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 Doctorate of Philosophy in Law (PhD or DPhil depending on the law school in UK) or the Doktor in Rechtswissenschaft (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 LLM 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 a 'honorary' degree. The real 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 and equivalent to a Ph.D. in other fields.
No country requires an LL.M degree to become a lawyer, and many 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.
There is 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. 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, trial advocacy and insurance law. Chapman University School of Law, in Orange, California, offers an innovative LL.M. in Prosecutorial Sciences. Open only to active prosecutors with at least five years experience, this first of its kind program was reviewed and received " acquiescence" from the ABA in 2007. Some LL.M. programs, particularly in the United States, 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 (e.g. LLM in Europa-Institut in Saarbruecken, Germany, were students have the possibility of undertaking courses in German and/ or English). Most LL.M. programs require a thesis.
LL.M. programs are usually only open to those students who have first obtained a first degree in law . There are exceptions to this but an undergraduate degree or extensive experience in a related field is still required. Full-time LL.M. programs usually last one year and vary in their graduation requirements. Most programs require students to write a thesis, some do not. Some programs are research oriented with little classroom time (similar to a M.Phil.), while others require students to take a set number of classes (similar to a taught degree or M.Sc.).
LL.M. degrees are often earned by students wishing to develop more concentrated expertise in a particular area of law. Pursuing an LL.M. degree may also allow law students to build a professional network. Some associations provide LL.M. degree holders with structures designed to strengthen their connections among peers and to access a competitive business environment.
In Australia, the LLM is open to law graduates. However, while the majority who enroll are legal practitioners, this is not a pre-requisite for entry. The shortage of graduate program/articles places has resulted in some LLB graduates proceeding directly to an LLM course prior to seeking graduate employment.
In the United Kingdom, an LLM programme is open to those holding a recognised legal qualification, generally an undergraduate degree in Laws or a CPE. They do not have to be or intend to be legal practitioners. An LLM is not a sufficient qualification in itself to practise as a solicitor or barrister, since this requires completion of the Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Course, but is an opportunity to gain specialist knowledge of a particular area of law and/or an understanding of the legal systems of other nations. As with other degrees, an LLM can be studied on a part-time basis at many institutions and in some circumstances by distance learning.
Some institutions allow those without legal qualifications onto their LLM programme although there are still minimum educational requirements, such as an undergraduate degree, or evidence of substantial professional experience in a related field. Examples of such institutions include the University of London External System which has been offering LLM studies to both LLB and non-law graduates since 1925 , the University of Edinburgh (LLM degree by distance learning ) and the University of Leicester In addition, Queen's University offers an LLM suite, accessible to legal and social science graduates, leading to specialisms in sustainable development, corporate governance, devolution or human rights.
The LL.M. programs in the United States of America have many unique characteristics. In the U.S., legal training is a professional doctorate program, therefore the first law degree in the U.S. is the Juris Doctor. Admittance to a LL.M. program at an American Bar Association accredited institution requires a law degree. The degree can be a professional degree, such as a Juris Doctor, or a bachelors law degree such as a LL.B. from a commonwealth country. This leads to the unusual situation in which graduates from a U.S. institution are required to possess a doctorate before pursuing the masters, since there is no other first law degree in the U.S. However, the LL.M. is an academic program, and the J.D. is a professional program, therefore they cannot be placed in a hierarchy, since they are two different programs. The J.D. requires a B.A., so U.S. law students must obtain two degrees before obtaining a LL.M. Also, for law students educated in the U.S., the LL.M. is the first academic law degree.
As the first graduate academic degree in law in the U.S., the LL.M. is commonly part of the path for those who wish to become law professors. While the LL.M. is not a requirement for becoming a tenured professor, many professors hold an LL.M.
An LL.M. degree from an ABA-approved law school also allows a foreign lawyer to become eligible to apply for admission to practice in certain states, such as New York. With regard to admitting foreign-educated lawyers to state bars, the United States has disparate rules. Two of the larger states, New York and California, take different paths. New York allows foreign lawyers to sit for the New York bar exam once they have completed a minimum of twenty credit hours (generally, within an LL.M. program, but not necessarily) at an ABA approved law school involving at least two basic subjects tested on the New York bar exam. In addition, foreign lawyers from civil law countries have to present that they attended at least three years of law studies in their home countries. Lawyers from common law countries face more lenient restrictions. California, on the other hand, allows students who have not completed a three-year legal degree program in United States law (or, in very rare circumstances, an apprenticeship) to sit for its bar exam after completing an LL.M. in Comparative Law from an ABA approved law school. The culmination of the two must equal four years of legal study. Other states are similar to California in requiring an LL.M. to be taken by foreign lawyers in order to take the bar exam.
As of 2008, there is also an LL.M. in international law offered by a non-law school, namely the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.