Monday, March 29, 2010
Question: I 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 — 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.