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Law School Puppy Mills--Part 2

Vivia Chen

September 22, 2010

Fotolia_17319738_XS Psst--want a hot investment tip? How about legal education? No--I don't mean going to law school; that would be foolish. I mean investing in the business of legal education.

Since The Careerist started in May, I've been ranting about the proliferation of new, unaccredited law schools--and how they attract applicants, despite bleak job prospects.

But the established law schools are also in the game. Beside peddling that tired J.D., they're also selling LL.M.s.

"The number of LL.M. degrees conferred by American Bar Association-approved law schools grew by 65 percent between 1999 and 2009--far outpacing the 13 percent growth in J.D.s during the same period," reports The National Law Journal.

It all makes so much sense: If your J.D. didn't get you a job, just shell out more money for another law degree. What's another $40,000 debt when you're already in a six-figure hole?  Maybe a master of laws in some specialty, such as aquatic sports law or oenology antitrust, will finally land you that dream legal job.

You think I joke--but law schools offer a smorgasbord of LL.M. degrees these days. Besides tax, corporations, and international trade LL.M.s, there's also more exotic fare--like Duke Law School's entrepreneur LL.M., University of Kansas Law School's elder law LL.M., and University of Nebraska's space and telecommunications LL.M. (Who knew that Lincoln was on the cutting edge of space law?)

The point is that law schools are selling hope, and students are eager to buy it. "Advanced law degrees from prestigious schools have been viewed by graduates of lower-ranked law schools as a way to boost their resumes," reports the NLJ.

But the reality is that most LL.M.s don't really help. "With the exception of tax LL.M.s--which have been around longer than other advanced law degrees and are particularly relevant because of the highly specialized nature of tax law--the degrees don't necessarily set job candidates apart," reports the NLJ. "For our offices in the U.S., the only LL.M. degree that has much of an impact on our hiring decisions is a tax LL.M.," Jones Day hiring partner Gregory Shumaker tells the NLJ.

Not only are American J.D.s flocking to various LL.M. programs, but so are foreign lawyers who think that a comparative law LL.M. from a U.S. school will make them more marketable.

"If you're looking for an entry-level associate position in one of our U.S. offices, I am skeptical of the value of such a degree--particularly in this market, where so many students are simply extending their legal education because of the difficulty in finding a job straight out of a J.D. program," Shumaker tells the NLJ.

Judging by the growth of LL.M.s, though, the thirst for more law degrees seem unquenchable. So maybe we should stop criticizing law schools for being so profit-centric, and get in on the game. Personally, I can't wait for law schools to go public.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Related posts: "Law Schools Run Like Puppy Mills,"  "Another Christian Law School? Oy Vey."

Photo: Willee Cole / Fotolia.com


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The value of LLMs aside, this article makes me think of legal education in this country as being in the midst of a burgeoning bubble...fueled by the availability of student loans and the endless supply of twenty-somethings who conclude that their humanities/liberal arts degrees don't translate into decent income right out of college. This, combined with the sense that everyone else is doing it (i.e. going into student loan debt up to their eyeballs) along with the justification that they have their whole lifetimes ahead of them to pay it back...well, put it this way: many of them will one day have recurring fantasies involving time travel.

Like DB, not all of us who earn an LL.M. do so simply to get a "better" job. In my experience, most of my colleagues in the LL.M. in Environmental Law program at Lewis & Clark Law School and other LL.M. degreed professionals I know attended an LL.M. program because they were interested in further education in a particular area of law. My LL.M. colleagues were interested in environmental law and most J.D. programs only have one course in environmental law; one course was not enough for us. After earning my LL.M., I wrote environmental law for an Indian tribe and then began to teach. These jobs paid far less than I was earning as a lawyer in private practice! I could afford the LL.M. program because I'd already paid off my law school loans during my first decade of practicing law.

Perhaps the burgeoning number of LL.M. programs is due more to a general trend towards specialization in our society rather than law schools simply trying to "cash in" on a rough job market. Having been in academia for a decade (as well as continuing to practice law), I have learned that adding a new program takes several years of development, faculty support (believe me, it's extra work!), and significant funding. Necessarily, then, these programs don't develop overnight in response to a poor job market. Indeed, rather than being puppy mills, many LL.M. programs have developed international reputation because of the rigor of the program, a thesis requirement, and graduates taking jobs where they become policy-makers or teach and conduct research in the particular subject area.

Finally, to obtain a job in academia, earning an LL.M. demonstrates the commitment to learning and the necessary dedication to research that is required to be a member of the academy. The J.D. program taught me how to determine applicable law and how to practice law, but it most certainly did NOT provide the skills necessary to engage in the level of research required in academia or for policy-making. I am most grateful to my LL.M. program at Lewis & Clark for providing the depth and focus I enjoyed and needed for my career and to contribute to society.

Nebraska has two hardened communication centers that I know of. Not every state has 4 megaton hardened sites put in by the federal government.

Which is somewhat the nexus between Nebraska and the LLM, just fyi.

My LLM was earned in intellectual property law, which was simply not covered at the JD level at the time I was a student. I don't know that my view has changed since I did it. A JD program should teach what is needed for general practice and to pass the bar, but there are simply not enough credit hours that can be used to really learn a specialty subject. I've worked with good lawyers with IP "certificates" at a JD level, but they still don't have the depth -- it really takes another 16 - 20 semester hours. I wouldn't think that one should skip the JD level courses needed for the bar or general practice, so an LLM is still valuable in the right field.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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