In most countries, lawyers are not required to hold an LL.M. degree, and many do not choose to obtain one. An LL.M. degree by itself generally does not qualify graduates to practice law. In most cases, LL.M. students must first obtain a professional degree in law, e.g. the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in the United Kingdom or the Juris Doctor (J.D.) in the United States, and pass a bar exam or the equivalent exam in other countries, such as the Zweites Staatsexamen in Germany. While the general curriculum of the LL.B. and J.D. is designed to give students the basic skills and knowledge to become lawyers, law students wishing to specialize in a particular area can continue their studies with an LL.M. program. Some universities also consider students for their LL.M. program who hold degrees in other related areas, or have expertise in a specific area of law.
Graduation requirements for an LL.M. program vary depending on the respective university guidelines. Some programs are research-oriented and require students to write a thesis, while others only offer a number of classes that students must take to complete the course of study. Many LL.M. programs combine both coursework and research. Part-time programs are also available for professionals wishing to complete their LL.M. while working full-time.
Prospective students should be aware that there is no universal definition for the term LL.M. It is used in different ways by institutions around the world. Particularly in the United States and Germany, LL.M. programs are often designed to teach foreign lawyers the basic legal principles of the host country. In this regard, the LL.M. can help lawyers seeking to relocate and practice in another country, or expand their area of practice to multinational issues. The completion of an LL.M. program, however, does not automatically qualify foreign students to take the bar exam in their host country. In the U.S., for example, some states allow foreign lawyers to seek admission to the bar upon completion of an LL.M., while in other states, a J.D. is required.
LL.M. is an abbreviation of the Latin Legum Magister, which means Master of Laws. In Latin, the plural form of a word is abbreviated by repeating the letter. Hence, "LL." is short for "laws." Legum is the possessive plural form of the Latin word lex, which means "specific laws", as opposed to the more general concept embodied in the word jus, from which the word juris and the modern English word "justice" are derived.