Which Degree Program is Right for You?
If you are an international student it may be helpful to start by reading brief overviews of our JD, LLM, and JSD programs. You might also consider the following information, keyed to various employment options.
Teaching and research positions as students in law school. Many international applicants have experience teaching and/or working as research assistants in their home countries. Their immigration status in the US will permit them to be paid for part-time positions at the university while they are students. In most law schools, however, all of the teaching positions are either filled with full-time members of the faculty or adjunct faculty members who are judges or practicing lawyers. Teaching assistants are generally not used in law schools here. Students are sometimes hired by faculty members to assist with their own research projects. These positions usually go to current JD students rather than LLM students because the JD students know more about the US legal system. On occasion, a professor will be working on a project where an LLM student’s language or legal background in another country may be particularly useful.
Short-term Optional Practical Training (OPT) positions in the US. Under current immigration regulations, LLM students are permitted to remain in the country for approximately one year working in a law-related position following their graduation. These positions are usually with law firms, government agencies, or international organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank. Unfortunately, in recent years the number of these positions has declined as the market for lawyers has gotten smaller. In addition, law firms are often seeking lawyers from particular countries or with specific specialties. Experienced lawyers whose home-country employers work out employment arrangements with firms in this country generally have the most success finding these positions.
Although many of these positions are located in New York City and Washington, attending an LLM program in one of those cities appears to offer no advantage in obtaining one of these positions since the employers often use two January job fairs—open to students from schools all over the country—to interview candidates.
Long-Term positions in the US. Long-term positions (more than one year) for foreign-trained lawyers in the United States are extremely difficult to obtain because LLM students are competing for the same positions with US-trained JD students who have spent three years studying law in this country. An additional hurdle for non-U-S citizens: employers must sponsor them for a different immigration status and that process can be expensive. Foreign-trained lawyers who hope to obtain such long-term positions practicing law in the US are well advised to apply to JD programs rather than LLM programs or transfer to JD programs after receiving their LLM degrees (see below).
Long-Term positions outside the US. Many non-US employers and multinational firms contact US law schools looking for lawyers who wish to take positions abroad. They see the LLM programs as good sources of candidates who have already been “screened” by the schools’ selective admissions processes. A number of those firms also use the January job fairs to interview candidates.
Judicial clerkships in the US. Unfortunately, judicial clerkship positions at the federal level and in many states are only available to US citizens. Foreign-trained lawyers who are US citizens will be competing with JD students and graduates who have had much more exposure to US law, putting the foreign-trained lawyers at a distinct disadvantage.
Qualifying to take a state bar examination in the US. A few states—New York, Texas, California—permit LLM graduates to take their bar examinations. This permission comes at a cost, however. Often the states require that a larger portion of an LLM student’s academic program be devoted to what they consider “basic” elements of US law and practice. This means that LLM students who plan to take these examinations will wind up taking fewer courses in the more advanced areas of US law—areas where LLM students have often preferred to focus their study. As a consequence, prospective LLM students and their employers need to think carefully about how important it is for them to take these examinations.
Academic positions in and outside the US. Foreign-trained lawyers who are interested in returning to their own countries are generally familiar with the academic requirements there and often pursue the JSD degree (see below) at a US law school. Those hoping to have an academic career in the US should understand that schools tend to look for candidates who have published in refereed journals, taken a post-JD teaching fellowship or judicial clerkship, and can teach a variety of courses for JD students. These preferred qualifications, if not required by most US law schools, make it more difficult for foreign-trained lawyers to compete for positions with candidates who have more extensive US training and practice.
Applying to JD programs. Some prospective LLM students express interest in obtaining JD degrees, often because they hope to remain in the United States for an extended period of time. Because most states require a JD degree to qualify for admission to the bar, most individuals planning on a legal career in the U.S. must earn the JD to practice. The JD can make candidates more attractive to prospective employers in all states, including those that permit LLM graduates to take the bar exam. As noted above, however, even with a JD degree, immigration issues can remain a challenge for non-U-S- citizens.. Most US law schools will treat LLM graduates as transfer applicants for their JD programs, usually giving one year of advanced standing toward the three years required for the JD degree. Students considering this option should consult the transfer web pages of the schools where they have interest. Some schools will require the Law School Admission Test for applicants transferring from LLM programs. Other schools, such as Chicago, may waive that requirement for their own LLM students.
Applying to JSD programs. As with JD programs, interested LLM students should consult the JSD web pages of the schools where they might want to earn this degree. These programs tend to be very selective and generally only admit candidates with very strong academic backgrounds, enthusiastic faculty recommendations from their LLM professors, and proposals for dissertations likely to make a substantial contribution to legal scholarship.