification.


In Indiamarker, the thrust of legal education is on the undergraduate law degrees with most of those opting for the undergraduate law degree either going forward to enroll themselves with the Bar Council of India and start practicing as Advocates or giving legal advice without being eligible to appear in courts (a consequence of non-enrollment). Similar to the United Kingdom, a Masters degree in Law in India is basically opted to specialize in particular areas of law. Traditionally the most popular areas of specialization in these Masters degrees in law in India have been constitutional law, family law and taxation law.

However with the established of the specialized autonomous law schools in India in 1987 (the first was the National Law School of India Universitymarker) much emphasis is being given at the master's level of legal education in India. With the establishment of these universities, focus in specialization has been shifted to newer areas such as intellectual property law, international trade law etc.

United States

The LL.M. programs in the United Statesmarker have many unique characteristics.

In the U.S., legal training is a professional doctorate program. The first professional degree for law in the U.S. is the Juris Doctor (J.D.). Admittance to a J.D. program at an American Bar Association-accredited institution usually requires a bachelor's degree.

Admittance to an LL.M. program at an ABA-accredited institution requires a law degree—usually a J.D., but also the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree if the lawyer was trained in a Commonwealth country which grants such degrees.

This leads to the unusual situation in which graduates from a U.S. institution are required to possess a doctorate before pursuing the master's degree, since there is no other first law degree in the United States. This seeming paradox has a logical historical basis: previously, U.S. law graduates obtained an LL.B. (in effect, a second bachelor's degree, after receiving a bachelor's degree to gain entry to law school in the first place) in order to qualify to take the bar. Yet, when the federal government instituted pay based, at least partially, on the level of terminal degree, lawyers were paid only at a bachelor's-level salary. So that lawyers could be paid on par with other professional-school graduates, law schools supplanted the LL.B. with the J.D., in the process hurdling the LL.M.

As the first graduate academic degree in law in the U.S., seeking an LL.M. is common for potential law professors. While usually not a requirement for becoming a tenured professor, many professors hold an LL.M.

An LL.M. degree from an ABA-approved law school also allows a foreign lawyer to become eligible to apply for admission to the bar (license to practice) in certain states, such as New Yorkmarker.

Various states have different rules relating to the admittance of foreign-educated lawyers to state bar associations.

New York allows foreign lawyers to sit for the New York bar exam once they have completed a minimum of 20 credit hours (usually but not necessarily in an LL.M. program) at an ABA-approved law school involving at least two basic subjects tested on the New York bar exam. In addition, foreign lawyers from civil law countries have to present that they attended at least three years of law studies in their home countries. Lawyers from common-law countries face more lenient restrictions.

Californiamarker allows students who have not completed a three-year legal degree program in United States law (or, in very rare circumstances, an apprenticeship) to sit for its bar exam after completing an LL.M. in comparative law from an ABA-approved law school.

As of 2008, there is one non-ABA approved LL.M. (in international law) offered by a non-law school (The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacymarker at Tufts Universitymarker).

See also


  1. University of Edinburgh, School of Law. PhD Programme and Other Research Degrees. Accessed June 23, 2008.
  2. Government Decree on University Degrees (794/2004) section 31. Candidate of Laws was the pre-Bologna name for the graduate degree. [1]
  3. Code of Judicial Procedure (4/1734) chapter 15 section 2. [2]

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