What American Universities offer for an LL.M. Degree

von Rachel Steinhaus

Choosing where to pursue your LL.M. can be a difficult decision. Should you continue your studies in Germany? Europe? Still further abroad? In addition to international experience, American universities offer different opportunities than German universities that can be real benefits both in your studies and in your future professional work.

Course Flexibility

American universities often offer a wider array of courses than the average German degree program. While an LL.M. is generally completed within a year, leaving slightly less time for experimentation, some programs have as few as two required, or Core Curriculum, courses. The rest of your program can be guided by your particular interests as you choose from an extensive list of elective courses. This can be a great opportunity to explore various aspects of the law or compare the German and American legal systems. At some universities, you may even be allowed to take a select number of courses outside of the Law School.

Of course, if you already have set plans and know what kind of law you would like to practice, there are more structured LL.M. programs available as well. Whether it’s Business Law, Immigration Law, or even something as specific as Gaming Law, there is likely a program out there for you.

Research Opportunities

U.S. universities are heavily involved in research and offer the opportunity for students to get involved, even at the Bachelor level. Many LL.M. programs allow for a certain number of credits to be awarded for directed research, in which you can select a topic of your choice and, under the supervision of a law professor, write a paper to present your findings. This allows you to dive further into your interests and looks great on your resume.

Full Service Studying

Universities in the U.S. tend to be more service-oriented than those in Germany. Academic advisors provide guidance on class selection, Career Centers can keep you on track for your future plans, and the Writing Center can help you to polish your academic papers in English. The U.S. also has strict rules requiring universities to make education accessible to all students, so students can register with Disabilities Services to arrange any accommodations they may need to be successful.

Of particular interest for International Students is the Office of International Student Services, who will make sure you maintain your visa status and get acclimated to the culture. If your school offers an orientation of any kind, take advantage! This will put you in touch with other international students, who are going through the same ups and downs of being away from home, and can be a great resource in fighting culture shock.

Some universities will even continue to serve you after you’ve finished your degree through alumni job portals or mentoring programs. Be sure to make yourself familiar with all of the services available to you so that you can make the most of your experience.

Campus Life

Life on an American college campus is never boring. No matter your interests, be it debate club, a cappella singing, or Quidditch, there’s probably already a student organization for you – and if  not, you can found it yourself! Joining a campus group is also a great way to meet new people and find your niche.

Many U.S. campuses are large enough to have their own movie theaters, bowling alleys, and of course local bar scene so that there’s always something going on.

School Spirit

American students are very proud of their university. Things like sports rivalries with local universities or homecoming celebrations are taken quite seriously. Getting involved in the traditions of your university, learning school cheers, and buying some university gear from the bookstore can help to make you feel a part of something bigger. It will also help you grow your network – the alumni network of your university and your law school can be a great resource to help propel your career.

Practicing Law in the U.S.

The Bar Exam is the rough equivalent of the 2nd Staatsexamen – you cannot practice as a lawyer in the U.S. until you’ve passed the Bar. Each U.S. state has their own exam and eligibility criteria, and passing only allows you to practice in the state in which you’ve taken the exam. If it is your intention to write the Bar or work in the U.S., a LL.M. can be a major asset. While nearly 30 states allow graduates of foreign law schools to sit the Bar, candidates must meet a very strict and ever-changing list of requirements and their previous education will be closely scrutinized and measured against the American system.

Having an LL.M. from an American university can make this process smoother as many states require a certain number of credits from an American law school. Those considering the Bar exam are encouraged to have their eligibility evaluated before even starting their LL.M.: this allows you to tailor your LL.M. courses to fill any requirements not already covered by your German law degree. Students are also advised to inform their academic advisor of their plans to sit the Bar as soon as possible, so they can help you to navigate the rather complicated process and suggest courses that will allow you to meet all eligibility requirements.

All in all, pursuing your LL.M. in the U.S. can be an excellent opportunity to expand your personal and professional horizons and offers a bit more flexibility and support than you may find with a German program.

About the author:

Rachel Steinhaus 
study advisor in the Education and
Exchange Department at the Amerikahaus
in Munich, has experienced both the American
and Germany university systems first hand

Quelle NJW 13/2019