U.S. LL.M. course selection guidance
Tips to make the most of your international U.S. LL.M. degree experience
Creating your LL.M. class schedule
LL.M. degree programs at some U.S. law schools allow students to create their own class schedule. This is a great benefit to incoming LL.M. students, but it can also be overwhelming.
Should you select classes based on which professors or visiting faculty intrigue you most? Should you focus on U.S. law specifically, or subjects that will prove more useful when working back home? Additionally, if you plan to take a U.S. state bar exam, there are U.S. bar exam requirements to think about.
Here are some tips to consider when selecting your LL.M. courses.
The number of course credits and timing matter
Generally, you need about 24 credits to graduate with a one-year LL.M. degree and achieve U.S. bar exam eligibility in most states. It may be tempting to load up on as many classes as possible in a single semester. That's ambitious, but not recommended. U.S. law school classes are demanding and require thorough preparation and a vast amount of assigned reading material to complete. Many students find that 12 credits per semester is a more realistic strategy.
Course registration usually opens about 2 to 3 weeks before the beginning of each semester. Start the registration process as soon as possible to have the best chance to reserve a spot in the most sought-after classes.
Understand class types
U.S. law schools have a range of class types, depending on the foundational and advanced nature of subjects, the scope of hands-on legal experience provided and the early preparation needed for topics that are usually tested on the bar exam. It's important to be aware of the frequency of each class you're considering - how often it's available each semester as you map out your credit hours.
These classes are mandatory for first-year U.S. law students (known as 1Ls): Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Legal Writing and Research. All of these subjects are also tested on the bar exam.
The Socratic Method and infamous "cold calls" by the professor are heavily applied during class discussions. Professors also assign a large amount of reading. Typically, the more credits a class offers, the more frequently it will meet.
These are usually smaller classes. More specific areas of law are taught ― Corporations, Professional Responsibility, Federal Income Tax and Employment Law, for example. Cold calls still exist but in a more relaxed setting with advanced notice. Credits for each course vary.
Legal clinics within a U.S. law school allow you to apply classroom knowledge to real-life legal situations. It's the chance to perform real-world legal work under the supervision of a faculty member or practicing attorney. This hands-on experience includes aspects of standard courses, such as classroom time and preparation, along with clinic work and client meetings. You'll receive between five to seven credits, so plan accordingly.
This is an opportunity for greater interaction and collaboration with smaller groups of students. Seminars cover specific subjects. Faculty usually post detailed descriptions well in advance of registration for the semester in which the seminar will occur. Be prepared to deal with assignments throughout the semester. Most seminars also require a substantial research paper.
Look to learn from top legal experts
Don't miss opportunities to attend classes taught by renowned law professors or visiting faculty from other countries and prestigious universities. They're usually top legal experts in their respective fields and likely have published a number of books, often used in class, in law schools throughout the United States. Just remember that these courses will likely be extremely popular among your fellow LL.M. and J.D. (Juris Doctorate) students. Plan ahead to register as soon as possible in order to secure a spot.
Check out evaluations
Try to investigate how a professor grades. Does he or she grade on class participation, exams, assignments and / or presentations? Check into course evaluations if available online or through the law school's academic support center. Course evaluations provide invaluable insight and give you extra information, so you know what to expect and if a course is really what you want to add to your LL.M. program schedule.
Research state bar exam requirements
If you plan to take a U.S. bar exam, choose LL.M. program classes that help fulfill eligibility requirements. Bar exam admission requirements vary from state to state. While some U.S. states such as New York and California operate a relatively open policy in permitting foreign law graduates or lawyers to sit their bar examinations, it's important to understand that completion of your LL.M. degree does not automatically guarantee bar exam eligibility.
Be mindful of the season and semester
For those courses that really interest you, keep a close eye on the law school's course listings and schedules. Make sure you know when any of the classes you want to take are offered (in the fall or spring semesters). Remember to keep in mind when that "famous" professor from another school or country will be teaching it.
Integrate side-by-side with J.D. students
Plan your LL.M. program courses so you can have greater interactions with J.D. students from different states, cities and backgrounds. Immerse yourself in the American culture and a true U.S. law school experience.