I spent some time yesterday researching the issue, and discovered the following, much of which will not be news to better-informed readers:
(1) ABA law schools currently offer more than 300 different LLM degrees (Here's a partial list). Total enrollment in such programs grew from 3,069 to 5,058 between 1999 and 2009.
(2) The typical tuition cost for these degrees is equivalent to a year's tuition in a school's JD program.
(3) Obtaining an LLM qualifies a foreign lawyer to sit for the bar in California, New York, Alabama, New Hampshire, Virginia, and the independent republic of Palau.
(4) Neither the ABA nor NALP ask schools to report any statistics regarding employment outcomes for LLM graduates, and as far as I've been able to determine no such statistics exist.
(5) The conventional wisdom regarding the value of LLM degrees for American law school graduates is reflected in this flowchart. (See also this characteristically mordant thread from JDU).
Indeed, American lawyers who make hiring decisions express views on this matter that, to put it mildly, put the "value proposition" of an LLM into severe question:
In fact, [Steven John, a managing director at Major Lindsey] said, advanced degrees in law — with the exception of LL.M.s for foreign-trained attorneys and tax LL.M.s — can actually hurt job candidates, because they may signal uncertainty about their career paths or attempts to avoid the reality of a difficult job search. Also suspect is when candidates study in areas that do not dovetail with their practice experience.
John said he asked his fellow recruiters at Major Lindsey whether they ever had a client specifically request candidates with advanced degrees — with the exception of tax LL.M.s — or whether a candidate ever secured a job because of an advanced degree.
The answer to both questions was no.
“The market has never demanded it,” he said during a panel discussion. “Advanced degrees never come into the conversation.” In fact, he added, some of his colleagues advise job seekers to leave LL.M.s off their resumes.
Nevertheless, it appears that, in these days of sharply declining applicants to JD programs, LLM programs are coming to be considered something of a godsend by cash-strapped schools. Here's a bemusing quote from a two-year-old NLJ article:
Administrators point out that per-student costs tend to be lower for advanced law degree programs because the curriculum largely consists of classes already offered to J.D. students - meaning there is little need to hire additional faculty. "Are these programs a cash cow? Yes and no," said Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington professor Carole Silver. "The school gets a year of tuition and the LL.M. students fill in the seats in classes that would otherwise be empty."If you're wondering if Prof. Silver then went on to explain the "no" part, the answer is she didn't, or at least the story omitted that aspect of her explanation.
A few months ago I got a fascinating email from a faculty member at a low ranked law school, who described how the school's budget was being kept in the black by the importation of a couple of dozen Saudi LLM students every year. These students, many of who have at best questionable English language skills, are the sons of various oil-enriched princelings, and are bundled off to American educational institutions in appropriately scenic and fun-filled locations, so that they will at least putatively have something to do.
I myself have no compunction about putting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's resources to such uses, but on the available evidence, marketing LLM degrees to American law students and lawyers appears to be close to a straight up scam, and I will be (no doubt quite fruitlessly) expressing this view to my colleagues when we vote on the matter tomorrow.