From the perspective of a recruiter there are four main reasons why candidates choose to study an LLM:
1. They have a genuine, long-term interest in the subject matter.
2. They have no idea what they want to do next in their career, so it's a way of killing time.
3. They have poor previous academics and want to “prove” themselves at a higher level.
4. They have secured employment in the distant future/have been deferred and want to continue to stretch themselves academically.
LLMs and employment
Candidates choosing to do an LLM believing that a higher academic status will translate into training contract offers need to think wisely before starting the qualification. Relevance is key: the LLM must be specific to the core practice areas of your preferred firms. Otherwise, apart from challenging you academically for a year and using a large amount of your own cash, you are unlikely to see any real gain from the LLM in terms of actual offers, making it potentially worthless.
Let’s take a look at a case study: Embarking on an LLM in Family Law in the hope that it will increase your chances of securing a training contract with a firm like Trowers & Hamlins would have little impact on your application; Trowers & Hamlins doesn't have a family department, nor are they likely to gain one in the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, taking an LLM in International Law would sit favourably with them as it shows a genuine interest in a subject relating to one of their core practice areas. This is not to say that a candidate with a relevant qualification will come bounding out of the doors of their preferred firm clutching that elusive offer paperwork. Even if the LLM is valuable to your future employer, it must sit alongside a stellar application. Then there's assessment centre/interview technique to consider but that's another story.
The LLM as a last resort?
Candidates considering an LLM because they aren't really sure what else they should do to strengthen their applications should also consider the other options. There are many other ways to “buy time” and decide what to do long term. Charity projects, paid employment in law or otherwise are obviously more cost effective solutions. That's not to reject the idea of an LLM completely but there are other opportunities to consider before plunging further into academia.
Improving your academic record
It is becoming more commonplace to see candidates with a poor academic record, either at A Level or degree level, choosing to complete an LLM to “prove” to future employees that they can succeed academically. In theory this may seem like a good idea. However, in practice there are a large proportion of firms who will not consider less than 320 UCAS points or a 2.1 at degree level, even if a candidate has blinding results on an LLM.
My advice to candidates in this position would be to carefully examine their options and triple check as to whether their previous academic record will instantly block them from applying to their favourite firm even with the LLM.
The final group are those waiting for a year or two before starting their training contract because of deferrals or any other reason. An LLM can be a great way to keep the mind active and to build up in-depth academic knowledge of an area of law. If the firm have provided you with a deferral payment, check that it falls within their stipulated conditions. If yes, feel free to enjoy another year of life as a student!
This article may seem slightly anti-LLM, which is not intended to be the case. In a jobs market where there has been a significant increase in competition for training contracts, candidates do need to be focused. They need to consider every decision that they make and weigh up the pros and cons of each option. Expanding your knowledge is never a bad thing, but give serious consideration to the reasoning behind your decision.