The Year After the LL.M.

Yesterday I highlighted a few simple tips for those who are starting LL.M. programs this Summer in The Summer Before the LL.M. Today, I want to highlight a separate set of considerations for those who just completed LL.M. programs.

I group foreign-educated LL.M. graduates into four general categories. As always, there’s more nuance and sub-groups.

  • Graduates who have returned or will return to their home jurisdictions (after graduation or after a bar exam) or move to a third jurisdiction.
  • Graduates on F-1 visas who have secured/are looking for OPT work for a year (with an eye towards returning to their home jurisdictions or a third jurisdiction).
  • Graduates on F-1 visas who have secured/are looking for more permanent legal work in the United States.
  • Graduates who do not require work authorization who have secured/are looking for legal work or work that complements their LL.M. studies.

The year after the LL.M. is important in many ways. For the second group, this year of legal employment will hopefully assist with future positions in ways that highlight your understanding of U.S. legal practice. It may prove crucial for landing a job back home at an employer working on projects involving U.S. clients or with English-speaking clients more generally. For the third and fourth groups, the first post-LL.M. job is important for the trajectory of your legal careers in the United States. Where you start does not determine your entire career, but starting in certain positions may make future moves, career progression, and networking easier.

Once you have secured employment and completed your bar exam, here are some considerations for your first year of legal work after the LL.M. in the United States:

  1. Become a thoughtful voice in a key area of your practice. Ideally, the area you specialized in is the area of law you are now working in (e.g., an International Tax LL.M. now working in an International Tax position). Within your team and more externally speaking, are you getting your name out there as someone who has thoughtful contributions on complex developments happening in your area of knowledge? This is why I advise students to use their research paper requirement on an area of law they’re hoping to practice in, so they can spend 4-8 months thinking deeply about a complex area of law that they’ll be able to speak on thoughtfully (that’s the key). This helps with becoming a “go-to” person within your team and for visibility outside your organization for future opportunities.
  2. Bar Association Member. Become an engaged member of the city or state bar. You’ll want to balance the demands of your job, but it is also a good idea to find 1 or 2 ways to become active within a bar association. For the many LL.M. graduates who will sit for the New York Bar Exam, you can see the Committees and Events taking place. In your own city or state bar, is there a way to combine your pre-LL.M. practice, your LL.M. experience, and your current position to meaningfully contribute to a committee? Is there a recent graduate/junior practitioner group to join? Is there an affinity lawyers association from your home jurisdiction/region/culture? Like the Texas International Lawyers Society, is there a group specifically focused on similarly situated people?
  3. The Alumni Office. While the Career Office may continue to play a role in your life, you’ll want to make sure you also connect with your Alumni Office. Ensure the alumni office at your law school has updated information about your location and employment, especially if you are in a different city or region from where your law school was located. But also see if you can get on alumni listings for the university more generally. If you do not know any alumni from your law school where you practice, ask the alumni office if they can put you in touch with other alumni (J.D. and LL.M) practicing there. If the alumni office is hosting a reception where you work, try to join as a way to network with fellow alumni, sometimes spanning decades of graduation years.
  4. Stay Active at Your Law School. While you may soon learn about “Development,” there are other meaningful ways to contribute to your law school. While you should be mindful of your work obligations and first-year of practice growth, find at least one way to stay connected to your law school. Is it judging a moot court competition? Joining a panel for a recent graduate discussion? Joining a recruiting event in your home jurisdiction? Mentoring a new LL.M. student? Staying involved in your law school is mutually beneficial. You may make connections that lead to a future job. You may be invited back after a couple years to teach as an adjunct. And your support can help to continue to grow your school’s profile.

A final note: Focus on the Big Picture. Careers are long and the first job after the LL.M. is unlikely to be the only job in your life. Think about the first few years of post-LL.M. work as a way to build the foundations for a long and successful legal career. As early as Year 1, you may begin to have people reach out for lateral positions. Think about what you want in your first job. Although I’m not in legal practice, for me that was (1) great mentorship, (2) working on projects that would allow visibility internally and externally; and (3) strategically working in different areas that would provide multiple career paths and options. From speaking with friends from my J.D. class and students I’ve worked with in J.D. and LL.M. programs, those seem to common themes for them as well.

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