A while back we brought on a fully qualified Chinese attorney as a paralegal in our law firm. This person was working on obtaining her paralegal certificate at a local university. I asked her why she was pursuing a paralegal certificate, rather than going for an LLM degree (an advanced law degree), as is commonly done by China licensed lawyers in the United States. Her response was that she knew many Chinese lawyers who had obtained an LLM degree in the United States and not a single one of them had been offered a lawyer job in the United States. I told her that I too was not aware of any foreign lawyer who had obtained a US lawyer job.

I then went on to tell her that our firm does not hire LLM graduates for three reasons. The first is that we have no idea how qualified they are for practicing law in the United States because the LLM programs vary so much in what they teach.  The second is that we have no idea how qualified they are for practicing law in the United States because it seems that just about everyone graduates from US LLM programs with a 3.8 G.P.A or higher, leading us to believe that LLM grading is neither rigorous nor meaningful. Third, and oftentimes most importantly, most US states (at least as far as we know) do not allow LLM graduates to sit for their bar exam.

Which is why our lawyer hires have US (or US equivalent) J.D. degrees.

And this is NOT to criticize LLM degrees. Rather, it is to highlight how much they have changed in the last twenty years, without really having changed at all. Twenty years ago, foreign lawyers came to US law schools for LLM degrees and then they returned to their home countries. Their reason for securing a US LLM degree was to improve their English language skills, increase their understanding of American culture, and make connections with American lawyers and potential clients. All of these reasons made (and still make) complete sense and for that reason, a number of the top international lawyers in Asian countries like China, Vietnam, and Korea, have US LLM degrees.

But maybe around ten years ago, there was a large influx of China attorneys seeking US LLMs with the idea of securing jobs in the United States. US law schools — who make small fortunes off each foreign LLM — generally do nothing to dissuade these students from coming. And so they keep coming with the hope of American lawyer jobs that seem pretty unattainable. What then happens to these LLM graduates from China? It is my understanding that many (Most?) return to China and some get non-legal jobs.

What are you seeing out there and what do you think?


  • John W

    JD is a must if you want to practice law in US. But quite a few LLM grudates find jobs in US becasue some big law firms have business in China. If all your clients are American, Chinese attorneys will have no advanage against American lawyers. So, you can find a job but you need to find law firms with business in China. Anyway, lanaguage and culture are the barriers you need to overcome and Americans don’t want to talk to a guy with foreign tongue

  • innerscorecard

    It’s no longer the ’90s or even the ’00s. Just as a JD no longer guarantees riches or even a middle-class lifestyle, an LLM even more so does not. And yeah, I know a lot of people who paid for expensive JDs and LLMs who have not received good value for their degrees. It’s more evidence of the erosion of value of credentials that are not backed by actual marketplace value. The highly regulated field of law is probably the worst out there in these terms.

  • chrislanterman

    A few things:
    (1) More and more JDs are arguing that a 3 year JD is too long and that too much theoretical law is emphasized, and not enough practical skills are being taught.
    (2) If I were a foreigner with a law degree in another country and was already qualified to practice law, I wouldn’t want to have to spend 3 years and $100-150k to practice law in the US. However, if I were a foreigner with an engineering degree, it would be different, and I’d have to apply for a JD.

    As for what Dan said, I think the varying degrees of quality LLM programs offer is probably a big issue. Many LLMs take LLM only courses, and take the year of LLM as a “have fun in America” year. Some take it very seriously and study very hard, but generally spend too much time studying and not enough networking, or too much time talking to their own countrymen, and not enough time brushing up on their English fluency. I know UW has had some success finding their LLMs jobs, I would say the numbers are probably 15% academia, 10% good jobs, 25% unpaid internship, and the rest go back to their home country (though some, like most Japanese and Koreans, have no intention of working in the US).

    With the amount of LLMs graduating from the US, I wonder how effective it is in finding a job in China, where competition is growing. At the Chinese law firm I worked at, it seemed most if not all the partners had a JD or an LLM, and many of the younger associates had an LLM or were planning on getting one.

    Of course, perhaps the biggest barrier, other than language, for an LLM to find a job is the H1B visa. Most people don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring a foreigner, and OPT only guarantees you a year of the LLMs times. Training someone who may not be able to stick around for a year is a risk most wouldn’t want to bother with, not when the legal market is so bad, many JDs are willing to take any job.

  • Karl Metzner

    At least a few years ago, it seemed that most Chinese LLM students in the United States had practiced law in China for a while and intended to return to China to practice. I doubt that Chinese who expect to practice law in the United States long term constitute anything more than a small percentage of the total LLM applicant pool. Also, there are significant exceptions to the JD requirement for sitting the bar, including California and New York.

  • caliboy888

    California and New York are among the states that allow LLM graduates to sit for the bar exam. At my law school, I knew a Chinese LLM grad who got an associate position at a U.S. office of an AmLaw 100 firm, but she was the exception. The rumor was that she had high level connections in the PRC and that she had the ability to help with business development efforts in the firm’s growing China practice. Columbia University hosts an annual nationwide LLM job fair in New York, which LLMs from many schools seem to attend. I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting a job out of it.

    Here in China, I know that junior Chinese lawyers working at international firms often take a break to pursue an LLM, because they believe there is a glass ceiling on their promotion prospects if they don’t have a foreign law degree. But many have found it hard to get a job equivalent to the one they left behind when they return to China (even if at their former firm), due to changing economic conditions. So it’s a gamble,

  • damjand

    What I see happening at University of Michigan Law School is that after unsuccessful OCIs LLM candidates go on to SJD programs in an effort to become more attractive to American firms, or they go into a second LLM program for tax, also in an effort to become more competitive in the U.S. job market. Of the many LLMs I’ve befriended, the only one I know of that got a job with a firm in the U.S. had been a partner at a Brazilian firm and a Brazilian competitor of that firm hired him for a position in the Chicago office.

    It is my feeling that LLM candidates don’t understand the nature of their opportunities in the U.S. job market until they’re well into the LLM program.

  • shaukat

    I am a practicing lawyer in High court of Pakistan,I spent my life in criminal justice and retired as Inspector general of Prisons, I was associated with improvements in United Nations rules for treatment of offenders and Juvenile delinquency,I am now looking for jobs like dishwashers in US restaurants.Shaukat

  • Evan

    It just depends on what you are looking for when pursuing the LLM degree. it doesnot make sense for a foreigner to get one year degree and expect to practice law in a foreign country? unless you come with years of experience and connections.

    I’d like to hear more stories about job opportunities as international human rights lawyer.