Is an LL.M Worth It?
A master degree from overseas nowadays is almost a ‘must-have’ since many believe it will expose you to the international world, improve your language skill and it is an important life experience to have. As for law students and law graduates, LL.M is a familiar term, which basically is a master of law in a certain foreign law, for instance American or British Law.
I personally support any pursuit of degree overseas since it indeed will open your mind and opportunities to so many things; however, a master of law has its own characteristic that it is demanding, expensive and short.
First, you should have a strong funding to do this degree if you are not able to secure a scholarship (see my previous article on how to find and win a scholarship to go to law school). Typical law school in Europe will charge around 13,000 euros for the tuition only and in the U.S the price can go as high as USD 50,000.If you wish to pursue a career in Indonesia, it will take quite some time for you to recover this investment even though you might have a good career afterwards. Pursuing a career abroad, for instance in Europe and the U.S is possible but not always a viable option these days as the job market has been disappointing since the financial crash in 2008.
Second, this degree is one year only so if you expect to get a comprehensive knowledge of the foreign law, you might find yourself in a deep disappointment. Foreign laws don’t apply in Indonesia hence if you practice law here after pursuing your degree, it will be unlikely that you will deal with foreign laws anyway.
Third, you have to be ready for what it takes to get this degree, which is hard work for an entire year. Tiny part of it is hundreds of pages of cases to read and brief overnight
Things to Consider
So, is this for you? These are the things that I hope will help you in your consideration
1. Do you need it?
Going to law school abroad is not something that you should do just because ‘you feel like it’. Set a clear goal and make sure the degree will help you to achieve it.
If you want to have an academic career, for instance being a professor of law, then this is for you since naturally you should have master degree in a similar field. An LL.M might also be good for you if you want to have a career with an international nature, for instance if you want to work for international organization such as the United Nations as they generally want someone with a foreign law degree.
In general, an LL.M might be good to land a good job for you in Indonesia; however in the end the degree will not be that helpful in doing your job. If you wish to have a big career in a corporation, for instance, a more practical degree such as in business administration might have better use for you.
2. Are you up for it?
Now that you have set your goal, you have to look at what it takes to succeed in doing your degree. If you are not a big reader, this is going to be tough for you. Reading assignments are very demanding as for one class only you might be assigned to read 50-100 pages overnight. Imagine if you have 3 classes in a day. This is already overwhelming for native speakers; and for non-native like us, this is even more challenging. I spent approximately 6-8 hours a day reading cases and preparing for my classes.
In the U.S, they have this so-called Socratic method where the professors almost don’t teach, they instead just ask questions and guide you through a discussion. Hence, they expect you to have read and have your opinion about the case in discussion. As discussion and debates are central in the classroom experience, you will be forced to speak up and communicate your opinions.
My own experience
I took my master of law at the University of Minnesota Law School in 2011 -2012 and I can say that my degree has been useful to me. Here are my reasons of saying so
a. A better lawyering skill
Even though foreign law does not apply here and we do not have any capacity to give opinion based on foreign law in Indonesia, it does not mean that a master of law will not be helpful at all in doing your job. As a lawyer, my job requires me to read a lot of documents in English hence I find myself reading way faster and understanding things better after doing my degree. As you are going to write papers and brief a lot of cases, you will also find your writing skill significantly improves.
It also helps me to have a constructive thinking and a skill to speak up and communicate my thoughts.
b. International exposure
A master of law program usually consists of people from different countries who want to learn, for instance, American law or British law. My LL.M program in University of Minnesota consists of 50 people from 30 different countries and it was always a pleasure to get to know new friends. Interesting thing is that you can always have a discussion with your friends and share your knowledge.I ended up not only learning about American Law, but about criminal law in Germany, labor law in Brazil and what it takes to be a lawyer in South Korea as well.
c. Learning about specific laws
There are fields of laws that are not that developed yet in Indonesia, for instance energy law and environmental law. When I graduated from law school in Indonesia back in 2009, there was no law school in the country that has mining law or energy law course. On the other hand, the U.S has developed inherent sets of law on this matter. I got to learn about wind energy, international efforts to combat climate change and many other topics of my interest.
d. Opportunity to be involved in the legal world abroad
During my second semester, I was invited by a federal judge to sit in his chambers in the federal court as an observer. I basically just came and observe trials and proceedings; wrote reports on it and discussed with my mentor judge on the case. It was a great experience since I had the first-hand experience to see the law being implemented in the U.S., from drugs to murder cases.
I enjoyed every bit of my time doing my law degree in the U.S. I admit there where rough times when most of the time I was stuck in the library doing my reading assignments, and there were also boring times when nobody wanted to hang out because they were too busy or too stressed out with their assignments.
In general, however, the ride had been wonderful. I found the laws, the people and the professors interesting. I really like it that the professors always took time to have discussion with me after class and my friends were always willing to study together and compare notes.
Outside school, I also got to do interesting things such as meeting Supreme Court Judges, watching a Senate hearing, ice skating in the lake and even learning how to shoot guns! I would to this all over again if I could.
I hope my article is helpful for you to decide. I am happy to have a discussion with you should you have more questions on this topic!
Sukma Dwi Andrina is an alumni from University of Indonesia Law School and a recent graduate from University of Minnesota Law School. She is currently working as an attorney in Mochtar Karuwin Komar Law Firm specializing in energy law and labor law. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org