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General vs. Specialized LLM at Boston University: What should you pick?

The Boston University School of Law offers four different tracks as part of its LLM program. You can choose to either specialize in Banking & Financial Law, Intellectual Property Law, or Tax Law. If none of these fit your interests, BU also offers a general track LLM in American Law.

The traditional view is that a Bachelor's degree is where you are introduced to your field of study on a broad spectrum, whereas a Master’s degree is the platform for you to hone in on your particular niche of interests. Be that as it may, today’s employment landscape is constantly evolving, where one is required to deliver results as a generalist with knowledge on a diverse range of subjects.

So, the question arises: should I pursue a general or a specialized LLM? Based on our conversation with BU Law students and alumni, here are some important things we learned which may help point you in the right direction.

Background and Description

First, it is important to get a sense of what each track offers and how they differ from one another. In her search for where to pursue her further studies, Apoorva Panda, a graduate of the Tax program at BU Law, explains that she “looked at rankings, courses, faculty, and [she suggests] for everyone to first go through that research.”

It is important to note that the Tax LLM program at BU is one of the United States’ first graduate tax programs, and as such, it is highly reputed amongst both students and practitioners. Depending on your situation, you can pursue this program in-person, online, part-time, or full-time - giving you the flexibility to pursue an LLM on your terms. This is a 24-credit program (12 courses), with five required courses, and offers a three-semester bar qualification option for international students wishing to practise in the US.

The LLM in Banking & Financial Law is designed “for global practitioners who seek advance training in the rapidly evolving field of financial services law” (BU Law). This program remains the only financial services LLM program in the US designed exclusively for graduate students to understand financial law alongside economics and business principles. Some subject areas in the Banking program include Commercial Lending, Mergers & Acquisitions, Corporations and Hedge Funds, Securities Regulation and Venture Capital Financing amongst others. Like the Tax program, the Banking LLM is also a 24-credit program and can be completed on a full or part-time basis.

What’s clear is that there is no wrong choice between a general and specialized LLM.

Lastly, the LLM in American Law program is the general track BU offers, wherein you have the freedom and flexibility to pick and choose the courses that interest you. According to BU, “when you arrive, you’ll design a study plan with academic advisors built around the JD program’s 200+ courses, including fundamental and upper-level offerings and LLM-only, practice-focused courses.” In addition, with the American Law program you also have the option to pursue a concentration in either International Business Practice, Intellectual Property, or Taxation. You may also cross-register for classes in the Tax or Banking programs at BU. In this 24-credit program, you are given the keys to all the doors, you just have to choose which ones to unlock.

Classroom Environment and Prior Work Experience

Overall, regardless of the track you choose the academic culture at BU is highly immersive and interactive. The Socratic Method of discussion might be unnerving for some in the beginning, however Apoorva said she “loved the classroom environment because it pushed [her] to speak.

An important factor which contributes to the stimulating classroom environment is that several of the faculty members at BU are themselves industry practitioners. Anupam Roy, who graduated from the Banking and Financial Law program in 2011, highlighted that within the classroom context, “you are going to get a lot of real life experience from the faculty members.” Anupam also described that many assignments are case study based, focusing on placing students in a real life scenario related to the course subject.

In this context, prior work experience emerges as an important factor in order to make the most out of an interactive, practise-based learning environment. Trisha Mukherjee, another alumna of the Banking and Financial Law program elaborated further by indicating, “Work experience gives you in-depth knowledge when you’re sitting in your LLM classes, especially for the banking program.” This sentiment was echoed by Anupam, who said “If you have work experience, you will be able to better appreciate the concepts and principles which are taught during the program.

With that being said, work experience is not an eligibility requirement for any of the programs. Anmol Sheth, a recent graduate of the American Law program, outlinedit’s not going to be harder for you to understand something simply because you don’t have the work experience for it.” In fact, Anmol went into this program straight after her undergraduate degree and did not find this to be a disadvantage.

As such, prospective students wanting to apply for an LLM right out of law school can benefit from the American Law program to further explore diverse interests before deciding on a specialization. For Anmol, this program gave her the opportunity to find her concentration in International Business Law, and the different classes she took “exposed [her] to what the American system was like.

Employment Opportunities and NY Bar

Overall, for anyone pursuing an LLM at BU Law, the university provides ample resources to facilitate the job hunt after graduation, irrespective of whether you join a specialized program or not. Moreover, since many of the faculty members are practitioners themselves, your professors can act as gateways to internship and employment opportunities after graduation.

Your professors are mostly partners or retired partners of the Big Four, so if you know your professors, they can connect you to anyone at any firm.

Specifically, Boston is an ideal place to be in terms of the Banking and Tax specializations as it is a significant financial hub. As Apoorva explained, “Tax in the US has a lot of value, there are not many people who choose this specialization” and as such “your employment prospects when it comes to big corporations will definitely increase.” Echoing this sentiment, Parvesh further elaborated, “Boston has a small legal community, which means it is easy to network. Your professors are mostly partners or retired partners of the Big Four, so if you know your professors, they can connect you to anyone at any firm.”

The general LLM in American Law also enhances your career opportunities and is perhaps the most relevant path to take if you wish to practise in the US. Out of the four programs, the American Law LLM came out as the clear choice for the course that best prepares you to take the New York Bar Exam. This is because the mandatory courses required by the bar are built into the American Law curriculum, whereas for the Banking program, you are required to take an additional semester to complete the courses required for the bar.

The tax program is not particularly the best way to go if you want to write the New York bar exam. That being said, there is a provision to allow you to swap some courses. You need to get in touch with the director of the program as soon as you join so that you can be placed in the appropriate courses,” Parvesh clarified.

Besides opportunities in the United States, the American Law program is also valuable if you intend to work in India after your LLM because it gives you an in-depth knowledge of the functioning of the legal system in the United States. “Knowing how lawyers work in the US makes you an asset in whatever job you’re joining in India because you will have something to add which most people will not have to add - statistically speaking,” Anmol outlined. In this context of globalization, being able to give reliable legal advice about the American legal system to corporations is a formidable asset in any lawyer’s arsenal.

General vs. Specialized: No Wrong Choice

At the end of the day, what’s clear is that there is no wrong choice between a general and specialized LLM. From our conversations with BU Law alumni, the common theme that emerges is that an awareness of your academic goals should be the guiding factor in charting your LLM journey. For some, the choice to specialize was an obvious one due to an interest they identified rather early on in their lives. For others, the choice became more obvious during the LLM at BU.

Therefore, the important question to ask yourself when you are applying for the LLM is not necessarily “should I specialize or not?”; rather it is perhaps more important to ask yourself “what do I hope to have learned during my LLM?”.

Having a clearer understanding of your academic goals will lead you to the path that makes the most sense for you.

This post contains snippets from CollegeIt’s live sessions with students and alumni of Boston University School of Law. The complete recordings of the sessions can be found on our website.



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