Paul L. Caron

Friday, December 14, 2018

Is Getting A Tax LL.M. A Good Idea?

LLM 2Above the Law, Is Getting A Tax LL.M. A Good Idea?:

Many law students and even some experienced lawyers probably at one point considered getting an LL.M., a post-J.D. degree known as the Master of Laws. However, an informal acronym for the LL.M. is “Lawyers Losing Money.” This is primarily because the vast majority of LL.M.s do not provide better career outcomes to those who did not do well in law school while piling on an additional year of law school debt. Also, most LL.M. courses can be taken as a J.D. law student and experienced practitioners can learn the material in cheaper CLE presentations or from treatises and practice guides. Some LL.M. programs are so dubious that they are the butt end of jokes.

The one exception is the Tax LL.M. This is probably because the degree is very compatible since tax laws interact with just about every other law at some level. Also, tax laws constantly change, sometimes for the better, usually for the worse, so people think that there will always be work for tax lawyers. Finally, some firms highly recommend or even require a Tax LL.M. for their tax positions.

But not all Tax LL.M.s are created equal even though every program teaches the same tax code, IRS procedures, and similar tax planning techniques. Which means that where and the circumstances in which you got the Tax LL.M. can mean the difference between getting a respectable job and being stuck with one more year of unemployment with an additional $100,000 debt load.

So here, I will discuss what to consider before pursuing a Tax LL.M. degree. To make an informed decision, you need to figure out if tax is what you want to do and whether you will be a competitive job applicant upon graduation.

  • Do you even like tax? ...
  • Do you even like tax? ...
  • Your Tax LL.M. degree does not replace your J.D. ...

A Tax LL.M. can be a good investment depending on what you are expecting out of the degree. If you want it for the educational value, you may be able to get the same education at a cheaper price. But if you want the LL.M. solely to fluff up your résumé, you’ll need to find out whether you enjoy tax work, and what potential employers are expecting before enrolling in the fourth year of law school. In a future article, I’ll discuss how to choose a Tax LL.M. program.

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If you do more transactional tax work (as opposed to litigation), I'd say the LLM is worthwhile. You're unlikely to get such a concentration of tax education anywhere else. Plus, there are some positions that practically require the tax LLM, even if they are not traditional "attorney" jobs, such as with CCH, Thompson-Reuters, or Bloomberg BNA.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 18, 2018 3:58:31 AM

Publius, I agree. At Loyola, most of the LLM classes I took was in business transactions and M&A. I do mostly tax litigation and controversy and I learned most of it on my own.

Posted by: Steven Chung | Dec 14, 2018 1:57:51 PM

I have been working in tax litigation exclusively for over 40 years. In that time, I have interacted with LL.M. holders in many different scenarios, including as opposing lawyers, co-counsel, colleagues, in-house counsel, and prospective hires. The LL.M.s I have encountered came from top institutions (NYU, Georgetown, Florida), bottom dwellers (who will not be insulted by being named here), and everything in between. Never in those 40 years did I observe any difference between knowledge or skill levels of any of the LL.M.s from any particular institution, nor did I ever observe the fact of holding an LL.M. to make any difference in the lawyer’s performance. Perhaps an LL.M. adds value on the transactional side of the business, but I have never perceived any additional value in tax litigation. Full disclosure: I do not hold an LL.M. of any kind.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Dec 14, 2018 7:52:23 AM