Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

LLM: Lawyers Losing Money

American Prospect LogoThe American Prospect:  LLM: Lawyers Losing Money, by Bryce Stucki:

To critics, the degree is little more than a scam making extra cash from attorneys desperate to burnish their credentials in a brutal legal job market. ...

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, the LLM was a marginal degree aimed primarily at foreign students and a few American lawyers looking for specialized knowledge in areas like tax law. An LLM is not necessary to work as a lawyer, no member of the Supreme Court holds one, and successful pursuers of the Master in Laws will end with more education than most of their professors. Since LLM candidates take the same courses as JDs, students earning a first degree in law, they require little overhead. LLM students often pay the same tuition as JDs and rarely receive financial aid. Schools are not required to report any job stats for LLM graduates, meaning students cannot investigate either the salary or nature of the work a typical graduate from the program can expect to land. LLMs also cannot hurt a school’s U.S. News ranking since their qualifications aren’t disclosed, meaning schools admit less-qualified applicants into their LLM programs. In the context of the massive threats to revenues law schools are now facing, it’s easy to see why the degree referred to by critics as a “cash cow” is growing in popularity at schools around the country. Although LLM students comprise less than 7% of law school enrollments, the total number of LLM degrees has risen 65% in the past decade, including, since the financial crash, an abundance of new programs aimed at U.S.-trained lawyers, such as Nebraska’s LLM in space law or NYU’s in environmental law. Given the lack of data and their generally poor reputation with big law firms, most lawyers and law students who’ve heard of the degree tend to view non-tax LLM programs as cash grabs. ...

Since schools must now be transparent about employment numbers, many are seeking to maintain revenues by lowering their admissions standards and venturing further into what Paul Caron, a visiting professor at Pepperdine University calls the “unregulated wasteland” of the LLM. The ABA does not require schools to publish employment figures for LLMs and does not plan to. Law schools are still free to disseminate these numbers but the few that do, such as New York University and Northwestern, often release stats that are not up to ABA standards for JD outcomes. To critics, the lack of transparency is strikingly familiar to the opacity surrounding JD employment numbers pre-2012.

“The lack of data tells you something,” says Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the book Failing Law Schools. “Certainly if they were paying off quite well, schools would be advertising that.” Despite the lack of data, critics are quick to question the value of an LLM—“LLM stands for Lawyer Losing Money,” says University of Colorado-Boulder professor and frequent law school critic Paul Campos. Even tax, often considered an exception to the bad-LLM rule, may be losing its luster in a weak job market flooded with more and more LLM grads every year. “It’s almost a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of attitude,” says Caron, an expert in tax law who has co-authored guides for selecting a LLM program in tax [Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree: Why and When?; Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree: Where?]. “It’s a shame there’s not more information available.” ...

Despite the downsides, LLM programs continue to grow. And while many U.S.-trained LLM students are professionals looking to improve their skills who continue to work at their current jobs, a significant, and likely increasing, number are either fresh out of law school or victims of underemployment. They may see an LLM program as a good place to network or to improve their credentials if their JD is from a lower-ranked school, no matter what the cost.

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The Big4 accounting firms, and some other CPA firms too, often pay for good employees to get specialized training such as LLM. It is typically on a reimbursement basis. For instance, student always pays the school upfront, then employer reimburses at 100% of tuition for A grade in a course or 80% of tuition for a B grade in a course. You have to admit it's very appealing to obtain an additional credential when your employer is picking up most of the costs, especially if you know you're going to be with them for a while so you won't get stuck reimbursing the employer.

Posted by: Value of LLM | May 10, 2013 9:21:27 AM


Judging from all of the international studies, I'd say the foreign students are better at math than the Americans and realize what a great value a U.S. law degree is.

They aren't fooled by the shoddy 'studies' and yellow journalism that unfortunately are given an uncritical platform on this blog.

Posted by: Anon | May 9, 2013 2:03:14 AM

I love it. Caron quoting Stucki quoting Caron!

Posted by: Anon | May 8, 2013 4:59:56 PM

MCLEs cost as little as 20 dollars per hour of credit in California (and you can get many MCLE credits for free) and you need to earn 25 MCLEs in a 3 year period of time. So you're suggesting that a JD would pay $40,000 per year for an LLM to get MCLE credits that he or she could obtain for less than 1/100th of the cost in terms of money (and in far less time than it takes to complete an LLM)? Additionally, a robust MCLE/practical training market already exists. For example, PLI offers a number of courses and seminars on legal skills that are far less expensive and far more practical, and also count for MCLE credits.

Posted by: ... | May 8, 2013 4:13:31 PM

Though Stucki's point about the need for more information disclosure is well-taken, it makes no sense to blur the "general LLM" (in which most foreign students enroll) from the specialty LLM. When Stucky writes "Since LLM candidates take the same courses as JDs," he is wrong. I earned my LLM (Taxation) taking LLM courses. I teach in a Graduate Tax Program that has dozens of LLM courses, a few of which are open to select JD students.

Posted by: Jim Maule | May 8, 2013 2:56:15 PM

Yet the first solution every school seems to have is to expand LLM programs, especially to foreigners. It's almost fantastical thinking, based on the underlying assumption that these prospective students will never be able to see (ahead of time) what a terrible financial decision they are making.

The scariest part of the whole law school bubble/crisis/collapse is the degree of surprise and resentment that faculty and administrators are showing in response to the fact that so many individuals that are not cut out for law school are choosing not to go. That letter to the NYTimes by the Case Western dean epitomizes this point.

For so many professionals (and non-professionals), guiding the next generation so that they experience success is the ultimate satisfaction. How is it that with this one particular field, the gatekeepers just abuse and feed off of the young entrants? [just look at the recently published salary info] Instead of a mentor-mentee relationship, it is a parasite-host relationship.

Posted by: JM | May 8, 2013 12:26:57 PM

The post leaves out one factor that may play into the cost of an LLM by a traditional US lawyer. Almost all states have Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. And many of these have carry over provisions, so that credits earned in one year may be carried over to later years, or they may have window periods....x number of CLE hours within 5 years, for example. The LLM classes will almost always count as MCLE credits, and with the carry over or window periods, may satisfy the LLM candidate's MCLE requirements for several years, enabling him/her to get advanced training and also satisfy MCLE requirements.

Posted by: Ralph Brill | May 8, 2013 10:30:23 AM