Akin Akinkunmi (Akin is an attorney from Nigeria and graduated with an LLM degree from UCLA).
Prospective Masters of Law (“LLM”) students are often confronted with choosing the right Institution for an LLM program. Typically in Africa, students would like to obtain an LLM program outside the African Continent to have more career options and opportunities outside Africa. Due to the cost of an LLM program, prospective LLM students often choose institutions that provide financial aid. Thus, they may obtain an LLM degree in an area of law that does not correlate with their career path. However, the choice of Institution for an LLM program should not depend on money, but on one’s career path.
a. Know your Career Path
It is interesting that LLM students despite the financial commitment required to fund an LLM degree, will choose an LLM degree program that does not align with their career path and the career goals and aspirations that they might have. This paradox leads to the unintended consequence that quite a few LLM degree graduates from Nigeria and other African countries eventually end up working in an in house legal counsel role or in a practice group in a law firm that is completely at variance with their program of study and desired career path.
This often leads to frustration, and anxiety due to the extensive financial resources and time that has been expended on getting an LLM degree. To avoid career frustration and waste, you should ask yourself, “do I have a career path?” and “what is my career path?” If you can answer these questions sincerely and confidently, you are a step closer to choosing the right institution for your LLM program.
Having a career path enables you to know your specialisation which leads to choosing the right institution for your LLM program. It also simplifies decision-making which would save time, and resources.
b. Choose an Institution based on your Career path
Prior to conducting research on Institutions for an LLM program, some prospective LLM students have their dream Institutions. For some, their dream is to attend an Ivy League school or a highly ranked law school. Although this is not wrong, it should not be the sole criteria for choosing an Institution at which to study. It is important to align the programs offered at the institution you would like to attend with your intended career path. You need to be sure that your dream Institution offers the LLM program that aligns with your career path. Your career path should determine the preferred Institution for your LLM program. It certainly is not a good use of time and resources to obtain a LLM in Human Right Law from a highly ranked law school when your intention is to specialise in Intellectual Property.
In the event that your dream Institution offer a LLM program that does not align with your career path, conduct research to identify Institutions that align with your career path. This is very important.
c. Know the ranking of the Institution
Once you have a list of Institutions that offer an LLM program that aligns with your career path, proceed to check out its law school ranking. Search for the general and specific ranking of the Institution. For instance, an Institution may be highly rated in all areas while another Institution may be known for its expertise in sciences. Another Institution may be highly rated in Taxation law but not known for its expertise in Intellectual Property which may be your area of specialty.
d. Contact the Institution
The next thing is to contact the Admission Office of the Institution. You can either call them on the telephone or send emails asking very specific questions about the program, funding, employment opportunities on graduation, tuition waivers etc.
e. Contact a Current Student, and the Alumni
It is also important to contact current LLM students, and any alumni of the Institution that are located where you currently live in. The alumni can provide valuable insight on the quality of the program, course selection, funding and networking leads.
f. Campus Tour
Before choosing an Institution, you might want to visit the Campus to take a campus tour to see if the environment is right for you. During the campus tour you might want to sit in at a lecture and get a feel for the institution. After all websites are a very good source of information but do not tell you everything.
g. Attend Webinars
A campus tour may be expensive if you are not resident in the Country where the Institution is situated. An alternative to the physical campus tour is attending a webinar session. You may ask your preferred Institution if webinar sessions are organised for prospective LLM students. If the Institution has such webinar sessions, you may choose to sign up. If the Institution does not have this, you may request for it or ask for video clips which provide a narrative of the Institution and its LLM program.
h. Scholarship opportunities
Most institutions have financial aid for prospective LLM students, but the difference is the quantum. Some provide full scholarships whilst others provide partial scholarships.
However, do not let the cost of the LLM program of your preferred Institution deter you or make you settle for less. It is better to cover the cost of an LLM program of your preferred career path at a well ranked Institution that offers a partial or no scholarship than to obtain an LLM degree from an Institution that offers a free ride on a full scholarship that is not well recognised.