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Master of Laws
The Master of Laws is an advanced law degree that allows someone to specialize in a particular area of law. It is commonly abbreviated LL.M from its Latin name, Legum Magister. (For a female student, the expression is Legum Magistra.)
In order to become a lawyer and practice law, a person must first obtain a basic law degree. This degree, called a Bachelor of Laws (or Juris Doctor in the United States), is a generalized course of study that exposes students to a wide range of topics. It is designed to give a student the basic skills and knowledge to become a lawyer. As there are many required courses, it is difficult to focus on a particular area of law.
If a person wishes to gain specialized knowledge in a particular area of law, they can continue their studies in an LL.M program. The word legum is the possessive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "specific 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.
In most countries, lawyers are not required to hold an LL.M degree, and many choose not to obtain one.
Types of LL.M degrees
There are a wide range of programs available worldwide, allowing LL.M students to focus on almost any area of law they choose. 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. Other common programs include environmental law, human rights law, commercial law, and intellectual property law.
Many 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). This degree may or may not qualify the foreign lawyer to practice in their host country. Some countries prohibit non-citizens from gaining admission to the bar regardless of their educational background.
The United States is a mixed case. Two states, namely New York and California, allow foreign lawyers to gain admission to the bar once they have completed their LL.M. The others require a J.D. in order to take the bar exam. It is interesting that most states categorically will not allow a lawyer with only an LL.M. to practice, because New York and California are generally viewed as having the most rigorous bar requirements. The ban on LL.M. practice applies even to lawyers who have practiced for years in New York or California and would therefore be knowledgeable of U.S. law. One possible explanation for the differential treatment between J.D. holders and LL.M. holders is xenophobia, as lawyers holding an LL.M. but not a J.D. generally are foreigners who received their first degree outside the United States.
LL.M programs are usually only open to those students who have first obtained a basic law degree. Thus it is an advanced degree for persons who are already lawyers, not for those persons wishing to become lawyers.
LL.M programs usually last one year. LL.M programs are varied in their graduation requirements. Some programs require students to write a thesis, others do not. Some programs are research oriented with little classroom time, while others require students to take a set number of classes.
In the United States, the basic law degree discussed above is called the Juris Doctor. Persons in the United States who obtain a LL.M sometimes do so after they receive their Juris Doctor. Thus they receive their Doctorate degree first and their Master's degree second, which is the reverse of how these degrees are typically awarded. This is because the basic law degree in the United States was originally called the Bachelor of Laws, abbreviated as LL.B. Though some U.S. law schools had granted the Juris Doctor to graduates holding a bachelor's degree, it wasn't until the late 1960's that the American Bar Association approved the change for all of its affiliated law schools. However, the LL.M name was never changed, resulting in a situation where a Master of Laws degree is actually a more advanced degree than a Juris Doctor for American-educated lawyers.
Most people who earn LL.M degrees in the United States, however, are in fact foreigners who earned their foreign law degree overseas. As nearly all countries except for the United States train their lawyers in undergraduate institutions (giving the traditional name for the basic law degree, the LL.B), these graduates generally have a total of 5 years of education: 4 in their home country as an undergraduate, and 1 in the United States as an LL.M. American-educated lawyers generally have a total of 7 years of education: 4 as an undergraduate and 3 as a JD. Therefore, a LL.M. usually represents less educational achievement than a JD, although a LL.M is earned after a JD, but a greater degree of achievement in legal education.
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