The LLM (a popular abbreviation for Master Of Laws, derived from its Latin name, Legum Magister) is not the only postgraduate option in law, but it offers students greater opportunities for specialisation than many alternative programmes. The LLM allows its course attendees to focus on an aspect of law that is of particular interest to them; for instance, a student might specialise in Criminal Justice or Human Rights Law during their Master Of Laws. However, the LLM also caters for a more rounded approach, as students can undertake broader law studies throughout, often in addition to their examination of a specific subject.
The LLM is offered in a number of universities throughout Ireland. For instance, University College Cork offers four kinds of LLM: LLM Research, LLM General, LLM Criminal Justice and LLM E-Law. However, opportunities for specialisation go beyond just selecting one of these options, as all four are sub-divided, to afford students an even greater range of choices. This is particularly true of the LLM General: a student could take a human rights specialisation, or a commercial specialisation (to take two random examples) within this programme.
Specialisation can be a double-edged sword: focussing on a particular area of law may make an individual extremely attractive to practices operating solely within that sphere. However, it can also narrow a student’s job possibilities, as their best career opportunities may lie exclusively within a single area (while a more generalised qualification would lead to equal job opportunities in most/all areas of Law). It is for this reason that UCC favours a mixture of specialisation and generalisation in their LLM programme. ‘The extent to which specialisation is attractive for employers can depend on the nature of the employer,’ explains Dr. Mary Donnelly, Director of the LLM Programme at UCC. ‘For example, a human rights-centred NGO will welcome a specialisation in human rights. But sometimes more general employers – like a solicitor in general practice – may welcome a student with a broad range of subjects. This is why we offer both specialisations and the broader approach: so that students can adapt both to their own interests, and to the market place which is of most of relevance to them.’
Matthew Broadstock, a postgraduate who completed an LLM course in Trinity College Dublin, echoes these sentiments. He specialised in the areas of EU Law and Public International Law, including a subject that focussed on EU VAT Law. This is the area he has been practising in subsequently – within a London Law Firm – though he accepts that specialisation has not been an advantage for every position he has applied for.
‘In my experience, employers do not place too much emphasis on specific subjects studied in an academic setting, as the application of law can differ significantly in practice,’ explains Broadstock. ‘Having said that, there is definitely an advantage when applying for a specific role, or attempting to qualify into a particular area in a solicitor's firm, if you already have an academic foundation in the area. It allows you to develop the practical skills required more quickly.’
There are a number of other Irish universities in which students can pursue an LLM postgraduate. The National University Of Ireland, Galway, for instance, offers a range of intriguing options in this area. Students can specialise in areas such as International Human Rights Law, Peace Support Operations and International Criminal Law. In addition, there is an interesting cross-border LLM option, provided in conjunction with Queen’s University Belfast’s School Of Law. Students spend one semester in Galway, and one in Belfast, undertaking either an LLM in Human Rights, or an MSSC/LLM in Human Rights and Criminal Justice.
University College Dublin also offers an LLM programme, which is completed over the course of one year, in a full-time capacity (although there is also an option to take the course over two years, part-time). Like in University College Cork, there are opportunities both to specialise, and to take a broader approach. For those interested in specialisation, there is the possibility of securing an LLM (European) or an LLM (Commercial); these qualifications can be achieved by taking a specified number of modules in European or Commercial Law, while also completing a dissertation within the prescribed area.
So, what job opportunities are open to students, upon completion of their LLM? According to Dr. Mary Donnelly, there is a limitless supply of possibilities available to successful Master Of Laws graduates.
‘Some – possibly the majority – proceed to professional training as solicitors and barristers,’ says Dr. Donnelly. ‘Others choose from the increasingly broad range of options available; for example: legal researcher with law reform agencies and NGOs, or work within the public service, and the financial services. Others opt for further training: perhaps going down the PhD route, which has become more common in recent years.’
However, Matthew Broadstock offers some words of caution on this subject: an LLM does not provide a great deal of practical, hands-on experience. Rather, it provides a base, which postgraduate students must work hard to build upon in their occupations.
‘The hands-on, practical elements are not something you would expect to receive training in during an LLM,’ Broadstock explains. ‘This is taken into account by the manner in which lawyers are trained; they require a period of practical, on-the-job training, subsequent to completing the academic training. I found my study of EU VAT Law was a useful foundation, which I quickly built upon with practical experience.’
So, the LLM provides a great opportunity for students to focus on a subject that is of particular interest to them. Once they have secured their qualification, they may pursue a career in this preferred field, while still retaining the ability to branch out into other areas of the law.
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