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What is a Master of Laws?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Master of Laws is an academic degree that can be awarded by a post-graduate degree granting institution, such as a university or college. In the US, this degree is usually pursued by individuals who are interested in gaining extensive knowledge in a particular field of law, or by individuals who have legal experience in a different country and wish to gain an education in the laws of the US. A Master of Laws degree is pursued in the US by people who already have a doctoral degree in law, such as a Juris Doctor (JD), as opposed to many other master’s degrees that are usually received prior to a doctoral program.

Also referred to as an LL.M or LLM, for the Latin phrase Legum Magister, a Master of Laws degree is typically awarded after the completion of a master’s program. This type of program is often only one year in length and usually requires intensive training and a program that focuses either on coursework or research. The degree is usually awarded only after completion of a thesis paper that is then reviewed by other legal professionals before acceptance. In the US, a Master of Laws will usually be pursued and awarded to one of two different types of students: those interested in a specific legal field and foreign legal professionals.

American students who pursue a Master of Laws degree in the US typically focus on a specific area of law. Their studies usually involve extensive research and learning about this field, and the thesis prepared by a student in such a program is intended to contribute to the understanding of that field. There are a number of different specialized fields that can be focused on in a Master of Laws program, though in the US some of the most popular areas of study include tax law, business and entertainment law, and energy or environmental law.

Individuals with legal training in a country other than the US will often come to the US and pursue a Master of Laws degree in order to be acquainted with the legal practices of the US. This type of education can allow a foreign lawyer to work in the US legal system and can be beneficial for anyone looking to represent foreign citizens in US court cases. In other countries, a Master of Laws degree can be necessary to practice law in the first place, and this is usually used instead of a JD. These countries typically allow an LL.M to be pursued after completing an undergraduate program in law, rather than after completing a doctoral program.

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