Each U.S. law school should have a “master plan” that outlines the school’s mission, philosophy, strategic plans, goals and aspirations for the school and all its programs, including LL.M. programs. These documents might be called a “Mission Statement”, “Law School Philosophy”, “Strategic Plan”, “Law School Vision”, or another similar name. I will call them “Mission Statements”.
Likewise, each LL.M. program within each U.S. law school should also have an LL.M. Mission Statement exclusively for its LL.M. Program. The LL.M. Mission Statement should outline the LL.M. program’s aspirations, and outline promises to LL.M. students about what the school hopes to accomplish for itself and for you—its LL.M. students and graduates.
The LL.M. Mission Statement should be more focused than the general Mission Statement of the law school, and should narrowly provide specific goals of the LL.M. program itself. It should offer insight to prospective students about what they can expect of the school when they enroll, during their course of study, and after graduation.
If you do not find an LL.M. Mission Statement (or similar document) on the LL.M. program website, send an e-mail to the school requesting a copy, which they can send in an e-mail. If the law school does not have an LL.M. Mission Statement or other master plan that specifically addresses the LL.M., think twice about attending that school. If the LL.M. program is not specifically included in the law school’s master plan, this might be a sign that LL.M. students may be considered by the school to be cash cows, and may be treated like second class citizens, subordinate to other law school stakeholders. (See LL.M. Roadmap, Chapter 6) It may signify a lack of commitment to the full nurturing and development of the LL.M. program.
Think about if you want to travel from one place in a city to another place, or from one town to the next. You will have the best luck If you know where you are and you know where you want to go. Likewise, LL.M. programs should an LL.M. Mission Statement, which is a sign that the program knows where it is and where it wants to go! It's kind of like having a GPS!
“LL.M. creep” at U.S. law schools occurs when a law school’s LL.M. program improperly impinges upon the J.D. program. With LL.M. creep, the LL.M. program might displace J.D. activities, courses, personnel, space and other resources that are of critical importance to the J.D. program. The school re-assigns J.D. resources to the LL.M. program.
zLaw schools earn significant tuition revenues from LL.M. programs. The school may seek to increase LL.M. resources at the expense of the J.D. program. In such a case, LL.M. creep may threaten aspects of the J.D. program.
The American Bar Association (ABA) oversees and accredits law school J.D. programs. The ABA generally permits a law school to fund its LL.M., J.D. or other degree programs at whatever levels the school desires. However, the ABA insists that an LL.M. program should not interfere with J.D. programs.
Thus, if an LL.M. program detracts from or adversely impacts a J.D. program, the law school will be in violation of ABA standards.
LL.M. creep could happen inadvertently or almost accidentally, when the law school administration is not really aware of how much the LL.M. program is harming the J.D. program. However, the law school administration might deliberately try to quash a particular J.D. program.
If a law school dramatically cuts JD programs personnel, funding, or space, and diverts those resources to the LL.M. program, the law school may have problems with the ABA.
It is advisable to avoid an LL.M. program in which LL.M. creep exists!
A cash cow LL.M. program is one that does not reinvest LL.M. tuition money into the LL.M. program, diverts LL.M. tuition to another compoent of the law school's operations, and leaves the LL.M. program with insuficient resources to function properly, and the school is not able to meet reasonable expectations of LL.M. students because the school does not provide resources the international LL.M. students need, for example, high quality LL.M. career services, LL.M. student English language assistance, or tutorials on U.S. law tailored. A cash cow will not be the "best" LL.M. program for anyone!
LL.M. Roadmap, Chapter 6, pp 65 - 69 discuss cash cows, describe how to identify which LL.M. programs and U.S. law schools are cash cows, and warns students to avoid these schools.
Diploma Mill programs may have low entry requirements for international LL.M. students, low standards for "success" during the program, and low standards for LL.M. students to graduate. Such schools would provide a poor service at a high financial cost, and in the end provide a diploma that has low value in the marketplace.
LL.M. Roadmap, Chapter 6, pp 65 - 69 discuss diploma mills describe how to identify which LL.M. programs and U.S. law schools are diploma mills and warns students to avoid these schools.
Each propsective LL.M. student has academic, career, personal and professional expectations. Each LL.M. program should advertise what services it offers, so that each prospective student can determine whether they believe their reasonable expectations can be met at a particuarly school. LL.M. applicants should choose a school where they believe their reasonable expectations can be met. They should avoid schools where they do not believe their reasonable expectations should be met. Of course the applicants must determine which characteristics of a legal education they consider most important. Reading the 218 Criteria for Choosing the "Best" LL.M. Program For You (Chapter 7 of LL.M. Roadmap) offers guidance on what students might determine they need and want out of an LL.M. program, and help them choose a program where they think their reasonable expectations will be met.
The U.S. government permits international LL.M. students to work part-time during their LL.M. academic period, and full-time after completing their LL.M., for a limited period. The general schemes are known as "Optional Practical Training" (OPT), "Curricular Practical Training" (CPT), and "Academic Training" (AT). The rules for OPT, CPT and AT are strict, and do not apply to all student visa holders (F-1, J-1). If you want to work, and you are eligible to work, avoid a school that will not help you find a suitable placement. Chapter 23 of LL.M. Roadmap explains the schemes, discusses which students are eligible, and points out that because of the U.S. economy now, and the legal marketplace, it may be difficult for international LL.M. students to secure these job placements.
If you want to work and the school that interests you does not have in place appropriate career officers or other personnel who can assist international LL.M. students find placements, choose another school. Law schools should transparently state on their websites whether their LL.M. program will assist LL.M. students find job placements. Check the websites. If you have any doubt about the willingness or ability of the school to help you reach your career goals, send an e-mail to the school and ask whether and to what extent they will help you reach your career goals. It is better to find out before you enroll that the school is unwilling or unable to assist you reach your goal of working in the U.S. during your LL .M. year or termporarily after you complete your LL.M. degree.
If you have any suggestions for items to add to the "Top LL.M. Programs to Avoid", please send them to LLMRoadMap@yahoo.com! This list of "Top LL.M. Programs to Avoid" will grow!
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Professor Edwards is donating all personal profits from sale of the first edition of LL.M. Roadmap to the International Law Students Association (ILSA) (www.ILSA.org), which administers the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (White & Case) in 500 law schools in about 100 countries on 6 continents.
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