TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, March 29, 2010

Will a Tax LL.M. Cleanse a 4th Tier, Bottom of the Class J.D.?

New York Law Journal, Advice for the Lawlorn:
QuestionI graduated from law school last summer. I went to a fourth tier school and graduated near the bottom of my class. ...  When I came back to my hometown, I took a few LLM classes as a non-degree student at a top tier school and got good grades. I think that if I try to get an LLM at this school I will do very well and graduate with high grades. My question is, will it be worth it for me to get an LLM? I was thinking about getting one in either Tax or International Trade. But I am hesitant about taking on more law school debt. I am also worried that once I graduate with the LLM, law firms will not care much about it and focus solely on my JD performance.

Answer:  Everything really depends on what you want to do with all of those degrees.

If you are hoping to become an associate at a BigLaw firm then taking on more debt is, more than likely, going to be a waste of your time and money. You are absolutely correct that the major AmLaw 100 and 200 law firms will not care that you have an LL.M., even if you intend to specialize in the practice of tax law. ... Even in the best of job markets, the LL.M. is not something that ameliorates a poor law school transcript. ...

With your bottom of the class standing from a tier four law school, you need to be realistic about where you should be applying. ... [I]f money is not an issue, go ahead and get your LL.M. from that top-ranked law school. Although nothing is going to mask where your J.D. was earned or what your grades were, if you can walk away with those high grades you are predicting, that certainly will be to your credit if you do eventually decide to practice tax law or work in an area involving international trade.

One major piece of advice – I would stay in the job market around your law school. A tier four law school is generally a regional school and graduates of those law schools do best when they apply to the local law firms and attorneys.

For our 8-page discussion of this question, see Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree: Why and When? 20-27 (Mar. 24, 2010) (with Jennifer M. Kowal & Katherine Pratt (both of Loyola-L.A.)).  Here is what we say in the introduction to that discussion:

Some prospective Tax LLM students consider a Tax LLM degree as a way to improve their resume β€” to become more competitive for tax jobs. Sometimes a prospective Tax LLM student has attended a lower-tier law school and would like to have a school with a higher ranking at the top of her resume. Sometimes a prospective Tax LLM student is hoping for a second chance to earn high grades, having discovered an aptitude for tax law at some point in law school. In addition, prospective Tax LLM students sometimes hope that attending a well-known Tax LLM program will offer access to interviews (including on-campus-interviews) with employers that would not interview the student without an LLM.

Here we distinguish between two different types of prospective Tax LLM students: (1) prospective Tax LLM students who have a genuine interest in and aptitude for tax and want to develop additional tax expertise to improve their chances of being hired for a tax position to which they aspire; and (2) prospective Tax LLM students who do not have a particular interest in and aptitude for tax, but assume that a Tax LLM degree from a prestigious Tax LLM program will rehabilitate less-than-stellar JD credentials and improve their chance of obtaining a job at an elite, big firm. Based on our experience, the former type of prospective Tax LLM students should apply to Tax LLM programs, but the latter type should not. Tax LLM classes are rigorous and demanding. For many employers, both JD grades and Tax LLM grades are extremely important. A prospective Tax LLM student who is not genuinely interested in tax is not likely to do well in Tax LLM classes. In addition, the potential resume boost from successful completion of a Tax LLM degree is greatest when applying for tax-specific positions.

Legal Education, Tax | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Will a Tax LL.M. Cleanse a 4th Tier, Bottom of the Class J.D.? :


re: the paragraph with "One major piece of advice"

Amen to that!! So many students are focused on US News (which doesn't even rank LLM programs) or message boards (which, like all unmoderated forums is just thread after thread of opinion, not fact) that they lose sight of the fact that the best program for them may actually be local/regional.

Posted by: Jobless LLM | Mar 29, 2010 4:40:03 PM

Let me offer the end all, be all of tax LL.M. advice from someone who actually HIREs tax LL.M.s:

If you ain't got a job, you ain't gonna get one...and if you are a recent J.D. grad considering an LL.M. for purposes of getting a job, cut your losses, post your J.D. on Craig's List, and apply at you local grocery store...It's truly that bad out here.

Tax LL.Ms are only worthwhile for those already employed who want to enhance their advancement where they are, or those who want to learn more about what they already do...

Don't be fooled folks! Oh, and if it ain't NYU, don't pay a dime for it or you deserve the misery coming your way...

Posted by: Bob | Mar 29, 2010 5:44:11 PM

You can read all the message boards and articles about getting an LLM that you want. The sad truth of it is that Bob is right. I went to a fourth tier JD - graduated top 5%, law review, law review board member, etc. I also went to NYU for an LLM in tax as did my friend. We graduated in 2008. He is still unemployed and I am working in a job unrelated to the practice of law. Oh yea... and, the loans are due.

My advice - do not go to law school right now. And, if you have gone to law school, my advice is don't get an LLM even from NYU.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 30, 2010 6:08:58 AM

Thanks for the honesty Bob.

I graduated from NYU with good grades and my morning activity consists of scouring job postings, in vain. But at least we have the internet now. I can't imagine how much paper I would have wasted applying to jobs in the old days.

Posted by: anon | Mar 30, 2010 6:10:28 AM

NYU Tax LL.M. alumni should note that there are a range of career services available.

If alumni are in the NY area, we also host a number of events that provide good networking opportunities. For instance, several thousand NYU alumni were recently emailed an invitation to our annual NYU/KPMG lecture on April 22, "U.S. International Tax and VAT Reform – Evolution or Revolution?" Six hours of NY CLE and plenty of opportunities to meet fellow alumni.

The tax policy colloquium also has four more Thursday afternoon talks coming up in the next few weeks if you can make it over in the afternoon. Again, a good opportunity to make some connections.
-John Stephens, Dir., Graduate Tax Program, NYU School of Law

Posted by: John Stephens | Mar 30, 2010 8:48:33 AM

To John Stephens

Ha ha...the old networking/connections non-sense. That nebulous, emorphous career services safe harbor that shifts the burden back on the student to "get out there" otherwise, they are to blame for their situation.

KPMG lecture? Give me a break - it'd take an NYU grad half a century to pay of his debt on a Big4 salary. Tax Colloquim? Please. Snooty professors sitting around critiquing each others papers, and none of them have practiced for years.

Convinent, but the gig is up.

Posted by: Bob | Mar 30, 2010 9:59:30 AM

WTF attorneys getting jobs- Here is how you get a job- You are an attorney open up your own firm get your own job. The LL.M will help you get jobs-not a "job". I did this right after law school because unemployment was 10.8% (more then today)and in fact made a lot more $$ than my fellow "employees"-Think "employer". Be the "Boss". The public does not care which school you went to-(this is only for the top 100 law firms who follow the "policy of exclusion"). Many are located in NYC. Five years after I graduated I went to NYC and took their clients.-Learn to "make effective presentations". Clients look for competency and service and intangibles not found in law school grades. Now I assume you have other talents other then being a "glorified clerk", if not the road may be rough ahead.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Mar 30, 2010 10:12:57 AM

I'm finishing up my tax LLM this May, and then I'm heading back home to work. I arrived at NYU without a job, and, thanks to networking efforts in the last three months alone, I have one offer and I'm waiting to hear back from another firm. Both jobs are in my target market. I would not have gotten in the door at either firm without the LLM because that is the level of sophistication that these firms need.

Even if these firms did not hire me, my fall back plan was to work for myself. After all of the work I have done at NYU, I am in much better shape to do so. No, I don't know absolutely everything about tax law, but I have enough of an edge on most lawyers that I will be able to get work.

If you want to boo-hoo about no jobs for NYU LLMs, go right ahead. I'm not going to join you.

Posted by: NYU Tax LLM '10 | Mar 30, 2010 11:16:26 AM


The point is that NYU is unrivaled as the best tax LL.M. program in the country, bar none, and jobs aren't guaranteed anymore, but are still very possible. Similarly, a few years back, a J.D. from Penn, Cornell, etc. was a ticket into Big Law. Not the case any more, but it is still very possible. After these schools, though, it's pretty hopeless. Hell, practicing law at all becomes pretty unlikely once you get into the 40s.

With respect to the other tax LL.M. programs (and J.D. programs) out there, faculty, administrators, and advisors on college campuses need to be clear, honest and unequivocal, though it undermines their own livelihood.

Prof Caron's article sort of makes the point, but could have done so much more forcefully.

Posted by: BB | Mar 30, 2010 12:50:44 PM

TO NYU Tax LLM '10:

No one cares.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 30, 2010 6:02:46 PM

Bob's comments are worth about as much as you can throw a SUV. First of all, I know John Stephens (and I don't care if this "outs" me), but he is not only a damn nice guy, but he is a straight shooter. Anyone who thinks networking is useless obviously has the wrong friends. Um, isn't that how everything worked in the last administration? (It wasn't what you know--Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court; Alberto Gonzales speaks for himself). Networking will get you more jobs than any degree can.

An LL.M. is a CREDENTIAL, NOT a COSMETIC. If you went to a sh*tty JD (i.e, 3rd or 4th tier, and anything under 50 unless you were a real superstar at that 51-100) or a good one and got sh*tty grades, no LL.M. is going to cover that up.

As someone who interviewed and was involved with the hiring of numerous young lawyers for over a decade: yes, an LL.M. matters in tax; yes, where you got it matters too; yes, how you did and where you went for JD also matters; but networking is worth more than all of the above. I will never forget the guy who not only got an interview (after initially being passed over for an interview) because a former colleague spoke up for the guy, and that the guy got the offer even though he might not have had the best interview or best resume because a person's word, or should I say a person who you trust and value their opinion, goes a lot farther than a degree or a piece of paper.

And for the Bobs and bitters out there, let me toot my own horn. I have lots of friends who are tax lawyers. When young tax attorneys came to me for advice, I'd often send them to those people and that worked out pretty well for them. I also had people call me about people I worked with. I will never say anything negative about a person unless it is absolutely necessary (so rare I have only done it once and what I said was something like "I don't say negative things about other people, but if I did this person would be one of those people"), and I never say anything that I cannot stand behind. I stick my neck out for no one, but at the same time can put them in contact with people and honestly say to those people, should they ask, "I don't know about their work product but he or she is nice [or insert some similar adjective here]." And if I have something good to say, I will.

There is someone out there, who reads this blog, and may read this comment, and know who he is. That guy thanks me for my help virtually every time I see him, talk to him, or email him. And I tell him that he got what he deserved because he worked for it and he did well and that he doesn't need to thank me anymore. But he still does. And he is a great guy, and he is going to be great at his new job.

And when he says to me that he would be where he was if it wasn't for me, I tell him that's not true or something like that. But, it IS true. And he IS right. And he is where he is now, to bring this full circle, because of John Stephens who told him to talk to me. And because John knew me and I knew John, this guy is not only going to have a great career, he is gonna be great at it too. And if this guy had not gone to NYU, and had not talked to John Stephens, and had not talked to me because John Stephens told him to, and if he hadn't said "John Stephens told me to talk to you about this" maybe he would be where he is going anyway. But networking sure did not hurt this guy any.

Posted by: tax guy | Mar 30, 2010 7:41:00 PM

Tax guy,

When are you going in for the surgery to have your lips removed from John's butt? Obviously you did not graduate from an LLM program in 2008 or 2009. I would even bet my paycheck (and yes I am working) that you never attended one single class at NYU. I guarantee it. No, you have gotten a sh*tty tax LLM from Georgetown.

What us "bitter" people are talking about is the promises that NYU makes to get you to drop $50,000 on tuition. When you have dropped $50,000 at NYU come back and make a posting. Until then, keep your love for John to yourself.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 31, 2010 4:27:40 AM

To out myself a little more. I graduated from a J.D. in the mid 20s-30 in the mid 90's and went to NYU right after. Over half my JD class was unemployed at graduation, and many LLMs from NYU did not get jobs or had to settle for jobs "less" than what they wanted. So, yeah, its been a long time, but when I moved out of my apartment after JD and the new guys were moving in (and starting that fall at my now alma matter) my roomate and I both said, you better get on law review and have an A- average if you even want to get an interview.

That was the market I was in. So no boo hoos for you. This is not the only time the market sucked.

And I am shocked that Paul allowed a personal attack on a known person. attack me, my ID is a nom de plume. Attack John, he is a real person. It is just not right.

Posted by: tax guy | Mar 31, 2010 7:49:25 AM

I am an LLM in taxation and I have have had a good run in the tax world. It afforded me the opportunity to be an annuitant at this point in my life. I would remind everybody that tax is not for every one. Tax knowledge is useful in many aspects of a law practice, However, an LLM is not a magic wand. In strong job markets, I have seen the LLM afford opportunities to candidates with poorer JD credentials. In this bad market, I would not go for an LLM unless I were truly interested in taxation.

Posted by: TheNJannuitant | Mar 31, 2010 12:20:06 PM

Since it seems that there are only diametrically opposed viewpoints on the issue of getting an LLM in this economy, would anyone care to try and be more non-partisan? I have taken every tax course my law school offers (ranked b/w 30 and 40), am an editor on law review, and have a decent class rank. I am obviously interested in tax law and want to practice in the Southeastern US. Is applying to UF a good idea considering its the region and practice area I wish to be employed in, or should I keep applying for jobs with only my JD (which will be obtained in 2 months in the Midwest)?

Posted by: Curious | Mar 31, 2010 10:33:23 PM

Anonymous wrote: "Tax guy, * * * I would even bet my paycheck (and yes I am working) that you never attended one single class at NYU. I guarantee it. No, you have gotten a sh*tty tax LLM from Georgetown."

I wrote (in the very next post without even seeing the part about the paycheck): "To out myself a little more. I graduated from a J.D. in the mid 20s-30 in the mid 90's and went to NYU right after."

Anon, its been 5 days and I still have not received your paycheck. Doubt it is worth more your words, thoughts, ideas, and conclusions. But I do need some spare change to give my kids to put in their piggy banks.

And if you still want to be snarky and tout your employment credentials, the better my pocket will be lined.

If you are too ashamed to out yourself and send me a check, I can work with you to accept payment by visa/mastercard via pay pal.

And I will take you at your word--I don't need to see a pay stub. And although it is unclear whether, as a betting man so sure of and keen on his winnings, you were betting your gross (if you were so confident, then it would have been gross) or net paycheck.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Tax Guy

p.s.: I you are unwilling to take me at my word and want to see my transcript, degree, or other evidence I am fine with that too. But to date myself a little, I took the Colloquium when Bradford and Shaviro taught it. Prof. Bradford's death was tragic, and of course he was irreplaceable, but I've heard that it just isn't the same course without him--no disrespect to the others who have taught it with Shaviro; but he and Bradford had chemistry too.

Posted by: tax guy | Apr 4, 2010 10:50:43 AM


It is fair to say that generally there are only diametrically opposed viewpoints on the issue of getting an LL.M. in this, or any, economy, and where to get it.

You are from a good school (30-40), Ed. on law review, took all the tax classes, and I am guessing will graduate with honors. Key point: you are at a midwest school and want to work in the southeast. In most economies it is hard to make a "national/non-regional" move from a school outside the Top Ten (I know, the top 10 is like 15 schools). You will face questions like why are you coming to the southeast if you went to school in the midwest? If you were from the southeast and always wanted to be there, then the question will be "then why did you go to school in the midwest rather than the southeast?"

On a fortuitous plane ride back to college, I saw next to a student at the university's law school. The person told me that if you can't get into the top 10, then go where you want to work because that is where you are going to get a job (the alumni are there, you are perhaps at the best school in that area, etc.). I know this doesn't do you much good now, but my point is that you need to be prepared to answer that question regardless of whether you get an LL.M. or not and whether it is from NYU or somewhere else.

NYU is a national degree. Alums are everywhere, and everyone knows it is #1. When there are 1000s of colleges, people look to see the top 25; when there are about 200 law schools, people look to the top 10; when there are only a handful of Tax LL.M. programs, people look at #1 and may be willing to consider someone who went locally (usually going locally part-time is better that full-time, in my opinion). Part of the reason G'town is considered above the chaff is that its graduates get good jobs. Many are part-timers who have jobs and on top of that the local market is DC--a center for tax lawyers.

UF is a fine program. The profs and courses offered are good. But UF is a regional market school, not a national one. So, it depends how far away in the southeast you intend to go. For example, if you are trying to go to N.O. NYU MLTN better than UF. UF is probably strongest in FL, GA, and AL. Beyond that, I am not sure. But I know many friends who went to N.O., Nashville, Charleston, and Charlotte from NYU.

Enough blathering on my part. Here's what you should do: contact UF and have them send you a list of where there students have gotten jobs in the last 2-3 years. I know that this will be part b/s marketing and promo materials. Call career services and be frank with them ("I want to work in X [be specific about what you mean by southeast]." Is it any confederate state? is it only certain cities? is it a particular state? ask them how many alums work there and how many got jobs there in the last 2-3 years. If you don't get an answer or get the run around, then you know what the answer is.

Definitely keep applying for jobs with only your JD. The worst thing that could happen is you don't get one. If you do, you can consider going to a local LL.M. program part time (not for prestige, not for credential, but for your own edification). Another alternative is to work a couple of years and then go for a LLM full time for 1 year. Your employer may even keep your job for you (but that is economy driven, as you know).

So that's that. Tried to be non-partisan. Here is what my partisan response: get a job with your JD or go to NYU--everything else is a waste of your time and money.

Posted by: tax guy | Apr 4, 2010 11:15:43 AM

I suggest you get your LL.M from "wherever U". Please read the books "Think and Grow Rich" and "How to win friends and influence people". Study the masters of success, most who do not have law degrees, including but not limited to Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Howard Schultz,Phil Knight, all who do not possess LL.M degrees from NYU. I was able to obtain as clients the Founder of Dunkin Donuts, the Chairman of Phillip Morris, the President of Bausch and Lomb, the founding family of Coca-Cola and others even though I obtained my LL.M from University of Denver. How do you do this? Ignore the naysayers and believe in yourself. None of these clients asked-Did you get your LL.M from NYU? Learn the language of business and provide products, services and solutions for them.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Apr 27, 2010 11:50:14 AM

More interesting news. If you look at the Forbes 400, no LL.Ms in the top 50. Sumner Redstone did receive a J.D. from Harvard, and Robert Rowley a J.D. from SMU, both cracked the top 50. Many had this distiguished credential...."dropped out". Perhaps the best indicator of success is where you dropped out of school.

Hope this is helpful.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Apr 27, 2010 12:20:19 PM

More tidbits-
Maurice "Hank" Greenberg of AIG fame went to New York Law school-not NYU.He appeared in the next 50. University of Denver, where I received my LL.M, was ranked in the top 7 in the U.S. in ethical students. Ethics? Does that count anymore?
My wife went to USC for her Masters in Tax. She also attended NYU for graduate studies in English-we both went to Oxford, but we are education junkies. My son went to Ga. Tech and Duke attending a PhD program in electrical engineering. I asked him about the law students at Duke. He said they carried aroung a huge amount of books, and the only thing larger than the amount of books he could see was their egos. Interesting observation. Perhaps education for the sake of being educated is worth something-

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Apr 27, 2010 1:46:11 PM