Definition of Master of Laws
The Master of Laws is an advanced academic degree, pursued by those holding a professional law degree, and is commonly abbreviated LL.M. (also LLM or L.L.M.) from its Latin name, Legum Magister. (For female students, the less common variant Legum Magistra may also be used.) The University of Oxford names its taught masters of laws B.C.L. (Bachelor of Civil Law) and MJur (Magister Juris), while the research masters is named either MPhil (Master of Philosophy) or MSt (Master of Studies).
Background on legal education in common law countries
To become a lawyer and practice law in most states and countries, a person must first obtain a law degree. While in most common law countries a Bachelor of Laws (or LL.B.) is required, the U.S. requires a professional doctorate, or Juris Doctor, to practice law.
If a person wishes to gain specialized knowledge through research in a particular area of law, he or she can continue his or her studies after an LL.B. or J.D. in an LL.M. program. The word legum is the genitive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "of the laws". When used in the plural, it signifies a specific body of laws, as opposed to the general collective concept embodied in the word jus, from which the words "juris" and "justice" derive.
The highest research degree in law is the S.J.D. (or J.S.D., depending on the institution), and it is equivalent to the Doctor of Philosophy in Law (PhD or DPhil depending on the law school in UK), Doctorat en Droit (in France), or the Doktor der Rechtswissenschaften (Dr.iur.) in Germany. There are also variant doctoral degrees, such as the D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law) degree bestowed by McGill University in Montreal. Most schools require an LL.M. before admission to a SJD or a PhD in law degree program. Like the PhD, the SJD degree generally requires a dissertation that is graded (often by two graders), orally defended (by an exam known as Viva) and then often published as a book or series of articles.
"Doctor of Laws" (LL.D.) degree in the United States of America is usually an honorary degree. The research doctorate in the field of law in the United States of America is called "Doctor of Juridical Science" or in its Latin expression-"Scientiae Juridicae Doctor" (S.J.D.), which is the most advanced degree in the field of law in the United States of America.
Most countries do not require an LL.M. degree to become a lawyer, and most lawyers choose never to obtain one. In fact, the education systems of most countries do not traditionally include LL.M. programs.
Historically, the LL.M. degree is an element particular to the education system of English speaking countries, which is based on a distinction between Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Over the past years, however, specialized LL.M. programs have been introduced in many European countries, even where the Bologna process has not yet been fully implemented.
Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Switzerland require a Master's with an additional two to five years to become a lawyer.
In Finland an LL.M. is the standard graduate degree required to practice law. No other qualifications are required.
To be allowed to practice law in the Netherlands, one needs an LL.M. degree with a specific (set of) course(s) in litigation law. The Dutch Order of Lawyers (NOVA) require these courses for every potential candidate lawyer who wants to be conditionally written in the district court for three years. After receiving all the diplomas prescribed by NOVA and under supervision of a "patroon" (master), a lawyer is eligible to have his own practice and is unconditionally written in a court for life but he/she will need to continually update his/her knowledge.
In Mauritius, to be able to practice as a lawyer, only a bar is required, and the latter can start exercising after that. However, those doing a degree in Law and Management can also become a lawyer, provided that they undertake a conversion course after their degree, and after which their bar. Even an LLM is possible for those students.
Types of LL.M. degrees
There are a wide range of LL.M. programs available worldwide, allowing students to focus on almost any area of the law. Most universities offer only a small number of LL.M. programs. One of the most popular LL.M. degrees in the United States is tax law, sometimes referred to as an MLT (Master of Laws in Taxation). Another developing area is bankruptcy law, banking law or financial services law, and environmental law. Some law schools allow LL.M. students to freely design their own program of study from the Law School's many upper-level courses and seminars, including commercial and corporate, international, constitutional, and human rights law. In Europe LL.M. programs in European law are recently very popular, often referred to as LL.M. Eur (Master of European Law). Other common programs include environmental law, human rights law, commercial law, intellectual property law, information technology law, estate planning (as a sub-specialty of tax), international law, maritime law, litigation and dispute resolution, trial advocacy and insurance law. Some law schools offer innovative LL.M.'s in concentrated courses such as Prosecutorial Sciences. One particular Prosecutorial Sciences program is open only to active prosecutors with at least five years experience. Space and Telecommunications Law is one type of LL.M. offered and is only offered by one school in the United States. Some LL.M. programs, particularly in the United States, and also in China, focus on teaching foreign lawyers the basic legal principles of the host country (a "comparative law" degree).
Moreover, some programs are conducted in more than one language, give the students the opportunity to undertake classes in differing languages. Most LL.M. programs require a thesis.
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