A conversation with Kyra, an LLM graduate from New York University, School of Law
By Cathy Liu
This week, I had an in-depth talk with Kyra who recently graduated from the LLM program at New York University, School of Law. She is now a lawyer specializing in the asset managing sector in Shanghai. Having rich experiences in law study and legal work in both the USA and China, Kyra detailedly talked about the differences between different professional law degrees, enthusiastically shared her tips in legal studies and internships, and thoughtfully gave some precious advice to students who are uncertain about their future legal career paths. In the following sections, I summarized Kyra's main points in the conversation.
LLM vs JD: Which One To Choose?
LLM, or the Master of Law, is an advanced one-year postgraduate academic program. Kyra listed three differences between LLM and JD:
According to Kyra, LLM and JD are pursued by students from different backgrounds. While JD is a professional law degree open to students from non-law backgrounds, LLM is only
available for students who either have
bachelor's degrees in law or have
experience in legal practices. Consequently, the enrollment standards of JD and LLM are different. According to Kyra, while work experience in the legal industry is essential to the LLM application, it plays a much less imperative role in the JD application.
2) Degree recognition in the legal industry
According to Kyra, JD is more widely accepted than LLM in the legal industry, especially in the USA. In many states in the USA, LLM graduates are not eligible to take the bar exam. Moreover, Big Laws are more favored towards JD graduates than LLM graduates. According to Kyra, many LLM students do not aim to work in the USA and are more willing to return to practice law in their home countries.
3) Cost and fees
Since JD is a three-year program and LLM is a one-year program, the tuition fees and living costs of JD are higher than LLM. According to Kyra, the total costs, including tuition and living expenses, of completing a JD degree in New York City are roughly $300,000, while for an LLM degree, it is approximately $150,000. Although the costs of law school are relatively high compared to other master's degree programs in the USA, such costs could be partially compensated by the internship stipend. According to Kyra, interns get paid around $2000 per week at some Big Laws.
Based on the three differences, Kyra suggested which kinds of students are more suitable for JD and which are more suitable for LLM. According to Kyra, JD is more suitable for students from a non-law background who want to practice law in the future, while LLM is more suitable for students with a law degree or experience in legal practices. Moreover, JD is more suitable for students who want to practice law in the USA, whereas students who are more willing to practice law in their home countries are more suitable for LLM degree. Indeed, the overwhelming workload of JD and the high costs of the program often discourage students from completing the degree. However, according to Kyra, 1L (year 1) of the three-year JD program is the most challenging year. Moving on to 2L and 3L, although the workload is still pressuring, students' economic pressures will reduce if they find internships and receive internship stipends.
Experiences and Insights During LLM Studies
Kyra mainly shared two aspects of her experiences and insights when doing the LLM degree:
Kyra described her regular day as "reading, lecture, reading." Like JD, LLM students must also do tons of readings to do well in cold calls and tests. Kyra said that she had to read hundreds of pages for each class. However, Kyra did not read from start to end but read under the guidance of the outlines of the reading. According to Kyra, this tremendously increased the efficacy of reading and thus increased the efficiency of test preps. Moreover, Kyra emphasized that since law schools are usually grade-oriented, students must learn to pick out the most relevant information from the lengthy reading to do well in tests.
According to Kyra, networking is a necessary skill for law school students, be it for JD or LLM. Firstly, social networking is instrumental for internship and job applications. Kyra stated the importance of talking with senior lawyers and partners at career events before a job or internship application. This not only enriches applicants' knowledge of the law firms, which enables them to do better in the application but also increases the chances of being appreciated by the law firm in advance, thus increases the likelihood of getting an intern or job position. Besides facilitating work applications, social networking skills also benefit studies at law schools. Kyra recommended new students be actively in contact with senior students not only to gain access to study resources like outlines of lectures and readings but also to obtain some valuable advice on legal studies and legal careers.
Future Career Plans
Kyra suggested some possible legal career paths for law graduates and prospective legal workers. According to Kyra, many law students aim for Big Laws after graduation. However, their career paths would divert after several years of working at Big Laws because of the high-demanding working environments, the difficulty of being promoted as partners, and the increasing rate of layoffs in recent years. Already having work experience at law firms, lawyers could either pass to a more stable route, which is in-house or go on to a more challenging route, which is opening their law firms.